Dr María Soledad Montañez, a research fellow in community at the School of Advanced Study (SAS), outlines a new initiative in support of London’s Latin American community, which links several programmes prioritising collaboration, partnership and strategic change.
In 2017, as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community project, Southwark Council in partnership with the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) at SAS, University of London, secured funding to develop a community engagement project with Latin American groups in Southwark. The resulting series of community engagement programmes and activities aim to articulate a common understanding of issues, needs, goals and solutions.
The ‘Southwark Project’ is based on the understanding that culture and language shape identities and ideas of community. Furthermore, that effective and creative community engagement requires the participation, knowledge and expertise of community groups and voluntary organisations working collaboratively with local authorities, researchers, and other relevant stakeholders.
Our work is informed by previous consultations carried out by Southwark Council, reports published by community organisations, and academic research such as No longer Invisible , Towards Visibility, and Latin Americans in Southwark: Service Access and Provision. These reports find that, mostly due to language and cultural barriers, the Latin American community has poor access to key services such as education and health. Therefore, there is a considerable dependence on Latin American community organisations and faith groups for support.
In addition to existing challenges, the project takes place at a crucial time in history. At a national level, there is the UK’s exit from the EU, and at a local level, a major regeneration project in Southwark. These two important developments in political and urban history will have a significant – yet unpredictable – impact on the Latin American community in this South London borough.
It is in this unsettling context that the project seeks to explore effective and creative ways of enabling engagement by building from the strengths and knowledge of community members, working in equal and successful partnerships between academia, local authorities and the third sector to inform policy and service development.
This multidisciplinary initiative will explore the effectiveness of community-specific engagement, which recognise the significance of linguistic and cultural concerns in community formation and civic participation. It will do so with activities ranging from storytelling to book making, creative workshops on leadership and mental health for young people, to the implementation of a cross-sector, multilingual and multicultural partnership.
Dr María Soledad Montañez is a research fellow in community at the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Her research, part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community’, involves working in partnership with Southwark Council on a project to explore new creative tools, resources and opportunities for collaboration, participation and engagement with the borough’s Latin American groups and organisations.