Community Engagement Support peer learning project

Here’s a round-up of our project to offer mentoring to members’ projects in 2015, funded by Scottish Government.

Scottish Communities CAN’s aim for this project was to address two key challenges our members face in community engagement work:

  • how to engage with a greater cross-section of their community and,
  • how to deepen their engagement to ensure that interest in their activities leads to lasting behaviour change.


Nine projects were offered up to three days of mentoring support over 3-6 months. Projects had a variety of activities and purposes and came from different parts of Scotland, both rural and urban. Their behaviour change related aims focused on local food growing, home energy efficiency and sustainable travel. Projects were at varying stages and had differing levels of experience.


Community groups and consultants were invited to put in a proposal to provide paid support, and were matched with projects according to their experience and skills.

They offered the projects:

  • Someone independent to talk through challenges, problems and solutions
  • Expert knowledge of particular climate change projects and areas
  • Experience and skills such as running community organisations and projects, or doing community engagement
  • Action plans with specific recommendations
  • Templates and resources that could be adapted for participants’ projects
  • Tools such as for work planning or analysis
  • Expert advice

The people who received the mentoring found that taking a period of focused time to reflect and review the project aims, and its successes, limitations and effectiveness was helpful.

Some appreciated the experience providing

  • Individual benefit akin to Continuing Professional Development
  • Reassurance and confidence
  • Making a new contact and sharing their networks
  • Knowledge-sharing
  • Changing the way you think and approach things
  • Better informed on how to direct a project

Participants used the advice, experience, skills and specific recommendations from the mentors, and applied them to their projects. They felt they had ownership of the recommendations because they had originated from staff, and the mentor had helped to provide clarity and facilitate an action plan for their ideas. Some were supported with specific challenges.

Here’s how some of the projects adapted:

I restructured two of my staff members and used them differently. That’s going really well. I started targetting within the community, rather than hosting more general public events.

We’ve start selling our successes and using them to our advantage to attract more people. We’re organising our events and advertising ourselves differently that is much more attractive to people in the community.

The students haven’t returned yet, but we are certainly more prepared than we’ve been previously for their return. We’re meeting weekly now as a team, and that’s definitely been worthwhile.

The mentor’s report became the structure of a new volunteer’s work. I wouldn’t have had the time to be able to provide the volunteer with that kind of plan.

We will implement the four key areas of actions. Some of them we had been starting to do anyway, but we’re doing things more consciously now.

We’ve been actioning who we target and how. The school resources that we were given were really useful as we had been struggling with the sessions in the schools and the mentor gave us resources that we could engage the children with.

I have written applications for grant funding more competently because I now understand what I can do to actually engage communities. This means we can improve how we gain community buy-in right from the start of a project.

We’ve already gained new volunteers from improving how we sell ourselves. Our Committee members are motivated again, and we’re meeting more regularly. New energy has been put into the project.

Read about Student Association of the West of Scotland’s experience: SAUWS guest blog – what we learned from Community Engagement coaching

If you’d like to learn from another project face-to-face, why not go and visit one? Expenses could be paid through Community Learning Exchange.