Community planning

Sahil Housing Association

Unit 2C Leroy House
436 Essex Road
Islington London N1 3QP
IPS reg 28267R


National Housing Federation
Federation of Black Housing Organisations
Homeless Link
Association of London Somali Organisations

Mohamed Abdullah Chief Executive
07949 565 103 020 7226 4494

The Somali community –
Where we are from, where we are now, where we want to be.

9 March 2010

“We are refugees.  We are like the sufriye that people make use of to cook on the fire.  When you use it the first time, it gets burned badly.  But later it develops a thick layer of charcoal and cooks only slowly.  Our hearts are like that.  We have experienced so many things that we are now very strong.  We have hardened with life.”


In the fifteenth century in Renaissance Italy, in the cities of Venice and Florence, influential individuals met together regularly to think about and discuss the issues they were facing. These meetings were called Operas.

We have recently researched the needs of the Somali community in a London Borough and we found that:

 There are significant issues of language, poverty, overcrowding, disability and health

 There were clearly high levels of stress and possibly depression

 Parents, children and young people have ambitions, and are not known to be in trouble with police services. Some households are doing reasonably well. Households were generally satisfied with Education

 There are two clear groups, those who have made reasonable adjustments to starting a new life in a strange land, and those who have not yet. Both groups are not yet living at an accepted British quality of life.

 Somali households, although clearly in poverty, are sending significant amounts of money to Somalia. There are very significant strains on household and family relationships around this. This makes finding solutions for example to debt issues far more complex and requires highly skilled and appropriate responses. Things continuously go wrong about Benefits.

 Lack of language skills and interpretation are major issues.

 Some households are very dependent on Somali staff in the Primary Care Trust, Citizens Advice Bureau and the Somali organisations. The Somali community groups and Somali professionals are doing impressive work with minimal resources.

 The presence of excellent Somali professionals is a very significant resource. They are currently living in survival reactive modes. There are major issues about the long term funding and sustainability of the Somali community organisations.


We recommended that:

1. Community Workers

Somali community workers should be employed to take forward solutions to the serious issues we found. Somali Community Workers would have the following key roles:

 Understanding in depth the issues faced by Somali households
 Working to resolve those issues
 Seeing what is already happening across London and assessing replicability locally
 Building networks and common solution pathways with all stakeholders
 Setting up a working group of partners
 Recruiting community champions
 Developing neighbourhood investment projects with the Somali community.

Written materials are unlikely to be read and contact should be face to face with known and trusted people, via competent community workers.

2. The Somali Community

The significant numbers of Somali professionals need to start meeting regularly to think about and plan for the future of their community. Key people may be trapped in “survival jobs”. This means they are not able to do more than be reactive.

The Somali organisations do wish to have a common base. The one stop shop idea is useful, a form of “polyclinic” but co-location is a matter that may be resolved on a medium to long term basis.

There is a need for a khat project and a specific mental health project.

3. Strategic Partnership

Possibilities of joint working with other stakeholders to construct a Somali Community Action Plan should be explored. We recommend a working group be formed. There are possibilities of funding bids to explore.

4. Possible working group agenda items

 Employment and support of properly trained community workers to build up networks and find solutions.
 The Council, housing associations, PCT and other strategic partners should seriously look at employing professional Somali people in senior strategic roles.
 Support for the new refugee initiative and the idea of a Somali Forum
 Development of excellent community specific statistical and knowledge bases.
 Develop specific projects

5. Possible projects

 English as a Second Language classes
 Health and creating family strategies and plans
 Education and skills
 Citizenship
 Community leadership
 Khat
 Youth
 Mental health
 Healthy eating and cooking
 Growing food
 Knowing London

A Community Plans .

We wish to with partners and the community research, agree, write and implement detailed comprehensive community plans as needed

Sahil is a community anchor and is in a strong position to enable equality, ecological orientation and economic sustainability or “durability”. The terms universal design or inclusive design are now being used – we wish to enable a sustainable accessible multi cultural community.

We wish to:

 Undertake research, enable community participation, project-manage, hold meetings and conferences and develop and begin to implement agreed co-operative mutual visions
 Evolve personal solutions, and assist with the creation of strong social networks and life plans or maps. These would be multi-dimensional maps:

 Where someone has come from, where they are now, where do they wish to go

 Their geographical environment – how accessible is it, issues, strengths, weaknesses

 Their social environment – their relationships with institutions, communities, businesses and individuals. The attitudes they meet.

Instead of negotiating a probably incomplete and institutionalised set of “services” for which someone may or may not be “eligible” we want to plan and map in detail with people a multi dimensional change architecture that is right for the person, their family and their community.

John Barrow Cosmic Imagery writes:

“Maps symbolise a human desire to understand and be in control of our surroundings. To map a territory was tantamount to possessing it. Maps of the heavens offered an ultimate reassurance that all is well with the Universe, that we were at a focal controlling point within it and had a special part to play in its unfolding story.”

We are aiming to construct personal life maps – learning to act of one owns volition with others.

Future Search

A Future Search conference is a way for a community or organisation to create a shared vision for its future. It enrols a large group of stakeholders, selected because they have power or information on the topic at hand or are affected by the outcomes. Ideally there are 64 people, who form eight tables of eight stakeholder groups. Examples of such groups are health, young people or shopkeepers.

They take part in a highly structured two and a half-day process covering five stages:

 Review the past – Each participant writes key events in the history of themselves, the community and the world onto three parallel time lines.

 Explore the present – An enormous mind map is made of trends affecting the local community. Stakeholder groups identify important trends and what they are and would like to be doing about them. Groups share what they are proud of and sorry about in their community

 Create ideal future scenarios. Mixed small groups develop visions. Barriers to the visions are identified. Each group acts out its vision to everyone else.

 Identify shared vision. First the small groups, then the whole group, work out: what the shared vision is; what potential projects would achieve it; and any unresolved differences.

 Make action plans – Self-selected action groups plan projects and publicly commit to their action.

Several features are designed to empower participants:

 The principle that people are the experts in their own lives. There are facilitators, but no other experts

 The emphasis on self-management in small group work

 The openness – everything is written up on flipcharts and displayed

 Excellent mapmaking will solve many issues faced by disabled people and communities.  We want all disabled people:

Lived experience 

We suggest a project of a group of young disabled people tasked to report on their experiences of being disabled and accessing services, access to life chances and transition to adulthood.

We would ask each young person to complete a life diary and to detail their experiences of being a disabled person, accessing services and ease of or thoughts on transition into adulthood.

Audit requires looking in detail at a physical environment, systems and processes and how things are implemented. This project is designed to be participatory and to enable access by teaching appropriate skills. It will enable a small group of disabled people to learn skills of looking at and assessing their environment and their lives and making recommendations. It will use principles of the social model of disability and life time learning. It is beginning a process of empowerment for individuals.

We will increase skills of problem solving and negotiation by equipping disabled young people to be aware of the barriers in the community and the types of solutions available. We will show participants how to effectively communicate with the various statutory authorities, like health and social services, they meet.

By building person centred life maps, the participants will be enabled to have an effect on the quality of services provided by others. A person centred life map is a map of the issues in someone’s life, the relevant people and organisations, and a list of priorities for action.

We will be creating a detailed photographic, web based and printed record of how young disabled people experience their world.

We will be enabling disabled people to report the barriers they meet and to argue for change.

We will audit that outdoor and indoor spaces are accessible and create a league table of their quality.

A significant part of this project is to give participants the experience of managing the project. An excellent life map and guide will have a significant health and wellbeing vector. By highlighting the experience of being a disabled person, this creates better understanding of the “other”.


About Sahil

We are a Social Enterprise that aims to solve with the Somali Community and partners their issues by:

 Managing and developing decent affordable housing for Somali citizens
 Providing appropriate and joined up housing related solutions
 Being a voice for and with Somali citizens
 Working with partners to enable significant changes in the quality of life of an excluded community

Sahil wishes to:

 Establish long- term sustainable relationships with Councils, Housing Associations, and all stakeholders
 Provide a comprehensive excellent service for and with all Somali citizens
 Assist with stakeholders’ responsibilities for community engagement
 Build a model of excellence of BME services

The needs of the Somali Community

In July 2003 we launched significant research by Christine and Naomi Holman into the Somali Community in Hackney, and in October launched national research by Sheffield Hallam University into Somali housing issues at City Hall. We have assisted with research by the Information Centre on Asylum and Refugees at King’s College, London and with research into the Somali community by the Government Office for London. We have now carried out further research in another five London Boroughs.

With the Association of London Somali Organisations, we are probably the lead body nationally into the needs of and solutions to the issues faced by the Somali community.

There are levels of at least 70% unemployment. Amongst Somali women only 5% are employable because of their poor language skills. It is a community in crisis, but as the Housing Corporation commented, we must think not in terms of hard to reach communities but hard to reach services.

The Somali Community is:

 A hidden community – due to weak or non-existent statistics and data; underdeveloped Somali organisations; widespread language barriers.
 An underserved and socially excluded community mainly of refugees, suffering in deprived areas, with ill health, high unemployment, low educational attainment and poor housing,
 A resourceful community – Rageh Omaar, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Iman are Somalis. Many Somalis are qualified with degrees.

What is to be done?

How can organisations fit to house the human spirit be created and sustained such that they meet the needs of individuals, communities and society at large?

Whole Systems – Ten core values in whole systems development

(1) Optimism – that people and organisations have the capacity to learn and the commitment to tackle dilemmas and intractable ‘problems’.
(2) Empathy and humility – in the face of the tough challenges faced by those who are charged with, or voluntarily take on, a whole systems development agenda.
(3) Tenacity and courage – to question assumptions and current ways of working.
(4) Learning – putting learning at the heart of what we do and a recognition that it is as important to honour what is and what works as it is to encourage new ways of thinking and acting.
(5) Relationships – that are founded on the pursuit of mutual understanding and preparedness to negotiate, sharing learning and experience from elsewhere and working through problems.
(6) Whole system perspective – resisting fragmented and ‘one size fits all’ approaches and seeing organisational and community issues within the wider environmental context.
(7) Local knowledge for local solutions – a bias towards the use of local knowledge, held by individuals, communities and organisations, to create locally invented solutions.
(8) Building social capital – an active appreciation of the personal qualities and experiences of the people with whom we work and a determination to involve them in designing processes that will strengthen learning and build capacity and social capital.
(9) Celebrating small steps – a welcoming of the small improvements that demonstrate the practical posssibilities and potential for learning in whole systems development.
(10) The long view – being there for the long haul rather than the quick fix.

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