‘Radical’ options for community engagement

Let me start then with the notion of engagement with community organisations and other helping agencies as a central dimension of this broader community involvement. This was somewhat scorned as a strategy by the more radical probation officers who offered two possibilities of a different kind:

  • Radical community organisations that could act as alternatives to what were seen as middle class led and professionally controlled organisations were seen as the way towards effective community engagement. These were often welfare rights organisations by one name or another, had an ambivalent attitude to the respectable world of employment and conformity, and were dominated by a culture of ‘fighting the establishment’.
  • In Sheffield in the early 1970s, a project was put in place in a ‘red light’ area of the city where probation staff maintained a residential facility that was intended to take probation work to the locations where the problems were and engage them directly. There have been many variations of this theme with a range of levels of intensity, from women’s groups based in high rise flats, to arts projects, theatre groups and allotment projects.

Whilst I was dissatisfied with what we were doing in my office in Sheffield, I was not however persuaded by either of the two more radical options. The former seemed in a way, dishonest. The ‘radical’ organisations were as middle class as any other, another manifestation of the ‘polytechnic left’ who I thought wanted to play at change, denying their own identity of relative privilege and acting out their own problems with power and responsibility. They were fine as just another voluntary sector organisation providing a service to a few people for whom their style of provision appealed.

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