Nurture Development

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) come to life

1 Comment

A place to thrive

The following article appears in today’s (8 Apr 2014) Drink and Drugs News Magazine. Download the magazine as a PDF here.

Like recovery, addiction is a social issue that cannot be divorced from broader social, economic and political contexts. These are contexts that concern us all and which, for us at Nurture Development, situate issues of addiction and recovery firmly within the bounds of social justice.

I doubt many would disagree. It is rare to find a discussion about these issues without looking to the families and networks that the individual is part of; the economic prosperity of the communities they have come from; the emotional or physical trauma they may have suffered; the opportunities they have for education, training and employment; or an investigation of their well-being, physical and mental health. And so on.

It is these issues that reveal the catalysts and journey to addiction for people and will often suggest the likely trajectory of their recovery journey. But they are also the same issues that are pertinent to all of our lives and it is through the mapping of these issues over time that people like Bruce Alexander as well as our ABCD colleagues, John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, tell a story of ‘the globalization of addiction’ in a post-modern society that promotes individualism, free market economies, competition and professionalisation.

‘It is the people, caught in this web of counterproductive systems, who must seek survival in the hopeless spaces available. They react in many ways, just as we would. They strike out in anger, as some of us would. They create productive, phoenix-like new ventures and initiatives, as some of us would. They despair and retreat into addictions, as some of us would. They are normal people in an abnormal world, surrounded by expensive, costly helping systems that are the walls that bound their lives. To defy those walls, they must live abnormal lives – often productive sometimes destructive, always creative.’ John McKnight – The Careless Society. Community and its counterfeits

This may seem like an odd way to start a discussion about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), which tends to err on the side of strength, positivity, and abundance. But it is an important layer of context to what follows. Because as we’re talking about addiction and recovery as issues of social justice, we propose that we must stop focussing on addiction and recovery, in the same way that we must stop focussing on mental health, on rehabilitation of prisoners, on domestic violence, or on tackling levels of obesity. We must move away from siloed thinking, siloed budgets, siloed cultures and siloed practices and start focussing on how we collectively address the weak communities in which these social ills thrive and build the competencies of communities so that they can reclaim their power in addressing them.

Recovery is only possible in healthy communities but our communities need to recover too. We need a whole community recovery agenda, not just a whole person recovery one, that doesn’t simply focus on a single issue and offers a radically different approach to the ‘four pillars’ of traditional responses to drug and alcohol addiction (treatment, prevention, law enforcement and harm reduction) that have ultimately failed.

This is where we suggest that an ABCD approach will add the most value. For us, this approach goes beyond traditional strength-based approaches and it promotes citizen-led community building that is independent of service provision and single issue agendas. The things that people in recovery need to live a full life, for example, are no different to what everyone else needs e.g. positive relationships, job/purposeful activity, somewhere safe and secure to live, and they are no different to the things that are needed to address anti-social behaviour and crime, loneliness and depression or obesity and declining mental health.

ABCD focusses on what is strong, not what is wrong, in individuals and communities. It seeks to enable people to become active contributors to their communities, building relationships and connections with the abundance – both potential and actual – that exists in relationships with their neighbours and in the communities around them.

Our approach to community building is a method for individual and whole community transformation. It is not about building ‘recovery communities’. That is not to say that recovery communities are not important: there are some incredible examples around the UK, especially those that have been built by grassroots groups and organisations. But too often these become part of the service landscape. Something happens when they become professionalised, something that means they begin to conform – often without realising it – to the deeply entrenched thinking of the system they are now linked to.

Despite the mountains of data collected about people within the various systems e.g. benefits, housing, treatment etc., there is still an incredible lack of evidence about what works, at what points and for who when it comes to a number of things including drug and alcohol addiction and recovery. For us, it is not necessarily a question about harm reduction or abstinence. Our money is on healthy, vibrant and hospitable communities that welcome people in from the margins.

Check out our new Recovery & ABCD Training Brochure

It is in community building that individuals in their communities are awakened to their capacity to care for one another, to create safe and hospitable environments, to build resilient local economies and to heal and support people to live fulfilled lives. In doing so, reliance on public services reduces so that their resources are focussed only on those things that people and communities cannot do for themselves.

We’re using an ABCD approach in our ‘Learning Sites’ across the UK to build on the largely American evidence base that demonstrates the power that this approach has across a variety of issues. These Learning Sites are championed by local leaders who are brave early adopters of an approach that challenges us all to think and behave differently, work in different ways and step into our citizenship.

As part of the development of this evidence base, we’ll shortly be embarking on an exciting programme of work across 9 prisons and 15 communities in the north-west alongside Mark Gilman, PHE Strategic Recovery Lead, and a range of experienced partners from the criminal justice and recovery fields. ABCD provides the ethical and theoretical framework for this innovative programme in a way that is radical and transformational and corresponds with wider PHE and public service reforms; moving beyond a narrow focus on service / system reform. As such it recognises that it is in strong, connected and inclusive communities that recovery thrives and sets out a community building agenda which reaches into the prisons, through the gates and into the heart of communities.

We share our learning regularly through our website and blogs and invite you all to join our journey and be part of the ABCD movement and contribute to our growing understanding about how we can collectively improve social justice.

In addition to the work at our Learning Sites, we provide one and two day training workshops for anyone interested in learning more about the ABCD approach and the tools needed to bring ABCD alive in their communities. Download the Recovery & ABCD Training Brochure here. Find out more about What We Do.

If you would like to discuss any of the ideas discussed here, please contact Rebecca Daddow, Recovery and Justice Lead on or visit


Leave a comment

ABCD Talent Quest

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

It might seem strange to start a talent quest with Aristotle. But read on and you’ll see that in fact there are few better places to start.

Aristotle, in describing people of influence, identified those who have just the right mix of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. In modern lingo:

1. Ethos is about operating to a set of values – walking the talk

2. Pathos means emotional intelligence and empathy

3. Logos relates to knowledge, know-how and innovation.

Going back as far as Aristotle makes the point that we’ve known the qualities needed to influence change for a long time. And we agree with good old Aristotle, but at Nurture Development we are not just looking for someone with that mix, we also want people on our team who have Telos: a vision for a better world.

We’re not done yet… we have one more to add! We are also looking for people who believe in Demos, which literally means ‘the common people’. We want people who are passionate about citizen-led action for change, people who still believe that democracy works and that people can come together to effect transformational change. We want people who are more invested in collective rather than individual change.

So in old language, at Nurture Development we are all trying our best to grow a mix between Ethos, Pathos, Logos, Telos and Demos.

Most of the time we fall short, but we’re having a good time trying. We are looking for others who want to help us grow these characteristics as an organisation and to help us achieve our ambition as an Asset-based Training, Research and Development organisation.

Our ambition? Over the next 30 years we want to help create the conditions for a skilled ABCD Community Builder to work in every neighbourhood in Europe.

Why? We believe that to realise our vision for a better more connected world we need to start where people live their lives, in neighbourhoods, supporting people to use what they have to secure what they want, in a way that includes everyone.

How? By helping the principles and practices of Asset-based Community Development proliferate.

Where first? To attain this vision in a way that is truly community-led, we want to spend the next 10 years supporting the establishment of Asset-based Community Development in every neighbourhood in the United Kingdom. We have already started in Gloucestershire, Croydon, Torbay, Leeds, Derby, Kirklees, and soon in Thurrock.

The opportunity? We are looking to recruit a new full-time member of staff, primarily to help us with our work in Gloucestershire, though they will also be working elsewhere.

Our recruitment process reflects the importance we place on relationships. Interviews can only tell you so much. So if you’d like to contribute to our change-making efforts, we’d like to invite you to join us for an Open Day Event on 3 March in Gloucestershire. This will be a semi-structured day where you’ll learn a lot more about Nurture Development, our passion for ABCD and the work we do on the ground, and we will have the opportunity to really get to know what makes you tick.

If this is of interest, please send us something that tells us why you feel you must come and meet us. You can be as creative as you like in what you submit; send us a blog, a video, an audio recording, an email, a story, or whatever you feel will communicate why you must be part of this. Send your submission to Cormac Russell at Your submission will be reviewed by the Nurture Development team and, if we feel there is a connection, we’ll invite you along to our Open Day.

Deadline for submissions:  Friday 14 February

You may not feel you have all the qualities or sufficient experience to apply; to be honest when we re-read this as a team at Nurture Development, we didn’t either. But don’t be put off; if you can see even a portion of these qualities within yourself and have the commitment and vision to see them grow, then we want to hear from you!!! Think of us as fellow travellers, or learning companions with room on-board for those who click with us.

Now listen to your gut! Is this for you?

Please see accompanying documents for further information:

1. Job Description – ABCD Coach

2. Person Specification – ABCD Coach

3. FAQ – Barnwood Trust

What happens next?

  • Should you be invited along to the Open Day you will receive joining instructions by email, which will explain the purpose and content of the open day and other relevant information
  • You will be contacted shortly after the Open Day to let you know if you have been shortlisted. If you have been shortlisted, we will arrange a final telephone interview with you.

If you require any of this information in a different format, please contact and tell us what you need.

Download this blog as a PDF document.

Leave a comment

Melville Hill street café

The following blog has been written by a Community Builder in Torbay, one of Nurture Development’s Learning Sites, and posted to the dedicated blog site, Riviera Renaissance. It offers a fantastic glimpse into the work of a Community Builder and demonstrates the power that creating welcoming bumping spaces can have on connecting people, reducing isolation and building community.


After an initial meeting with some residents of Melville Hill, it became apparent that one of the issues in the area was a divide between residents and the occupants of a nearby hostel. They felt if they had a platform to engage, then they would like nothing more than to welcome them and make them feel like a valuable part of the community and make people realise that there are friends out there.

Coming up with an idea to get this community together was a challenge; a couple of previous walk rounds made us realise that maybe engaging with the local residents just by chance meeting, may not be the right approach. So myself and Katherine sat down together and ran through some ideas, after a while we came up with the idea of a Pop Up Café where we would have tables and chairs, bacon rolls and mince pies, along with hot drinks, to try and to talk to residents and also to try and encourage a chance meeting of some of the people we were trying to reach.

So on a Sunday we took over a little corner of a local car park, set up tables and chairs, also cookers and kettles and we were open! It didn’t take long for us to get noticed by a passer-by on his way to the shop, we explained what we were up to and asked him to drop by on his way back for his roll and coffee. Before we knew it we had more people arrive and we started talking and asking them what they were passionate about and what were their likes and interests? From this other discussions were taking place, a little community gathered around a little café.

Soon the guy on his way back from the shop came over and we had a chat with him, we again told him what we were up to, he replied to our questions by mentioning that he doesn’t really see or talk to anybody; he didn’t go to the pub as he was in recovery so found it hard to connect. Another gentleman joined in the conversation and shared the view that he felt there were problems in the community because of drug taking and the transient population, both guys admitted to walking past each other nearly on a daily basis without acknowledgement and that having an opportunity to meet and chat was great. I then went off to talk with someone else leaving the two guys chatting and after about 20 minutes I returned to find them enjoying mince pies and chatting about fishing, which turned out to be a shared passion and by the end of the afternoon they had arranged to meet for a trip out together.

Overall the event was a huge success; people were really excited about talking to new faces and showed a massive interest in continuing the progress made in the Pop Up Café. After this success, the next step for us is to arrange with the community for another engagement event, where a few more connections can be made and hopefully some community projects will follow.

1 Comment

Five keys to broad and inclusive community engagement

Written by Jim Diers, Associate of Nurture Development, Faculty Member for the ABCD Institute and author of ‘Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way’


Strong linksBuilding strong communities is not easy. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam documents the decline of community life in North America. He blames poverty, suburbanization, television, and more time spent at work. Others have added fear, mobility, globalization, and increased professionalization and specialization to the list of culprits. Even so, my 37 year background in community building has taught me some simple rules of engagement that still hold true today.

Have Fun!

Of all the forces that are eroding community, Putnam claims that television is the greatest threat. That may be true, but if television is our main competition and we’re losing, we’re doing something terribly wrong. It shouldn’t be that difficult to make community more compelling than television.

Cesar Cala, a community activist in the Philippines and now in Calgary, told me, “The problem is those GD activists.” “GD activists?” I inquired. “Yes,” he said, “the grim and determined.”

We all know those sour activists who act like civic engagement is their cross to bear. They love to complain. Who would want to get involved with them? The key is to make community life fun again. As my friend Jeff Bercuwitz says, “Why have a meeting when you can have a party?” After all, the purpose is to get people involved and not to see who can endure the most suffering.

Start Where People Are

Saul Alinsky, who is often described as the father of modern community organizing, complained that too many activists start with the world as they would like it to be rather than the world as it is. If you want to get people engaged, he advised, you need to start where they are. This is true on several levels.

First, the closer the action is to where people live, the more likely they are to get engaged. While there will undoubtedly be a larger turnout for a citywide event, there will never be a higher percentage of participation than if the meeting (or party) is held at the block level. A more localized event makes transportation and child care much easier. It also gives people a greater sense that their participation is important. After all, if they don’t attend, who will?

Second, if you want to get people involved, you need to be mindful of their language and culture. This seems obvious in working with newly arrived folks from other countries, but even when communicating with people who speak the same language as you, it is important to use words that are familiar to them. Too often, we use jargon or acronyms that comprise a sort of secret code known only by members of a particular profession or by hard core activists. Not only do we fail to communicate, but those whom we are trying to reach come to believe that they lack the expertise required for participation.

Third, in trying to recruit people, it is important to start with the networks to which they already belong. Too often, we think that people aren’t engaged in community life simply because they don’t belong to our organization or group. In fact, just about everyone belongs to at least one network, either formal or informal. They likely don’t have time to join yet another group. Besides, they have developed relationships within their existing network that make them comfortable.

It is especially difficult to include people whose age, income, ethnicity or other characteristics set them apart from the existing members of your organization. If you want to create a multi-cultural community effort, it generally works best to identify and build alliances with the key networks involving people who are underrepresented in your membership. These local networks could be centered on neighbourhood, culture, faith, education, business, recreation, environment, history, art, crime prevention, service, a hobby, or something else. There are literally dozens of networks in every neighbourhood. When these networks are aligned, the community can exercise tremendous power.

Fourth, we need to focus on people’s passions. Too often, we try to convince people to care about our cause – what we are passionate about or what we are paid to promote. When people don’t join us, we call them apathetic. In fact, no one is apathetic. Everyone cares deeply about something. People will get involved to the extent that we can tap into their passion. The key is to start, not with an answer or with a programme, but with a question:

“What is your dream or what keeps you up at night?”

Finally, in order to start where people are, you need to know their call. I learned this lesson from John McKnight, Director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute. McKnight taught me that different kinds of people respond to different kinds of calls, just like ducks.

Typically, the meeting call is the one that we use. For most people, this is the worst possible call. They’re afraid to come to the first meeting because they know they will be on the sign-in sheet and be sentenced to meetings for the remainder of their life. Those who have come to meetings usually see few if any results. And, many people are shy. They may attend meetings because it is the only option they are given, but they don’t feel like they are making a contribution.

In fact, everyone will get involved if they hear their call. Most people respond to the social call of community meals, parties and festivals. Shy people may respond to the volunteer call as a tutor or mentor. And, everyone seems to love the project call. With projects, unlike with meetings, people make a short term commitment and they see results. There’s a role for everyone- young people, elders, people with disabilities, architects, artists, construction workers, etc. The more varied the calls they utilize, the more broad-based and inclusive the organization will be.

Once people are connected, then they are more likely to go to some meetings because we need a few of those as well. But, we tend to lead with the meetings and wonder why the same people keep turning out. We’re often trying to engage community before we’ve built it.

Strive for Results

While it is important to start where the people are, it is crucial not to leave them there. This is especially true of people who have felt powerless and are getting involved for the first time. They need to see results if they are going to stay involved. So, you probably don’t want to start by working on world peace or global warming. Alinsky talked about the importance of focusing on issues that are immediate, concrete and realizable. Once people have a sense that they can make a difference, they will be more ready to tackle the larger issues.

Utilize People’s Strengths

Many activists tend to focus on the problems in their community. As a result, they look outside the community for the solutions and overlook the abundant assets that exist in every neighbourhood and in every individual. Everyone has gifts of the head (knowledge), heart (passion), and hands (skills). Identifying ways in which people can contribute those gifts to the community is a wonderful way to get them engaged. This is especially true for people referred to as at-risk youth, old people, non-English speaking, and homeless and disabled individuals. When we label people by their needs, they become clients in a service system, and when we focus on their gifts they become citizens of our community.

Celebrate Success and Recognize Caring Neighbours

Getting results is important, but much of the potential value is lost if you fail to celebrate your success and thank those who made it possible. Neighbours need to know that people like themselves were responsible. The sharing of such stories inspires people about what is possible when they work together and build on their assets. Social media presents us with a wonderful opportunity to tell the positive stories that are seldom found in the mainstream press.


Jim will be speaking at a number of events across the UK in November 2013 as one of Nurture Development’s key Associates. We will be tweeting about these events from @NurtureDev and will be blogging about the different discussions taking place. Watch this space!

Leave a comment


Welcome to Nurture Development‘s first blog.

Nurture Development was founded in Ireland by Cormac Russell in order to better understand how social change can be both genuinely citizen led and grounded in social justice.

This remains at the heart of what drives us as an organisation. From the outset Nurture Development has held to the view that everyone has skills and abilities that when connected with others in a shared purpose can contribute to the transformation of neighbourhoods, towns, cities and even countries.

But we are not naive, we neither romanticise the concept of community, nor do we collude with those who seek to diminish its potential. Over the last decade many communities across the world have become fragmented and retributive. We believe that this presents both the greatest challenge to, and the most compelling opportunity for, enduring social and environmental change. We are resolute in the conviction that the best way to transform society is to build more connected and caring communities from the inside – out.

The language, principles and conceptual frameworks of ABCD continue to illuminate the work of the Nurture Development team and are at the very heart of who we are and how we act for change.

Nurture Development is particularly proud to be working alongside so many fellow change makers who support strengths based community building. Our collaborations now extend well beyond Ireland and include several partners in England, Scotland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, South Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya (and soon in Singapore).

Why not visit our website to find out more about our organisation.