These are the ideas which we try and work by. But we're always open to discussing and developing them!
Acting Like Equals
"At Skills we weren’t made to feel like poor people – it didn’t feel like, ‘Oh look! Let’s get this bunch of poor people in and see what we can do with them!’"
We believe that all of us - regardless of what we do or who we are - are both teachers and learners. No one’s role or opinion is more important than anyone else’s - though we recognise some people have more knowledge about some things. No-one’s work is more important that anyone else’s . We believe in taking people’s opinions seriously. We really listen to what they say.
One member, who was used to being in a position of power at other organisations she worked at explains: "Acting as equals was a new concept for me. It forces you to try to chip away at the things, the habits that give power to some people and take away power from others. I find it hard. As a teacher and group facilitator I guess I often 'assume' power in ways I can't always see. I've learnt a lot".
Sharing decision-making, responsibility, leadership and power between all members
We believe this is an ethical and effective way to work. We also believe that it takes time, effort and consideration. We therefore use processes that allow everyone to be heard. We work hard to be aware of and address power dynamics in the group, even when they are hidden.
If someone is listening to you, walking side-by-side with you, they don’t have power over you. They don’t have the voice to say, “OK! We are telling [you] to go and do this!” And that is something that is so important to me now. Not just putting your voice in… just listen first.
We believe in interdependence, not individualism. We are all responsible for each other. Within our group we strive towards a constant flow of give and take: everyone both giving and receiving support, learning and sharing skills.
Accepting and Working with Difference (Not Making Assumptions)
People have different backgrounds, experiences and ways of thinking. We do not all see the world in the same way. We accept this and try and learn from it. We all make assumptions and have prejudices - but we try hard to be aware of them and challenge them in ourselves and others.
One member describes the value of this approach... "with Skills one of the important things is being able to listen to other people even if they may not speak the way you do or express themselves in the way you do, but that doesn’t mean that their ideas are not valuable... I see things from a different perspective. I can literally say I have come away and I can see this and that, that I couldn’t see before..."
Not shaming and blaming
Many of our members speak of how the language of the media and the way some ‘helping’ or welfare organisations approach and treat low-income mothers can leave them feeling like they themselves are inherently ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’; not to be trusteed, needing to be scrutinised, evaluated, judged as ‘worthy’ before receiving support. For this reason, we all try very hard at Skills Network not to shame and blame each other. This applies to both our day-to-day interactions and how our wider structures - for instance around accountability – are set up. We try and approach conflicts and arguments as ‘shared problems’, rather than as the fault of individuals involved, and to understand why things have gone wrong.
As one member says: ‘We’re always checking up on each other, as a group, making sure this and the other is done. But it’s not about “you didn’t do this!”, it’s usually: “how can we help you feel able to do it? Where can the group support?”’ Avoiding shaming and blaming is a hard – perhaps the hardest - part of our work. But it is crucial.
Fighting for and enacting right now the world we want to see
We believe that the social and economic systems we live in privilege some people and hold others back – usually the poor and the powerless. For everyone to be able to thrive, these systems need to change. We support people to move towards what they want for themselves and their families, but as a group we also work towards social and political transformation. We also try and enact the more just and equal future society we want to see in our day-to-day organising. For instance by taking concrete steps to make sure different contributions are valued equally through a flat pay rate, using consensus process to make decisions and explicitly reflecting together on how our different life situations and experiences give us different kinds of ‘power’ in the group.