Ali Horton joined Connect Academy in 2022. She’s co-leader of the Gateway Collective – a social enterprise community garden in Bootle, near Liverpool. She gives a little insight into the impact Connect Academy has had on her and her project.
What did you want to get out of Connect Academy?
I’ve lived in the voluntary sector world for 25 years now. I’ve had a lot of training, but I’ve had no specific training with a Christian slant, so for me it [Connect Academy] was the opportunity to bring two worlds together.
Is Connect Academy also beneficial for those with no experience?
For someone who is starting out, it’s incredibly useful. I did this with my colleague who is very new to this world [social action] so it was an opportunity for her to learn some of the different skills as well. We are in very different places, but it was useful to be on it together and talk about it afterward.
What would you say was unique about Cinnamon’s approach?
I know a lot about how to manage volunteers and funding etc, but I’ve never looked at them with a Christian emphasis. I really liked how the sessions drew in principles of faith.
I love that all the training facilitators have the head knowledge and the lived experience. They’re all doing it and that’s very useful because they understand the realities of the challenges – it’s not just an academic exercise.
How have you connected with others on the course?
I found the Learning Hubs really useful. I made connections with others who were in a similar place to me. Someone else was looking at a community garden in their church – so I was able to share my learning. I’ve also had a separate meet-up with someone else to look at how we can support each other.
How have you applied the learning to your day-to-day work?
The partnership training made me think more about who my stakeholders are. I did a stakeholder mapping exercise and thought about who I really want to work with and how can I do that in a way that represents who we are. I’ve always shied away from calling people and saying, “Hi I’m Ali, can I have a coffee?” but actually the encouragement to have a personal approach was really good.
In the funding one, Liam [the facilitator] had a spreadsheet he uses, and I thought “that’s so much better than the one I use!” so I scribbled all his headings down and now I’m using that. It’s a small example, but those little tweaks just make things so much easier.
What is Diane, the course leader like?
Diane is the glue in this! Through the Learning Hubs she draws out what we covered in the training. She’s very warm, very approachable, but clearly very, very knowledgeable and knows this stuff inside out. Everything I’m trying to do, she’s already done and can suggest things. I had the chance to meet up with her in person when she was in the area and that was great!
What’s next for Gateway Collective?
We’ve actually had more opportunities to do more overtly faith-based activities. We’ve been approached by a church to do a forest church and we’re looking to do monthly prayer meetings. So for me, it’s time to link together my community work and who I am as a follower of Jesus. Cinnamon has been a bit of a bridge in that.
What would you say to others thinking about joining Academy?
Prioritise the time and do it! It will force you to make space to look at your practice and yourself and make a plan. It’s also incredibly good value for money. If you look at the investment, I haven’t found anything that’s better! It’s equipping you as a follower of Jesus to do social justice well. The people on this course get it!
Cinnamon Connect Academy is a nine-month programme for anyone who wants to see their community transformed.
Find out more at cinnamonconnect.co.uk/academy