Living, working & dreaming with sustainable and self-sufficient communities in West Yorkshire. I love using zine-making, poetry, songwriting, foraging and permaculture in my work. 

I have 5 years experience of community and social change work in European and African communities. I am a postgraduate alumnus of Leeds Beckett University and International Service, with a degree in Global Development & Politics and a recent Masters in Peace and Development Studies. Throughout my career I have acquired a variety of creative skills and professional qualifications to support my work. My independent study focussed on local and global communities and cultures to respect one of my guiding principles think global, act local.

My knowledge climate justice and community climate action has developed from my academic studies. Wanting to address global racial inequalities, my research paper concerned racism and xenophobia in Britain.  This research has been utilised in my work with black-led arts organisations and roles where I supported artists of colour in local communities. My experiences led to me embedding climate justice as a central tenant in my practice, as the interconnectedness of racism and climate change is increasingly apparent.

My current practice includes work as part of the East Street Arts programme “Seasons for Change.” At East Street Arts I am responsible for community engagement and audience development in the Leeds’ communities of Burmantofts, Lincoln Green & Mabgate around art which concerns climate change and promoting carbon neutral living.  My work involves bringing people together in inclusive and accessible event which inspire climate action in the community. I am facilitating the development of a community-led zine, social media channels, supporting local artist’s learning and setting up a neighbourhood forum. I have built an extensive network which will prove invaluable for this work. I am confident these skills and ongoing experiences are developing assets for my future work.

In addition, my participation in the Racial Justice Network’s (RJN) Race & Climate learning group has enabled me to better understand and communicate climate justice issues in relation to racial and local community issues. I would like to build on this experience by facilitating a similar co-learning group rooted in the local community as part of future work.

I am confident I have the skills and knowledge needed for working in a cross-cultural setting. I have multiple experiences of creating inclusive environments for diverse communities. This involves being inclusive of people to whom English is a second language, who may have differing levels of confidence and trust in their community or differing cultural values. This understanding is reflected in my creative portfolio of visual work which seeks to be more inclusive by using animations, videos, zine design and the production of digital audio translations.

In addition, when volunteering for International Service in northern Ghana, and secondly leading a cross-cultural team of volunteers in Malawi, both projects involved improving the attainment of education for school children in marginalised, rural communities who are at the forefront of climate change.

I have helped residents work collectively to make a different whilst working in Tamale, Ghana. The community’s collective peace was impacted by the decrease of arable land in the region, and the school attainment of the children. Most of whom came from sustenance farming families and were pressured to work on farms to support their families. Part of our imaginative strategy towards this large-scale problem, was to restore local agricultural practices to mitigate the ecological damage, such as buying and planting trees as a community to prevent soil erosion. This relieved the labour intensity of the food production and allowed children to return to school. The activity of planting trees helped to bring together the intergenerational community to make a difference.

Although farming is uncommon in urban Leeds, there are many benefits to planting trees. In Hull I have planted trees whilst working with Amazing Play, a local play and youth group. Here we sought to improve the air quality of the city and to develop a sense of community ownership for all. This would be another transferrable activity in Leeds, even during lockdown measures. It helps to levy conversation about climate action and global thinking. Planting trees can be made accessible for most people with some awareness of the community’s needs.

I have experience creating imaginative strategies to help residence make a difference. In Malawi our work primarily concerned sexual and reproductive health of school children. The community has a history of health inequality, including being subjected to the aid’s epidemic.

The community’s health inequalities were exacerbated by climate change issues, here trees were planted on behalf of corporations collecting ‘carbon credits.’ This removed pre-existing sources of income for families and forced children to work dangerous jobs such as on tobacco plantations.  In response to this injustice, I worked as part of a team to start an awareness raising campaign, in person and digitally on our social media channels.  One aspect of which was letting children know about the dangers of working on tobacco plantations alongside the importance of staying in school. Alongside the community, I lobbied local leaders to challenge the carbon credit schemes and the mismanagement of the forest. I successfully conducted this work alongside the pre-existing parts of our project and led the campaign in a responsible and professional manner to stop conflicts of interests with the NGO of which I was an ambassador.

A principle I have practiced since this time in Malawi has been to ‘make social change accessible to young people.’ This is essential for sustainable and long-term projects. This idea I have transferred to my other work in the UK. I believe to make meaningful developments; we must inspire young people and develop their potential alongside adults to do the work in the future.

I achieved this previously during my work in Hull, where I was part of a group of young people who created a community group, Solidarity Hull, to work alongside young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. To develop our goals and take actions to improve the lives of young people in Hull, we sourced funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I also help other members to complete their own funding applications. This is a skill which may be necessary in my future work, if there are individuals with ideas and projects which may need funding, I could support these pursuits.

Asides from this, whilst working with Solidarity Hull I developed my understanding and skills to be a well-rounded community arts worker. For instance, I helped produce theatre and music, workshops and performances. I also supported cooking events, such as ‘world cafes’ to which we invited the wider community to be a part of. I would be able to use these skills and networks I have, to engage with creative people in the communities of Leeds and have them advocate for the project and produce creative responses.

My career in community work began at a community-led charity which I had previously attended as a child, Amazing Play. Here I was a play worker for primary school children after school hours including school holidays. Our work here was funded by The Big Lottery Fund. I was part responsible for the receiving of this funding and therefore I have previous experience of a Big Lottery Funding bid.

As a play worker for children of primary school age, I would organise community gardening events, circus-skill workshops and provided pastoral care. I was responsible for supporting our organisation’s administration. This meant I was accountable for the community to make sure that administrative tasks were done.

My 5 years’ experience since Amazing Play has led me to accumulate many qualifications in Sports and Fitness Coaching, Arts Workshop Facilitation, Relationship Coaching, First Aid, Safeguarding, Safeguarding Children with Disabilities, Food and Hygiene, Horticulture, BA Global Development & Politics, MA Peace & Development.  Also, I have been trained by the Red Cross to respond in cases of crisis in my community. These qualifications could also be applicable to the work as a Community Developer.

I work with the arts evaluation consultancy Armstrong & Cameron, who provide arts and cultural organisations support in monitoring and evaluation. As a consultancy, we respond to the various clients with creative and bespoke approaches for their evaluation. I have been responsible for developing and administering several light-touch evaluations with children as part of this work. For instance, helping organisations tell their stories through videos or images.

I have also received training and experience in using a wide range of creative tools for monitoring and evaluation which are more attentive to the needs of creatives and are based on different styles of capturing stories, rather than data collection alone which can be alienating. I am confident these skills will support the monitoring and evaluation of my community work. Working with Armstrong & Cameron I have developed my skills in nonviolent communication, relationship coaching and action learning. All skills which I use in my professional practice and would bring to future work.

Instagram @asherjael
Twitter @Jael_Asher

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