Rachel Goater, our Community Involvement Development Officer, and organiser of Let’s Make Reading Friendlier, left us earlier this year to move to Scotland. Alongside her work for RVA, Rachel will be known by many in the community for her work with the Repair Café, Reading Green Fest, a pop-up Vegan restaurant, and Reading’s first Vegan festival. We asked her to reflect on five action-packed years in Reading.
Which projects have you worked on over your five years with RVA?
Pretty much everything I’ve done has been focused on encouraging community action in one way or another, and particularly small initiatives, connecting people with funding and support to get started, especially when they haven’t run something in their community before. One of the first events I ran was Get Involved Reading, where people spoke about why they needed some seed funding. Out of that event, projects like Oxford Road Timebank and Friends of Cemetery Junction got their initial funding. Later, with funding from the Earley Charity, we identified the Amersham Road as an area which would particularly benefit from support and launched the community involvement project there.
What has been your greatest achievement at RVA?
The Amersham Road project was the one I have had the most in-depth involvement with. The nice thing about it was that when I started working there, it was my community – I lived in a house facing the estate, so it was my closest community centre and then it became my closest children’s centre, even though I had moved further away.
One of the issues was that though the area is highly residential, it didn’t have a centre as such, so while people in the area wanted to get going with community action, they didn’t necessarily identify the existing community centre as a place they wanted to go. A lot of my work initially was about trying to build that sense of community and helping to get the Residents’ Association and community newspaper set up. I remember it took a long time to get to the stage of the Weller Centre being developed and expanded because there were so many partners involved, and it was a big decision for the funder. The discussions around it went on for a long time!
Now I’m no longer involved with that project it’s good to see that there’s a real buzz around the centre and people in the area are really becoming engaged with it. And even though a lot of that happened after I finished working on it, it’s really nice to see. It wasn’t hard to hand over to Sarah [Timmins DeGregory] because she has done such an amazing job and brings such positive energy to the Weller Centre and the community.
I am constantly amazed by the amount of time and effort so many individuals give to causes across Reading
Did you know Reading at all before you started working at RVA?
No, not at all, I came to Reading when I got this job. It was a great way to come into a town because I got connected very quickly, and alongside everything I was doing with RVA I got involved with a few community things myself. I am constantly amazed by the amount of time and effort so many individuals give to causes across Reading – whether it’s something in their community or neighbourhood, a health issue, or a cause that they care about. It’s happening all the time with so many people we engage with, and with many others we never hear about, as well.
How do think the voluntary sector has changed over the last few years?
It feels to me as though it’s more vibrant, that there are more people doing more things. I’m not sure whether that is because people are doing more in response to council funding cuts, or it’s just that as I have become more involved in the voluntary sector, I am more aware of what is going on!
What will you take away from your time at RVA to your next project or job?
I am inspired by everyone I see and meet, and the can-do attitude that a lot of people have. Whether I look for another voluntary sector or community-based job, or I identify something I want to set up myself, I feel much more confident about getting community projects going because I’ve seen so many people do it. It’s a feeling that this is possible, I can give it a go, and it if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter – the possibilities are endless.
Rachel is hugely missed by the RVA team, and we all wish her the very best for her adventures in Scotland!