Standing on Our Own Two Feet – the role of Community Coaching

Research by Coaching York and the City of York Council identifies the importance of community coaching in the current climate

Coaching is now widely recognised as an important force for change in the workplace but its potential benefits for wider society are rarely discussed. Coaching York and the City of York Council have collaborated on desk research into the concept and application of community coaching. Our thoughts on our findings are explored at a jointly-hosted conference in York on Friday 3 March, 2017. Professor Bob Garvey, Honorary President of Coaching York, will deliver the keynote. The conference will bring the public sector and coaching practitioners together to discuss how coaching can empower communities.

This preliminary research aims to establish the extent of the practice of Community Coaching. As Emery, Hubbell, and Miles-Polka (2011) write in A Field Guide to Community Coaching, a community coach is ‘a guide who supports communities and organizations in identifying and achieving their goals.’ The strength of community coaching lies in its emphasis on citizen empowerment, and it therefore represents a powerful solution to budget cuts and stretched resources for the public sector.

In the research, we discovered a range of innovative coaching initiatives taking place beyond local authorities – in universities, charities, and social enterprises across the UK, including work in prisons, social justice projects, and community events. However, we found that these initiatives were not always discussed under the banner of ‘community coaching.’ This relates to a recurrent theme in our findings: the importance of well-chosen language that sheds the mistaken paternalistic connotations of mentoring or guardianships, for example, and advertises community coaching’s empowering nature. We found that existing community coaching projects tended to be deficit-based or preventative, addressing problem areas rather than seeking to offer coaching across communities to build on existing assets and strengths.

What could be gained from an approach to community coaching that identifies opportunities rather than problems? Coaching York is unique in its asset-based model, which endeavours to extend existing strengths in communities. In 2015 it paired 10 coaches with 10 coachees from the voluntary sector who were considered influential members of the community, and therefore ideally placed to cascade the value of coaching to their communities, spreading the message of coaching to new audiences.

The City of York Council, for example, is in the initial stages of considering ways in which community coaching might harness individual and collective potential to improve and attain ownership of outcomes for individuals and their communities. This could encompass tenants who might do more for themselves, individuals making lifestyle choices or residents committing to get more actively involved in their communities.

By developing further energetic and enthusiastic networks, research and documentation and publicising these, it becomes possible to tap into the potential of community coaching to reshape the relationship between the public sector and the communities it serves to create a connected society of people who can, with support, stand on their own two feet.


Emery, M, Hubbell, K, Miles-Polka, B, 2011, A field Guide to Community Coaching, W.K. Kellogg Foundation