Building stronger and more resilient communities
So often community development work ultimately is neither empowering nor sustainable. Our public services remain one of the most centralised in the developed world and the communities where we see the greatest health inequalities and the most deprivation remain stubbornly hard to deliver lasting impact in. All our work is underpinned by the two principles of empowerment and sustainability. What happens repeatedly in our most challenging communities is that the work is either done to the community, by some well-meaning statutory provider or funding is allocated to support an initiative and then a competitive process is set up to allocate funds to community organisations. In both models power remains firmly in the hands of the statutory provider or grant giver. Community groups and organisations are asked to compete amongst themselves for funds to be allocated by some higher power. Not only is this deeply disempowering it is almost always unsustainable – when the funding runs out the project stops, and community groups end up in an endless cycle of bidding for money. Constantly having to hold out the begging bowl is deeply disempowering.
Through our work we are seeking to change that model to deliver lasting devolution of power, money and responsibility. That means that our work needs to be data driven. We need to build a detailed evidence base with statutory providers around the challenges they are looking to address – “what are the specific pressures this community places upon your services that you would like to reduce?” We then support detailed work in the target communities (working with people in those communities) to understand what the strengths and assets are that already exist in each place that could support delivering sustainable changes. Critically as part of our work we have a commitment to financial sustainability. In practice that involves a conversation where we seek agreement from commissioners or grant funders about their commitment to financial sustainability. We need to get agreement that if, though the agreed activity in the community, we can deliver a meaningful reduction in demand for a particular service or services then there needs to be a commitment (from the service provider or commissioner) that the cost saving, associated with that change, will be shared with the community that has delivered that change.
On that basis our work is almost always about trying to engineer a shift in public resources from remedial (statutory, bureaucratic, centralised) services to preventative (local, volunteer supported, community empowering) services. And in that aspiration, we know that locality matters very deeply indeed.