Enabling local residents to have a real say in how their areas can be improved and in supporting them to ‘co-produce’ neighbourhood improvements through the commissioning of new services, influencing planning and development policies and social action is at the core of Renaisi’s communities work.
An important and enduring policy question for Renaisi therefore is what conditions make this successful, and how can they be effectively supported in a time of austerity?
We have recently been working with two community-based organisations as they address some of these challenges – Three Corners Trust and Whittington Park Community Association, both in Islington, London. Both are running community buildings, but wishing to play a broader community engagement role and run or commission additional services.
This experience has very much highlighted the opportunities but also the challenges community-based organisations face in working to improve their neighbourhoods. If community-based organisations need to spend all of their energies running organisations, they have neither the time nor energy to meaningfully engage in community development work.
On the other hand, without an effective organisational base – community organisations are inadequately equipped to deliver important local services or help unlock local community capacity. It’s a ‘catch-22′ situation. This is something that the commissioning and support sector including local authorities and CVS organisations, desperately needs to understand and work to get right; if frontline ‘civil society’ organisations are to thrive, they need the right level and type of support.
The Big Lottery Fund has already published some interesting new research and thinking on this issue. Over the coming years, it will be incumbent upon all of us in the business of helping to build strong and resilient communities to help new support bodies (post Transforming Local Infrastructure] and Local Authorities respond.
Renaisi’s work on the Big Local programme provides a national insight into these questions, amongst many other policy issues related to community and area development. Big Local is designed to take resident-led change to a genuinely new level. The effective engagement/use of natural and untapped assets (particularly resident volunteers) will be essential to its success. So too will the quality of local capacity building and organisational support provided to enable this to happen.
We’d urge all those local authorities, voluntary sector umbrella bodies, housing associations and any others who are currently re-thinking their roles and trying to find ways to provide an effective supportive environment for community groups – to take an active interest in the Big Local / Local Trust approach over the coming months and years.
For more information on Big Local please contact Kirby Swales on 020 7 033 2600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
By Kirby Swales