One thing which interests us are the different routes these projects seem to be going down. For some it’s too soon to say they are on one route versus another but we’ve had a go at naming the routes, in the hope of stimulating discussion – in particular about where different projects are headed, and whether routes chosen now mean they are destined to grow into quite different things in the future? Here goes:
1) Bridgeheads and basecamps
- In some places the first people on the scene started by securing a visible physical presence in a neighbourhood on behalf of the initiative, so there’s a person in the same place, most days of the week (or at least a “back in 5 mins” sign). It might be a desk in the office of an existing organisation, or something bigger. Ramsey Big Local did this early on, getting hold of a small office and meeting space just off the High Street where key movers and shakers can usually be found. Others are doing similar like Warwick Ahead Big Local where the key organisers can usually be found up at the “Addy”, the estate’s popular community centre and adventure playground.
- These projects are aiming for their physical bases to become literal meeting places to make new connections and cook-up plans. As these projects beg, borrow, or buy more space, and secures more income their physical home becomes their identity. Ten years later they might be a new generation of Knowle West Media Centres, or Park Centres.
2) Seeding lots of small things
- This route starts by seeking out local individuals or groups who have ideas which might improve the community, and then providing them with small amounts of human support and/or funding. This is what UnLtd’s Star People fund does in tandem with Big Local. It’s also part of the rationale behind participatory budgeting like in Windsor and Maidenhead.
- But can also be non-financial – like offering time to help turn ideas into reality (like NANM’s own work on Media4Me where we enabled a community radio station to deliver a project they had planned but were too stretched to deliver).
- Seeding lots of things, means failure is expected, and part of the process – but over time these approaches could reach enough individuals to create a critical mass of people with more capacity and confidence which in turn inspires others.
3) We do therefore we fundraise
- This is a different mindset from community organisations where the main focus is the activities and services and where grants are a means to an ends. This is more like the model adopted by of national charities like Macmillan but on a local scale where the goal is to create a strong fundraising capacity in parallel social action and services. Some Big Local areas like Rastrick for whom innovative fundraising and creative ways of getting people involved are one and the same thing.
- There are existing examples too, like the Shoreditch Trust and the Alt Valley Community Trust for whom being brilliant at fundraising and creating income are as integral to their model as their brilliant community services.
4) Building on the last thing
- Does a truly ‘new’ community group ever really form? It’s hard to imagine an individual who could get people together in their community who was not already connected in some way.
- In two London neighbourhoods Barnfield (in SE London) and White City (in W London) the leadership for Big Local and for Neighbourhood Community Budgets came from community groups which had been set up for a previous community-change project – in these cases Well London.
- These groups have already done the hard work of learning how to work together and get things done. But at the same time, it’s only natural for them to approach these new projects as a chance to pursue (as far as the rules allow) the goals and ambitions they have spent the past five years developing.
5) Changing the Rules
- Places and communities are shaped by the rules they operate under. And another route is to exploit new opportunities to change the rules. Queens Park Parish is one of the best examples, where the new legal right to create Parishes with revenue-raising powers has been used. The new household-levy which they have been able to set forms a permanent source of revenue and guarantees its future.
- Another example are the community groups using the new neighbourhood planning rights like Upper Eden in Cumbria to tackle local problems (in Upper Eden’s case it’s affordable housing). Free Schools are another example.
What do you think? Might these kinds of distinctions help or hinder us in understanding how to make change happen now, and where it might take communities in the future. Has all this been done before? Or do you have another way to cut-it?