Pantomimes and Nativity Plays are you prepared?

More great advice from Cambridgeshire ACRE for any community center or village hall.

Cambridgeshire ACRE's Community Buildings Service

It won’t affect us – Oh yes it will!

Many communities use the village hall or community building in the weeks leading up to Christmas and in the New Year for nativity plays, carol services and pantomimes. Management committees need to ensure that everyone is safe prior, during and after performances and that the legal requirements have been dealt with in advance of the performances.


If the production is not being run by the management committee, then the hirers of the hall must have ensured that they have all the relevant insurance cover required. This should be clear on the hiring agreement as to whether the public liability insurance extends to hirers and their activities.


Any community building which facilitates musical entertainment whether live or recorded MUST have a Performing Rights Society (PRS) Licence. It is the duty of the management committee to ensure that the building can…

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My thoughts on resilient communities and more

Notes from the Cambridge City Community Safety Partnership development meeting

Ever been to one of those meetings where you feel you may have gone into the wrong room but are too embarrassed to ask – well….

I was not in the wrong room, I know, and meet with, lots of the people who were already there and there was a badge with my name on it. So why did I feel out of place, because I represent the ‘loose and baggy monster’that is the voluntary sector, and by inference the ‘community’ that everyone references and places so much emphasis on. I do not represent a big statutory organisation, and it makes me (please pick one) sad, angry, frustrated,annoyed, amazed to sit in meetings like this knowing the reality of life in the community and on the front line of small charities and community groups.

I was attending the Cambridge City Community Safety Partnership (CSP)  development day. Firstly I want to make one thing totally clear, this is one of those partnerships that really proves Aristotle was right when he said, “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts”. This partnership has benefited, engaged and even funded various projects delivered by small groups, and what’s more it has built relationships, trust and delivered results.

And here is the But. I have written before on the importance of small organisations and communities (here and here) so will simply say two things

  1. All communities are not created equally
  2. Small groups are the glue that binds local communities together

Let’s take these as read please, and also that I understand the pressures on the Police, Local Authorities, the Health service and everyone else in the room with me today.

Today I have heard

  • We need resilient communities
  • We have to industrialise solutions
  • We need more effective evaluation
  • Prevention is more important

I have also heard about the cliff edge of some of the funding that is coming, and this makes me very worried as I hoped austerity was over. I have heard about changing patterns of crime and some real successes in combating this. But most of all I have felt, and this was never said, that we are over the edge of the cliff and on the scree slope sliding down. With the right resources this slide can be arrested, and with the right resources the energy and ideas in this room can be used to climb back up the slope.

So let’s concentrate on the four bullet points above. Starting with resilient communities, this seems to be the Cambridgeshire mantra at the moment, everyone wants them and everyone sees them as a solution to statutory services that are being cut as funding is reduced. Saying we want resilient communities does not make it happen, that only works for Bloody Mary or Beetlejuice. There is no denying that making communities resilient and more connected is great for everyone but it takes resources, time, support, time, resources… If we want them it will cost! We know that it is not simply enough to create a resilient community, it then has to be nurtured and supported to stay resilient. We need to support small groups to do what they do and we need to recognise that not all communities are created equally. This leads on to the idea of industrialisation or scaling up, yes let’s learn, share and explore together, but we have to recognise what works in one community may not work elsewhere for many reasons. We also have to recognise that if the small groups are the glue that binds communities many of these don’t want to scale or grow, and if they do sometimes they lose their USP.

What the sector is good at is prevention. It is the Police role to deal with the symptoms of crime, it is the sectors role to look at the causes and how they can be addressed. But if you are wanting to invest in prevention then sometimes it needs to be done on faith. It is hard to evaluate if the preventative action has caused a reduction in problems in one, five, ten or more years. If we want to invest in prevention it has to be long term and not short one,two, or three year projects. You have to be there for the long term. (A bit like making communities resilient). Prevention will cost, the impact will be less tangible and in a climate of only having enough money to provide statutory services where is the money coming from?

Everyone wants resilient communities, that is good. But resilient communities are not the answer to reducing public services, they can help reduce demand on services by preventing escalation. And this is where my frustration etc. kicks in, no one is able to invest in what is needed to make them happen.

So enough is enough, stop repeating it if you can’t invest in it. We have to start shouting that if money is continually cut, services will fail, and people will get left behind and will be impacted. This is not a political message, but a message of reality. People want the truth and we have to say it how it is and speak truth to power. Services can look different, be delivered in different ways and work more in partnership with communities, but this is not a solution of last resort or a means to reduce spending, in fact it might be more expensive to make it happen initially.

My messages to statutory services are

  • say it like it is.
  • Don’t talk about resilient communities unless you are going to make significant long-term investments in them.
  • Please accept my apologies for sounding like a stuck record at all the meetings I attend.

Oh, and 5th December is the UN International Volunteer Day and they have published ‘The thread that binds – Volunteerism and community resilience’. I have only read the preface but those that have (NCVO) are saying that it is as relevant here as anywhere else.So go on, if you are a statutory authority read it before you say Resilient Communities in a presentation again.

Twinkle, twinkle little star

Great Blog from Cambridgeshire ACRE

Cambridgeshire ACRE's Community Buildings Service

Christmas Lights and Electrical Issues

Each year we see more and more ingenious variations in Christmas lights. Low voltage sets are obviously preferable in so far as they pose less risk of electric shock, assuming they are properly installed. However, even low voltage equipment is capable of starting a fire if it is faulty.


  • Look for safety marks e.g. British Standards (BS) Kitemark 60598.
  • Buy from a reputable store.
  • Avoid buying second-hand lights, unless they have been professionally checked first.
  • New lights are transformed down to 24 volt for added safety, or they may be double insulated.


Old sets of lights need careful checking to ensure that they are in good working order, with no signs of damage, also check to see they conform to current BS Kitemark. Even low voltage lights need to have a transformer that is plugged into the mains supply and as such it…

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Civil society futures

After two years it has finally arrived along with more blogs than I can count. But what does it mean?

Read the final reports here.

My initial thoughts is that we are shouting into our bubble and as such that there is a real danger of this becoming what Karl Wilding of NCVO calls shelfware

They talk about civil society, and do a good job of explaining this, but is it a concept that any outside our bubble understand and relate to. There is a lot to be commended in the report and it has tried to take a much more holistic view of what people think, it deserves to make a difference, and if it doesn’t it is probably because there is too much in it, but also because it is not something that will resonate with the pubic.

Whilst this is aimed at how Civil Society needs to change and adapt it can not do this in isolation, and other sectors need to think about how they interact with us. If the impact that the government Civil Society Strategy had on the recent budget are anything to go by then we have a problem.

If people and civil society organisations are to have power then power has to listen and yet they even dismiss the work of the United Nations when it says something they don’t like.


You have to wonder what chance the rest of us have in making a difference and righting societies wrongs without resorting to civil disobedience, which the report recognises as a legitimate form of ‘people power’ but is obviously not for everyone.

The section on identity has to be key, there is a sub report about race and I believe that we need to look class as well. But more than this we also need to look at how we deal with differences that aren’t simply down to class but are down to inequality as we see so dramatically in Cambridge where different wards have a ten year life expectancy difference. The report puts civil society at the forefront of bringing together different tribes, and I wonder if this is the norm for many groups. Too often we congregate towards ‘people like us’ and this can be seen in local groups, especially in areas that have a more homogenous population. Organisations need to find ways to embrace difference and make people welcome, many do, but many don’t because it does not occur to them.

“It creates the space for the fact that you and I have completely different lifestyles and ideas, but it doesn’t stop us doing certain things together.” (Peckham community workshop)

We have to acknowledge that differences have been growing and that Brexit has played a big part in this. But so have our politicians and the press and what civil society tries to mend can easily be broken by others. If Civil Society is to bring people together it will take time and will need to ensure others aren’t sabotaging things.

The report talks about how organisations overcome selfishness

“Me instead of we. We all build our own little empires, we all have our own little gates at the front of our houses.”   (Epsom and Ewell community workshop)

“We’re pushed further apart by competition for smaller resources and a desire to find our uniqueness, not our common ground.” (CEOs of Youth Organisations Conversation)

“We’ve got to get away from this every man for himself business.”  (Shirebrook community workshop)

This becomes harder as funds for small organisations dry up, and we see bigger contracts that exclude small local delivers in favour of big regional/national delivers. Despite this we have to find ways to come together, by doing so we can provide more holistic services or more engaging services. Local Infrastructure has a role in helping facilitate this. Lots has been touted about big charities helping small and I wonder if the disconnect between the largest and the majority is just to big. From a CCVS point of view we certainly echo this part!

“There is an awareness that ‘anchor organisations’ are required to locate activity in and coordinate activity from. Infrastructural support also helps to nurture small community organisations that can engender the trust of the community and be accountable to them. The lack of local linking organisations, such as local Councils for Voluntary Service (CVSs), leaves many groups disconnected from each other and operating in silos. Battles over scarce resources can turn people against those who ‘are not like us’. Facilitation is required to bring different groups together so that people can get to know the diverse groups and shared challenges that make up their communities, ensuring that these groups can work together to be more effective.”

There is much more detail in the report and much of it makes sense and will resonate with those involved in small charities and community groups. The report covers some big issues but I missed the recognition of the diversity in the sector, and the fact that there are organisations that do so many different things, things that do not necessarily seem big in the Civil Society sphere but they really important.

The report does not end with the usual recommendations but comes up with its PACT in their words “It is intended to support us all to thrive in the future, and to build on the very best existing initiatives across civil society.”

The pact covers

  • Power
  • Accountability
  • Connection
  • Trust

They see this as a map and I really quite like this. Whilst some of the narrative focuses a bit on the big changes we would like to see happen in society, and that might be the purview of some organisations but doesn’t sit with most small organisations, at least not as a primary purpose.

The PACT has some thoughts on how we can change, and this call for change is key. I think the need to change as a movement (if we are one) and as organisations is one we need to embrace, and generally we do that. How useful these maps will be to organisations will be dependent on the organisation, what it does and who is involved. As a society we have to address these issues and have to address the causes of problems that create bigger rifts, that is not necessarily a role just for civil society (however that is defined), it has to include politics and media as well as business.

I really hope this report does make a real impact but I don’t think it will. I think that real life will get in the way for most organisations, I think that changing society needs more than just us. I do think that there are things for organisations to learn, and I think this will make steps to improve society. If some organisations become more welcoming and diverse then that will reap benefits. If some organisations help people find their voice and take control then that is only for the best. If we can be open and increase trust this will bring benefits for the organisation and those involved with it.

If because of all these small changes we make society more equal, if these small changes reduce conflict, if these small changes bring people together, if these small changes empower people to take action then maybe I will be proved wrong.