The government announced £1.6 Billion to support deprived communities and whilst this amount is not to be sniffed at the amount coming to the East of England is the lowest per person, and the amount coming to Cambridgeshire will probably be next to nothing. Regardless of this I have an issue with this money, not a political one, or a bribe one, or a BREXIT one (plenty of others have done that). My beef is that this is more top down government dictated funding that will be available for short term projects.
I say Stop with your short-term plans and funding, your top down delivery and the endless consultations with communities, and actually give people what they want.
Benjamin Franklin said “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
I say, in a much less pithy way “Consult with me and I will not show up, participate with me and I will show up to eat the biscuits, empower me and you may make a lasting difference!”
Anyone who has been involved in any sort of work with communities will have spent inordinate amounts of time on consultation and planning exercises to find out what the community wants. Having done this for 25 years around Cambridge I find myself cycling through communities where things that were highlighted 20 plus years ago have still not happened; if that makes me angry and sad in equal parts, imagine what it feels like for the people living in the communities.
What is the issue? All the consultations, and all the plans have been at the request of a bit of local or national government, even when they have given the work to a grass roots organisation to do it has been on their terms and they have been paying the bills. Let’s face it, even when there are the best of intentions there is often not the will or the way to actually do what the community wants, and that is assuming that all the community wants the same thing.
Developing communities where people want to live and where they will be nurtured and supported is not complicated, but it is difficult and time consuming and frustrating and requires significant resource; but when it is done well it is enlightening and transformative and life changing. But for these successes to happen it has to be something that is driven by and demanded by the community.
So, what do I think we need to do?
We want community development to be led by grassroots community groups and charities and not by government of any type. This means handing over all section 106 funding, any government funding as well as any other community development funds to the communities themselves, through local trusts or community foundations. It means that any community development has to be led by the community who are given the appropriate support and skills. It means that funding and support has to be there for the long term 10 years 15 years. It means the community needs to be enabled to develop sustainable resources. It means that consultations need to be real and that the communities desires are enabled to happen. It means that some of the power in the hands of developers when it comes to physical development and redeveloping needs to be given to the community. It means an end to the ‘do it to’ mentality and the start of a support them to do it themselves mentality.
I recently sat in a meeting looking at the development of one of the last areas of brownfield development space in Cambridge. The online documents were over 50 pages long and you had to register to respond. But despite this the meeting was great, loads of locals there representing numerous small grassroots groups and run by two very enthusiastic planners. The discussions soon turned to the linkages between this new development and the existing, neighbouring development which is in one of the Cities most deprived areas. How would existing residents be enabled to cross into the new development and make use of facilities, would money be available to improve existing amenities on the boundaries of the two areas so people from both communities could make the most of them. I may be wrong, but no other development locally has endowed the community with a sustainable community facility, they will all rely on local government grants to sustain them. All S106 money has gone to the local authority, all community development has been carried out by the local authority. I didn’t want to be the pessimist and point out that ‘form’ would lead to developers haggling down the affordable home numbers, and that those affordable homes were more likely to be on the main roads or next to the railway lines. I did not want to be the one that pointed out the vast difference in the public amenities in the plans and those that were delivered. Maybe the early engagement of a group of enthusiastic, capable and committed local residents will mean this development will be different.
What I don’t see is the power being put into the hands of communities. What I don’t see is a long-term commitment to integrate and build communities. What I don’t see is things being done any differently than in the last 5 or 10 developments across the county.
If we are going to fix Broken Britain we need to do it community by community from the ground up. This will take new ways of working, it will take those in power giving the power away, it will take radical change, it will take long term investment that is placed in the hands of the people.
Finally find a way to support and nurture community organisations, small charities, sports clubs and the other grassroots groups as these are the glue that binds communities together. I have written more here
My manifesto is pretty short. In order to make a real difference you have to hand the power and the resources over to the people by
- Ensuring that all community development activity and all community development funding, including that £1.6 Billion, is given to the communities to do with as they see fit.
- Making sure that there is long term, sustainable investment, and that and any amenities are sustainable.
- Ensuring that there is ongoing support for the communities to give them the skills, and the confidence to take control.
- Putting in place the support for people to start, sustain and grow local organisations and charities.