Burngreave New Deal: Community Engagement and Community Development

This first Monday after the Christmas break, continues with the fifth of 6 posts about the lessons learned in the January 2012 evaluation of Burngreave New Deal for Communities.  So far I have covered:

The next lesson learned was

 ‘it is important to recognise that community engagement, and community development, are not the same, although community development occurs through a range of channels and does not need necessarily to entail the development of single organisation. However, demise of the BNDfC partnership has left a significant gap in the community infrastructure in Burngreave and there is a strong case for the development of community based partnership to take forward the regeneration of the area’

A Catastrophic Outcome

In other words, investing £50 million over ten years failed to develop a community based partnership.  This is a catastrophic outcome.  Prior to the start of New Deal we had our plan and delivery organisations, comparable to what you can still find in other similar neighbourhoods in Sheffield.

There was a strong case for developing a community based partnership at the beginning of the programme.  It would have been a logical development from the Forum and Trust, had New Deal not been imposed on Burngreave.   The New Deal programme developed a partnership.  It dissolved as soon as the money ran out.  It is hard not to believe the money became the reason for the partnership.  Instead of building a partnership naturally from the activities and relationships already in the area, the money became the reason for the partnership.

New Deal was an exercise in community engagement and not development.  Community engagement is where some organisation, usually local or national government seeks an endorsement for its plans.  This means consultation, which can be done well.  But ultimately decision-making takes place outside the neighbourhood.  Engagement does not develop community and can undermine a community’s ability to organise and plan for itself.

The purpose of New Deal was to spend £50 million over ten years.  With the money spent, the partners melted away.  They had to because they were dependent upon grant money and so had to prioritise finding it elsewhere.  Clearly there was no commitment or shared vision.  If there had been, the partnership would still exist.

Problems on Both Sides

I was not involved until the final 3 or 4 years of the programme, as my paid work took me out of the area.  What I found was  extraordinary conflict between the community Forum and New Deal.  The chair of the Forum had publicly attacked the New Deal staff at a Forum meeting.  So, New Deal refused to attend the meetings.  Quite how the chair thought this situation would benefit the community is beyond me but no-one had any idea how to remedy the situation.

The Trust collapsed because of financial irregularities, leaving the Forum to limp on for a few more years.  It is hard to believe anything other than that the last thing anyone had attempted during the programme was community development.  Many of us who set up the Forum and Trust are still around.  We put our heart and soul into developing them and now we no longer have the heart to go back and start over again.  It will need a new generation and there is no sign they are waiting in the wings.

It is not acceptable to take the time invested into our communities for granted.  Those who invest their time do so for the benefit of our neighbourhoods, not the politicians and organisations that thrive on grant aided projects.  If they are going to benefit from my contribution to community work, then so should I.  I’d like to see an end to the Big Society rhetoric and the expectation that many of us will work for nothing.  In the future, we should all be paid for our time.  Maybe that way, our views will be worthy of respect.

What have been your experiences of community engagement, good and bad?  Can engagement support development?  Must grant aided community work always result in exploitation?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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