Community groups can be even more diverse than churches. When residents find common cause, they seek recognition by other agencies as a group. Recognition is essential to the success of community groups and so they often form alliances with statutory or voluntary sector agencies.
The reason for statutory and voluntary sector alliances is usually outputs because funding bodies often set working with the community as a condition. I’m sure this can work but funding can skew objectives and community groups need to be alert to the dangers of mission creep, where someone else’s funding body overwhelms their objectives; this possibility increases when a community group applies for its own funding.
A Community Development Model
You can find in my sequence about community development a community development model, with three objectives. Whatever the concerns a community group has, they find their activities fall under these headings.
- Representation – as a group develops, it needs to show it represents the views of most residents and not a small group of activists. There’s nothing wrong with being a small group of activists, it can be very effective; just don’t claim to be something you are not. Do you wish to campaign or to be a forum to express local views? Citizens’ Organising is one approach that combines both. Sadly it has not taken root in the UK.
- Planning – If you seek to influence service delivery in your neighbourhood, you need a community plan. Statutory and professional voluntary organisations will welcome you onto their committees but don’t care if you don’t have your own plan. I’ve never seen the point of sitting on a committee where everyone else has a plan but you don’t. You are simply endorsing their plans; you need a mandate.
- Delivery – some groups take on service delivery. It’s usually best to separate delivery from representation. If you don’t, it means the representative group may be competing for funds with its members. Also, as the delivery arm becomes more like a voluntary sector organisation; accountability is sometimes easier if it’s arm’s length from the representative group.
I like to see independent campaigning organisations working locally. The need for funding inevitably leads to control of the agenda by funding bodies. This leads to an ethos of control where communities cannot make a real difference to local policy.
What is your experience? Can you share stories of campaigns where community groups have brought about real change?