PANEL 1 – Communities, Community Organisers and Community Rights

1. Jenny Fisher – Department of Social Work and Social Change, Manchester Metropolitan University

Influenced by the United States based community organising programmes and the current work undertaken in the United Kingdom by Citizens UK, the coalition government are funding the Community Organisers programme, a £15 million national contract to train 500 full-time organisers, and 4,500 part-time voluntary organisers. The four-year programme, a highly political component of policy implementation and part of the Big Society, was launched earlier in 2011 and the delivery contract awarded to Locality, a national organisation. The programme will develop a ‘new home-grown movement of community organising for the 21st century, grown directly from the strengths, concerns and hopes of communities across the country’ (Locality, 2011).

Locality’s approach is broad based organising across geographical communities with an emphasis on place. The role of the Community Organiser (CO) will be to listen to people and support campaigning and self-help. Re-generate, a social action charity, are leading the training of all COs using their ‘Root Solutions, Listening Matters’ approach. The training is broadly divided into two: Foundations of Organising and Go Deeper. The organisers will use a broad-based listening process that encourages people in communities to take action for themselves on the issues that are important to them. The listening will take place on the streets, in people’s homes and third spaces, where people come together. The 500 full-time COs will be hosted by organisations across England, and the first 11 hosts are organisations who are piloting the role and the training, the Kick-starters.

MMU is a kick-starter host and as a result has been involved in piloting the programme. We are hosting four Community Organisers who were recruited from graduates of three degree programmes. The COs have recently attended residential training and have started work in communities in Greater Manchester and Cheshire. The MMU hosting process is slightly different from other hosts as the MMU COs have already started the second stage of their training, called Go Deeper, by studying on post-graduate courses in Youth and Community Work or Community Psychology. Further they are each in different wards unlike other COs who are in the same geographical area as their host.

While the presentation will briefly cover information about the national programme and the role of the Kickstarter host, the main focus of the presentation will include reflections on the training approach, discussion of the challenges of being part of the Community Organiser programme and a critique of the programme.

2. Richard Caulfield – CEO Voluntary Sector North West

3. Nick Bird, Urban Forum – Community Rights: A Reality Check

Download Nick Bird's presentation slides from the conference

Nick is Network Development Officer for Urban Forum, a national charity and membership organisation that supports communities to have a greater say over decisions that affect them. They work with their 900 plus members to influence government policy and local decision-making.

Urban Forum has recently embarked on two initiatives around the community rights introduced in the Localism Bill.

  • Barrow Cadbury funding has been secured for an action research project in Dudley in the West Midlands.
  • A series of community rights events are planned from December 2011 through to March 2012.

The community rights in the Localism Bill relate to local authority service delivery, community assets and neighbourhood planning.

  • The Community Right to Challenge will give voluntary and community groups the ability to register an interest in taking over a local public service. If accepted this expression of interest will trigger a procurement exercise in which they can bid against other interested providers.
  • The Community Right to Buywill give local communities the opportunity to propose buildings and land to go onto a list of ‘assets of community value’, to be informed when they are put up for sale and a ‘window of opportunity’ to put together a bid to buy them if they wish to.
  • The Community Right to Buildwill allow communities, where they have the support of local people, to bypass the usual requirements of the planning system to develop new homes, businesses, shops etc.
  • Neighbourhood Planning will allow communities to develop a plan for their neighbourhood which will then become part of the formal planning process and set the tone for future change and development.

Nick is currently managing the Community Rights Made Real project in Dudley, which is being run in collaboration with Dudley Council for Voluntary Service, Dudley Council and Dudley Community Partnership. In the first stage of the project a survey and a series of focus groups have been used to assess awareness around community rights, local appetite for their take up and support needs of community and voluntary groups around this agenda. We are not just focusing on the policy – we also exploring how relations can be improved with the local authority to enhance the ability of communities to become involved in service delivery, asset management and neighbourhood planning.

The next stage of the project will support community activists to participate in a co-design event with council service directors to develop practical ideas for improving relations and developing an action plan based. As part of this Urban Forum will be developing further information resources around community rights and signposting participants to specialist support around service delivery, assets and neighbourhood planning.

Findings from the project will be disseminated to the Voluntary and Community Sector, public sector and government to inform policy and practice.

Nick will present some of the feedback received so far in Dudley together with some reflections on what this might mean for community rights policy and practice.

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