BLOG: Celebrating communities

In Communities Week, we celebrate the amazing achievements of community groups and reflect on what more we and others can do to support them.

Celebrating communities

This week is Communities Week and Groundwork is taking the opportunity to reflect on the contribution of local people who are making their neighbourhoods greener, safer and healthier.

It is fitting that this is the same week as we have announced the finalists for Groundwork’s 2019 Community Awards. The thirty finalists were selected from a field of over 750 nominations and showcase the dedication and creativity of ordinary people up and down the country.

From exceptional individuals in our Community Leader and Young Community Leader of the Year categories, to groups coming together to improve health and wellbeing, support people into education or employment, or improve their local environment, each has a unique story to tell. We look forward to sharing those in the run up to the awards ceremony in November and hope that they will provide inspiration for others tackling the same challenges.

Supporting community action

Because most are run by volunteers giving up their time for free, it’s easy to think of community groups as an endless resource that springs up spontaneously without the need for investment or support. Our experience tells us that this isn’t the case.

While there is a strong network of volunteer groups and a long track record of community action in some parts of the country, in others circumstances make things more difficult. When local people are working several jobs to make ends meet, or moving in and out of a community due to a lack of affordable long term tenancies, the capacity needed to start and sustain volunteer action can be harder to come by.

This matters because often these are precisely the areas where the need for strong supportive communities is the greatest. These are often the areas most affected by environmental ills such as air pollution and flooding, the areas with the least accessible green space, and the areas where community services are most at risk. Local volunteers are best placed to ensure that the solutions to these problems work for local people. The passion and skills exist in these communities but support is needed to make change happen.

For this reason, Groundwork is proud to champion the Community Wealth Fund campaign, calling for unclaimed financial assets to be channelled into long-term investment in deprived communities, with local people in control of how the money is spent. We have recently been conducting research with community groups to find out more about their experiences.

Looking to the future

Even while we celebrate Communities Week, the political and media narrative is dominated by another issue altogether. Part of the Brexit narrative is that some people voted to leave the European Union in part out of frustration that their community was being left behind or forgotten about. As we look to the future beyond the negotiations, it is important to remember that the places in which people live still matter.

We need to put communities in the driving seat and give them the tools to control their own destiny. Groundwork’s experience is that face-to-face support from experienced community workers is crucial to engaging and energising local people. This means thinking and talking about the ‘social infrastructure’ that exists in local areas, maximising existing budgets in areas such as health and education to support community efforts, and recognising that some areas will need more support than others.

Our community awards finalists demonstrate just how much can be accomplished through the dedication and creativity of local people. Our task now is to help to make it easier for them and others to achieve even more.

Post by Fay Holland
Policy and Communications Executive, Groundwork