This week we are recognising and celebrating the amazing work of community groups through the Groundwork Community Awards. As the country prepares to go to the polls, the inspiring stories of our finalists provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on the contribution that grassroots volunteer-led groups make to quality of life in neighbourhoods across the UK.
Many of the issues that our finalists are addressing are the same ones that all parties have been campaigning on: improving education and employment prospects, tackling the climate crisis, supporting those who are vulnerable, improving people’s mental and physical health, and overcoming loneliness and division by bringing people together. In all of these areas, community groups are a vital part of the solution, often able to identify need and reach people that other agencies are not.
Community work more important than ever – but getting harder
We recently conducted a national survey into what motivates and matters to the people involved. It found that almost nine in ten community leaders think that their work has become more important over the past five years but that more than half say that it is becoming harder. Challenges around funding, the loss of local services and navigating rules and regulations are all adding to the difficulty of starting and sustaining community action. The places where the need is greatest are often those where these challenges are the most acute.
Despite this, people in communities across the country continue to step up and do amazing things, as our awards demonstrate, transforming places and lives while rarely seeking recognition.
What can the next government do to make a difference?
The next government can make a difference by investing in the places and professional support that volunteer-led groups rely on, making the best use of existing budgets and making new sources of funding and support available.
If we want to mobilise practical action on climate change and biodiversity, if we want to ensure an ageing population stays active and well, if we want to harness the passion and talents of young people and if we want to make our streets and neighbourhoods clean, safe and cohesive, then we need to support those already stepping up in our communities – and provide the inspiration for thousands more to do likewise.
However Brexit is resolved, local communities will continue to lead the way on many of the major challenges facing the next government. We urge all candidates to find out what life is like for those leading change in their communities and, if elected, to take a commitment to supporting this vital social infrastructure with them into government.
Graham Duxbury is Chief Executive of Groundwork UK
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