Community anchors and core funding
A couple of weeks ago I took a small group of civil servants from DCLG and the Office for Civil Society to Edinburgh, to learn lessons from the Scottish Government and from our community colleagues in Scotland.
In several ways Scotland is ahead of the game. The government there no longer has separate departments, but rather works as a single entity, with directorates working towards the following broad purposes: wealthier and fairer, healthier, safer and stronger, smarter, and greener.
This is accompanied by a greater focus on outcomes, investing in prevention, and an asset-based approach (‘building on the strengths of individuals, families and communities, rather than focusing on apparent deficits’).
One example of this approach is the Early Years Collaborative, where social services, health, education, police, and third sector agencies are working together towards the goal that Scotland should become the best place in the world for young people to grow up in.
If this can be done in Scotland, why not in England? Or are the vested interests of our government departments and career politicians just too strong?
The Scottish Government is preparing a Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, which seeks to streamline and strengthen the community right to buy mechanisms and extend them to urban areas, to provide new ways for communities to take over public sector land and buildings, to establish a register of ‘common good’ property, and to help communities shape and deliver local services.
Significantly, the Scottish Government is also making core grant funding available for ‘community anchor’ organisations (development trusts, localised community based housing associations, and the like). Some funds are being channelled through Locality’s sister agency, the Development Trusts Association Scotland, directly to their members, and other funds will help new community anchors get underway in places where none exist.
Imagine what could be achieved in England if we could persuade our Government to invest in core funding for community anchor organisations! But despite all the efforts to develop localism and a ‘communities in control’ agenda, the initiatives in England, often good in themselves, remain fragmentary and disconnected. I think it requires a bolder and more unifying mindset, and one which is willing to ‘let go’, for our Government to adopt the purposeful and preventative investment models we are seeing in Scotland.
And yet I recently found a glimmer of hope. To be sure, not in Government, but rather in one of our foremost independent grant makers. The Lloyds Bank Foundation will soon be launching a new grants programme on the themes of ‘breaking disadvantage, bettering lives’. They will offer up to six years of grant funding (up to £25k a year, including core costs) to established organisations with a turnover between £25k and £1m, which can demonstrate their ability to support people to break out of disadvantage at ‘transition’ points in their lives.
There will also be smaller one-off grants worth up to £15k, to help organisations address specific development needs. Alongside the grants the Lloyds Bank Group will provide support and volunteers.
I went to see the CEO of the Foundation and asked him if he would like to see applications from the kind of multi-purpose community anchor organisations in the Locality network, which are sometimes incredibly good at working with people in a highly individualised way to break out of disadvantage at critical transition points. Absolutely, he said.
The new fund will be launched in April, with the aim of awarding grants from August. Do check out the website – I am sure that demand will be high but this is exactly the type of flexible longer-term funding which I think could really make a difference.
And maybe, just maybe, it will be possible to persuade other funders, and government too, to follow this enlightened example.