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Jun 2

Locality visits the IFS Global Office in Helsinki

Collaboration, Community housing, Convention, Innovation, Policy

Last week some of the team at Locality visited the International Federation of Settlements and Neighbourhood Centres (IFS) Global Office in Helsinki, Finland to meet with IFS members from Finland, Sweden and Germany and discuss joint ways of working, learning and sharing.

The IFS is an organisation that’s based on the premise that working locally doesn’t mean working in isolation. There is much to be gained from broadening our horizons and spreading our network across the world; learning from organisations doing similar things in different circumstances, and amplifying our influence by forging a global movement.

Learning from the IFS global office and communities and settlements in Finland

The settlement movement has a long and distinguished history in Finland. We were hosted by the Finnish Federation of Settlement Houses, which was founded in 1918 and consists of 34 local Settlements and seven regional organisations. In amongst our meetings with members of the IFS Europe board, we were taken on a couple of visits to see the great work the Finnish settlements are doing on the ground, and how they are adapting to changing times.

Nordic countries are famous for their strong welfare states, with high levels of taxation providing for high-quality cradle to grave services. Finland has the highest educational outcomes in Europe and is one of the most socially equal countries in the world. However, they are facing challenges common to other western democracies – a post-crash recession; an ageing population putting public services under strain; higher levels of immigration opening the door to political populism, with the hard-right True Finns party now part of the coalition government.

With austerity measures in place, public service markets opening up, and big healthcare reforms on the way, the community sector in Finland is preparing to play a bigger role in service delivery and try to stem the tide of privatisation. So we visited ARVO, the Finnish Association for Social Enterprises, to hear about the work they are doing to establish the social enterprise concept in Finland as an innovative alternative to the public and private sector. We also visited a social enterprise which has co-created a multi-generational affordable housing block – Generations Block – with community development and social integration as core features.

The model adopted by the Finnish Federation is to set up a housing association as a subsidiary, which is then focused on developing intergenerational co-housing developments in different cities. The new development we saw was impressive and benefitted from very generous Government backing and preferential loan financing, which is far cry from current UK experience. However, it was also interesting to see that the model was based on a fairly standard housing association model, and was not a community-led development, nor one which brought in sustainable revenue for local community anchor organisations. In this way, the UK experience of community-led housing is way ahead. This two-way learning will be a strong feature of future work with our sister organisations across Europe and the Locality convention will provide a platform for discussing different approaches.

We’re excited to announce…

From 1 July, Locality will be taking over the European Office of IFS.

With the UK in the process of leaving the European Union, it feels like a particularly important time for Locality to take a leading role. Brexit shouldn’t mean closing ourselves off from our nearest neighbours, and the IFS provides a great opportunity to deepen our connections with our European colleagues.

The recent visits to Helskini demonstrated the huge potential for IFS Europe as a vehicle to learn from what each other are doing, discover different models and approaches, provide support and challenge. All the countries represented in IFS Europe – from Sweden to Germany, Hungary to France – have different histories, cultures and political conditions, but we all share common challenges and a belief in the ability of communities to solve them.

An example of how Locality has been bringing European learning into a UK context is through our work on the INNOSI research project, which draws on case studies of innovative approaches to social policy from across Europe. You can read our full briefing paper, which shows how pilot projects in Finland, Sweden and Manchester can help UK policy makers Keep it Local.

Through the IFS, Locality will be doing much more of this – providing a platform for our members to be part of a wider global movement for change, sharing learning and gaining insight into innovative new practices and stories from across the world. We are also developing ways of working collaboratively with the IFS global office on joint policy priorities and promoting opportunities for exchanges.

We are making this a big part of our Locality Convention 2017 programme – so watch this space for more news and for information about how you can get involved.

One comment

  1. Rachel Veitch-Straw

    Posted 20/06/17 at 4:32 pm  |  Permalink

    This sounds brilliant, perfect, practical strategy and timing.
    If you need someone with more than a decade working with community and social enterprises in England who is also fluent in German (with reasonable though rusty Swedish and French! ), do get in touch via LinkedIn.
    I also teach….

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