Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive of Locality, shares findings from recently published research on supporting local community organisations representing and led by people from racialised communities
Historic underinvestment had created capacity challenges for community groups. This challenge was further exacerbated through the increased demand for services created by the unequal impact of Covid-19 in communities of colour

Earlier in the year, I wrote about how Locality was working to build an organisation and membership that champions and embeds diversity, equity and inclusion.

This focused on the work we were doing internally but I also talked about ongoing work that that we had been doing to better understand how Locality could work with our members and with the wider sector to better tackle racial injustice.

No More Blank Pages

In summer last year, we undertook a research project to improve our understanding of the support needs of community organisations led by and supporting people of colour.  We wanted to better understand our role in being an ally across the sector, providing more effective support and capacity building, and how we work with specialist infrastructure organisations in meeting these needs.  We talked to Locality members and local and national organisations, and then shared the findings with members and developed recommendations for action.

The findings of the research and our recommendations are set out in this reportNo More Blank Pages

The title for this report “No More Blank Pages” comes from one of the focus group contributors to this research. It speaks to the frustration felt by participants that organisations led by and supporting people of colour were tired of doing the heavy lifting for the sector, pointing out structurally racist and historic problems only to be shown blank pages when it comes to delivering solutions.

A weakened sector of support for racialised communities

Our review of research found that trends over the last 10 years had led to underinvestment in the organisations working with and led by people from racialised communities.

Historic underinvestment created capacity challenges for community groups. This challenge was further exacerbated through the increased demand for services created by the unequal impact of Covid-19 in communities of colour. Further to this, capacity was strained as community leaders were sought out to be involved in discussions about racism and structural inequality, as a response to the issues highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement.

A change is needed in funding practice

There are clear lessons for funders in our report. Funding structures have not addressed the lack of equity in fundraising and funding systems, nor have they acknowledged discrimination, racism and exclusionary behaviours that systemically contribute to underinvestment in the organisations representing and led by racialised communities. This applies to large scale Government funding but also smaller funding sources from independent foundations and trusts.

Respondents felt strongly that long term investment was needed for the sector, so that organisations and their leaders can build sustainability and resilience whilst continuing to challenge racism and discrimination. Specific areas of support identified included: strategic and business planning, collaboration and partnership, long term funding and powerful infrastructure led by and representing racialised communities.

Locality needs to do more, and we recognise this

Our findings clearly show that Locality has work to do to be a better ally to organisations working with racialised communities.  This is something we accept and this research is part of the actions we are taking to being proactively anti-racist in our approach and our practice.  We need to shift from saying to doing. We need to show our allyship is real and put words into actions with the communities and groups that we work with. We need to have diversity, equity and inclusion on our agenda all the time, not just when its “fashionable to do so” as one of the respondents put it.  And we need to be more proactive at reaching out to new partners and co-designing and planning activity rather than being responsive to funding opportunities.

The full list of 10 recommendations, and Locality’s response, are outlined in the research.  Although sometimes uncomfortable to hear challenge, we have recognised that we need to do more and are striving to do that.  We welcome the challenges respondents made through this research project.  We have pledged to play a more proactive role on racial justice. This is not a one-off piece of work but rather our way of recognising that to create a fairer society we need to start with ourselves as an organisation, and how we work with our members.

Although sometimes uncomfortable to hear challenge, we have recognised that we need to do more and are striving to do that.  We welcome the challenges respondents made through this research project.  We have pledged to play a more proactive role on racial justice

Actions speak louder than words

We are already working on the recommendations in the report, and I’ll be continuing to write about our progress. For me there are some key opportunities over the next few months which we will be prioritising.

The Government’s “levelling up” strategy is being developed, with new funding streams in place including the Levelling Up Fund, the Community Renewal Fund, and the Community Ownership Fund. These are largely place based funds, and do not have a specific focus on tackling racial injustice.  The Community Ownership Fund currently does not provide capacity building support for any community groups. The first round is likely to benefit a limited set of community groups who are already at an advanced stage of negotiating a purchase or transfer of a community building and are lucky enough to be in the position of having secured significant match funding. This may well mean that more marginalised communities do not benefit from this fund as it stands. We have and will continue to make the case that more early stage support and more targeting at community groups who have traditionally been excluded from support needs to be a priority in future rounds. We are also working to influence the development of the Government’s proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund due to be announced in the autumn. This will be aimed at tackling geographical inequalities but there has been almost no discussion so far on how this fund could support racialised communities and organisations led by people from these communities. We will highlight the need to address this gap.

The role of independent funders was raised many times in our research and it is clear that funders need to change their priorities and practice to more proactively tackle racial injustice. There are many conversations on this topic taking place among funders and some encouraging signs that priorities are already shifting, but we need to understand whether these will lead to an impactful change in direction. We will work to engage with funders to share the evidence from our research and work with them to find solutions.

Our members are place-based organisations, working in a specific neighbourhood, estate, village or small town. We are planning a new research project to better understand the role of local community organisations in tackling racial justice. The central argument of our theory of change is that local community organisations provide solutions to the big social, economic, and environmental challenges we face. We want to explore how they can play a proactive role in tackling racial inequalities but also what barriers exist in taking a place-based approach. This research will shape Locality’s policy positions as well as informing the development of our work to support members in the future.

We have a lot to do, and we are prioritising this work. I think some of the challenges raised from our research and our conversations with members will resonate with many national membership organisations and infrastructure bodies. We will continue to work with our wider sector to ensure that race equality remains a priority for all of us, and that actions do outweigh words in the coming months.

You can read and download No More Blank Pages here: No More Blank Pages