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Feedback from Big Society Community Organisers workshop
Community Organisers (CO's) are a key element of the Government's Big Society agenda.
Along with around 40 other representatives from Civil Society organisations (the new name for the Third Sector!) from Somerset, Bristol and Gloucestershire, I attended a workshop on Community Organisers at the Government Office in Bristol earlier this month. It gave a flavour of the Government's thinking on the Big Society generally.
There was a presentation by Ian Leete, Policy Advisor from the Office for Civil Society, the key points being;
The Government will 'enable' the Big Society to happen, not deliver it.
The objective is to create higher levels of community action in order to build stronger communities and networks, and to help citizens develop skills and resources.
View his presentation here - Community Organisers presentation Ian Leete
The examples he gave that had informed thinking were the Balsall Heath Forum and Citizens UK...
The two workshop sessions were;
1. Current Activity
- What structures are already in place?
- What joins up local activity?
- What works? What can others learn from your activity? Are there aspects specific to your community (of place or interest)? What can be commonly done?
- What hasn't worked? What doesn't and what wouldn't?
2. Way Forward
- What encourages people to come forward?
- What motivates or turns people off?
- What skills/support is needed?
- What obstacles need to be overcome?
- How will we know if we are successful?
- Key messages to Ministers - if they were here what would you say?
Here's a summary of the key points made by the sector representatives present in response to these questions;
a) that CO's should not be 'parachuted in' - local people (if they have the right skills) should be the preference, as they would be quicker to be up and running and understand how things work locally, and be more respected.
b) Some existing organisations (infrastructure/support organisations, like SMTF) already do some of the elements of CO's work - they should be supported rather than starting from scratch again with new people and structures
c) The skill-set required for a CO is very broad! - part community agitator/facilitator for social action, part fundraiser (for others and own post!), part Local Authority liaison/broker on behalf of communities, part Community Development practitioner (building capacity through training and shared learning events, etc).
d) At what 'level' would CO's work in Somerset? Across several towns or focused on one deprived neighbourhood? Will we actually get any, if its focused on urban-scale deprivation i.e. rural deprivation too scattered to figure highly compared with the national list of deprived wards/neighbourhoods.
e) Several there flagged up some of the Local Authority and central Govt bureaucracy that slows us down - VAT rules for charities, Money-laundering rules and the affect on charities and community groups in even just setting up bank accounts, and that CRB's are constantly requested. Local Strategic Partnerships difficult to access for 'places'.
f) We need a 'portfolio' of support to build the Big Society - not just CO's but also a small grants scheme (esp as LA budgets are disappearing), training and advice/support. This needs to be long-term and focussed on the local.
g) That many community groups need specialist support rather than generalist VCS support.
h) That Commissioning is only for larger organisations bacause of the way tenders are structured and the risks involved on larger contracts.
i) Measuring success - only possible when you have a baseline. Also, success should include qualititive results that show the difference that's been made, not just the numbers.
Ian thanked us for the input. After a number of these workshops around the country, the Office of Civil Society will possibly issue management contracts in April, followed by CO's later - timescale subject to change!
He did suggest keeping an eye on the four Vanguard areas that were announced last month, which include the Eden Valley and Liverpool.
Created on September 28th 2010
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