Magazine article Public Finance

Group Therapy

Magazine article Public Finance

Group Therapy

Article excerpt

Running community services at a local level allows them to be much more effective, yet paradoxically it also creates some missed opportunities. Difficult social issues are being tackled by volunteers and small community groups all over the country, but valuable experiences are rarely passed on.

There have been previous attempts to multiply effective community projects. But at Novas Scarman social justice company, we have developed the Can Do three-year initiative. This aims to help community activists learn from each other and adapt successful projects for their area. This approach is subtly and crucially different. It's essential that we don't attempt to replicate projects in other areas.

Experience has taught us that top-down approaches don't work effectively because volunteers aren't motivated by copying others. They need to come up with the answers themselves. Successful results are created when people use their understanding of their own community to create initiatives that fit the local culture.

This approach was given extra recognition when Communities Secretary Hazel Blears recently said: 'Where citizens are given control over their affairs, they make good decisions, balance competing demands in intelligent ways, act with fairness and compassion and work together to solve problems.'

This is correct, and it could even be said that without this local influence you end up trying to solve community problems via consultants. In this case, all the money and knowledge flows right back out of the area when the budget runs out, leaving the community even more disadvantaged and frustrated.

What people really need is support with the process of creating effective community projects that they can run themselves. This is where our grassroots experience comes into play. We operate a UK-wide network of community support services offering bespoke training in skills such as finance and fundraising. This has been a central part of our work for more than a decade. Can Do guidance and training materials will focus on passing on good practice and effective methods that are nationally applicable.

Local people make things happen when they develop the right skills and Can Do is also about training more volunteers. Community development training brings together all the elements needed by those embarking on the first steps of community activity. This mix of competencies covers management, organisational development, community leadership, mentoring and counselling. …

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