The Communities Can project has supported 378 small and diverse community groups through matching them to a range of experienced local providers. The support they received was varied, some was more ‘instrumental’; receiving help to get tangible things done such as becoming a registered charity or improving their website, whilst others got more ‘developmental’ support; to help them think about what they want to do and how they can do it.
The support delivered through Communities Can appears to have had significant impact for some community organisations, helping to improve their effectiveness, attract more funding and expand their reach. You can read the evaluation report by NPC here.
In two parts, we would like to showcase some highlights and testimonials from a range of groups who received different types of support through the programme.
- Barking and Dagenham Somali Women’s Association
What they do:
The Barking and Dagenham Somali Women’s Association (BDSWA) was set up in the mid-1990s in response to a rapidly growing ethnic minority population. BDSWA is a locally-based health, wellbeing, training and employability organisation committed to providing support to BME women and their families from its resource centre in Barking. They developed from a small self-help group to a registered charity that now has a key strategic role in the local area contributing to developing the needs of BME groups.
Through the Communities Can programme, BDSWA was matched with Big Society Funding, a capacity building social enterprise, who provided them with a tailored package of support. They supported the group with their business plan, financial budgets as well as publicity which culminated into a new business strategy with financial projections, an evaluation of services, a new website as well as a first draft Reaching Communities bid. The four days support from the Communities Can programme, plus extra days of pro-bono time, from Big Society Funding resulted in a successful bid approved by the Big Lottery Fund. The group is currently setting up delivery, publicising the project as well as working on building their capacity and strength for the future.
- Skool of Street
What they do:
Skool of Street, a constituted voluntary group, was established in Blackpool in 2013. The committee are all volunteers who fundraise to help pay for sessions for young people to engage them in positive activities based on an urban creative culture. Led by Samantha Bell, world and British street dance champion and local artist Aishley Docherty, young people are introduced to a range of creative activities including beat boxing, graffiti art and break dance.
Communities Can offered Skool of Street five days support from local youth agency UR Potential to help them develop their ideas for projects that would both use their skills and also really engage young people.
- DEEK Project
What they do:
About three years ago, Mal Maclean from Sunderland Recovery Council had been at a co-production workshop and was inspired to work with local people in recovery to help others. He discovered that despite there being just seven commissioned recovery services locally, there were 180 resources and services, from churches to community centres, that welcomed people in recovery.
Mal started to explore how to fill this gap and came up with DEEK Project (DEEK is a North Eastern word for look) an online community asset map. Through Communities Can, Lewis Atkinson from Community IT Academy, helped Mal conduct a feasibility study, assessing how an online map resource could work.
“Before, I thought I would have to put in my own money and create shares to get money for expertise. But through Communities Can I got funding for that expertise. It’s been an absolutely perfect form of funding.”
- Friends of Sulgrave
What they do:
Friends of Sulgrave in Washington, near Sunderland, was newly forming when Jackie Pitt, a worker for social housing provider Gentoo, recommended that the group approach Communities Can for some support in establishing itself as a formal community group. The main ambition for the group of 14 residents who make up Friends of Sulgrave is to breathe new life into and self-manage a community centre in the area so that it can become a hub of the community.
The group especially wanted support to enable it to become constituted and for its members to learn how to operate effectively in new roles. Members also wanted help in putting the group’s policies and processes together to ensure it works effectively. The group also recognised that to be a convincing proposition for taking over the community centre it needed help to develop a business plan.
Communities Can asked Emma Frew, a local expert who had recently ended a tenure as a Chief Officer for another community organisation in Sunderland’s coalfield, to work with Friends of Sulgrave. Emma worked with the group as it developed its formal constitution and facilitated its business planning to make sure that the community centre was a solid and viable offer.
Chair of the group, Mary Jordan, valued Emma’s input into the organisation saying, “Emma was fantastic. She has helped us get on the road [to securing the centre]”.