I made a comment early on in the Community Organisers programme that I assumed that a programme of this sort should be open and engaging.
My colleague, Neil Berry, a longstanding stalwart of the DTA and soon to be Head of Enterprise for Locality gave a talk about the Community Organisers programme at the YCAN conference on 8th March in Leeds.
I’d also like to thank other colleagues and partners who are going to meetings and events all over the country to stand up for and help explain this exciting, complex and challenging programme. It’s not straightforward because we’re in development phase so there are many as-yet-unanswerable questions.
But it’s certainly worth it. Here’s the very useful feedback provided by YCAN, each bullet of which would be worth debating widely. I’ve kept my response below to focus on the Concerns section.
1. Comments made in groups
- Using existing structures – are they working at the moment? What’s the value of using them if they aren’t?
- Sustainability? – Where will it come from? How will community organisers become sustainable?
- Loss of services mean communities forming community groups in order to run a service, but is an organisation in early stage of development. Community organisers work better with established organisations so there is a gap.
- Who are the community organisers accountable to? Once trained how do you prevent losing them?
- Good principle of linking with existing organisations. So glad you got tender on that basis but make sure not just DT’s that you link with.
- Will the programme benefit (or distinguish between) community based organisations (residents, volunteer led) and infrastructure support organisation (voluntary sector with paid staff)?
- How will people be recruited? Should be local communities appointing people who live in, and are committed to areas not professionals.
- Need to facilitate skills networks. No one has all the skills needed.
- Need to link with potential partners you might not have considered.
- Needs to work with the grain of what is already happening – not in parallel.
- Community organisers need to help communities see /achieve an outcome or impact for getting involved. Volunteers are very different from paid staff (doesn’t come for free).
- Community organisers role and volunteers is blurred.
- Community organisers need to be involved in their communities already, so they can ‘hit ground running’.
- They need to be part of existing networks.
- Community organisers could support community to develop work /activities in an area.
- Community organisers could support volunteer co-ordinators to ‘grow’ the number of volunteers.
- Income generation from other sectors. Where will this come from?
There are no obligations on Community Organisers to raise ‘match-funding’. The point of the programme is to show how effective organising approaches can be and to make sure hosts and organisers are well-primed to push that point. Together we will also build a network that is capable of drawing in resources from any sector at any geographical level to support community organising in the long term. We have built in support for the hosts and organisers in exploring potential future funding. Maintaining the work is the major challenge of this programme and we’re not pretending it’s going to be easy – but if anyone can do it, it’s the entrepreneurial, resilient on-the-ground organisations that we are choosing as hosts.
- Communities of interest will be hit harder than geographical communities
Hit by what? Presumably this means cuts but it isn’t true. Some communities of identity will be hit as hard or harder than some communities of place, and vice versa. This is not a suffering competition. What matters most is what people can do, not what they can’t. Have to start by turning what Alinsky called the ‘bad scene’ people are coping with/drowning under, into some specific issues that people can take effective action around.
- Imposing programmes on communities that communities may need but may not want. Need to connect with representatives.
Community Organisers listen to people and encourage dialogue. They do not bring any message or seek any specific outcome. An Organiser’s first and foremost task is to initiate a dialogue that will build trust, respect
networked relationships between individuals and communities that moves people to take individual and collective action towards a common goal.
Community Organisers will listen to individual people one-to-one to identify those who are motivated and willing to take an action to tackle their communities’ concerns and help fulfil their personal and collective aspirations.
Organisers will listen to people in their homes and on the street and where they gather. They will listen to public services and third sector workers and leaders, small businesses, business leaders and local institutions.
Organisers will tap into the rich seams of experience, skills and talents that are lying dormant in every community, find the people who want to do something to change things for the better – and offer them support to plan equitably and organise strategically.
The CO will facilitate the analysis of the listening and the organisation of a network of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people who will build and grow their work together using face to face connection and digital media.
Some of these people will take small simple steps to achieve the communities’ collective aims and objectives, some will dedicate themselves to leading actions and developing complex activities that will challenge and transform for good the way communities and institutional structures and systems develop, behave and interact. Some will volunteer as mid-level COs to extend the listening further. Some will use projects and enterprises that others create locally. Some will simply vote for the politicians who support and promote the changes that communities need and want.
Logistics of how people will be put in place?
- Existing volunteers?
- Future sustainability
- Existing paid posts?
Senior Community Organisers will be recruited and supported by hosts all around the country. These will begin with the Kickstarters who will be both pioneers and guinea-pigs for the programme. See http://www.dta.org.uk/whatsnew/hottopics/communityorganisers
2. Feedback comments made at plenary meeting about Community Organisers
- (Neil) put it across well
- Real potential
- Not much money – good that DTA involved
- Training bursary or salary for year 1?
- Intrigued by ‘working with conflict’
4,500 community organisers are volunteers –will this happen?
- Will they be resident or parachuted in?
- How will it work with people’s benefits?
- Proposed community allowance may help
- What about low pay regulation?
- Many volunteers already at full capacity
Will it link with national citizen’s service?
- Are community organisers the right words? – What will they be organising