We are an independent charity led by local people who are elected annually at our Annual General Meetings. We support a developing Network of community and faith based organisations and people who are working collaboratively to improve the way public services are designed, delivered and received.
We formed as part of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal in 2001 to enable communities to participate in public decision making processes. You can access some of the foundation documents for this programme here: National Strategy Action Plan and here: National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal Report of Policy Action Team 17: Joining it up Locally and here: Neighbourhood Renewal Community Empowerment Fund
Our way of working is to share and tell stories. Stories of why and how communities have formed and the challenges that they experience. Stories of how our public institutions have developed and grown and the complex nature of their roles and responsibilities. Stories of hope and optimism. These shared experiences inform and shape our thinking and doing.
From this story telling we discovered that communities are holders of huge reserves of social capital, of assets and resources, skills and talents, knowledge and experience… yet much of this remains unknown and little understood by our public agencies. And that our Public Agencies have become increasingly drawn into a ‘culture’ of management and bureaucracy that is making them ever more distant and remote from the communities which they are seeking to serve.
The effect of this separation has seen a disregard and neglect of our greatest resource- our communities and their members- leading to a loss of confidence and trust in our public institutions. This has resulted in varying degrees of social exclusion, particularly in areas that have suffered from multiple deprivation with a resulting increase health and social welfare inequalities right across our society.
The good news is that there is a better way. And this better way starts with dialogue, relationships and understanding of what and who our communities are- and what and who they are is a much more diverse, dynamic and multi cultural community then just 10 years ago. Where are the skills and talents that they hold? Where are their assets and resources? Why are they hidden? What needs to shift and move to unlock them? How can social capital be used to generate public value?
In order to bring our public institutions back into the public sphere, the questions that they are challenged with need to be open and shared with the communities they seek to serve. Who are these agencies and what are they doing? What are their statutory responsibilities and how are they being discharged? Where are their glass ceilings? How do they plan to discharge their duties against a background of increasing demand and reduced expenditure? How is change going to be managed?
By bringing these questions and conversations together, and bringing together the leaders and members of all of our communities into a collaborative relationship with our public agencies, we are able to start to imagine what a better and smarter civic society might look like. One that is based on shared public knowledge and open to innovation. From these building blocks we can start to introduce small projects and evaluations that are to to prototype what new ways of working might look like and explore and expand what a new type of social contract could be.