Last summer we published Strong, Resourceful Communities: the case for a Community Wealth Fund written by Dan Gregory.
When I say we, I mean a small group of representatives from voluntary sector umbrella organisations, independent funders and high profile sector projects such as Civil Society Futures and the London Communities Commission. We came together to discuss whether we had common ground in advocating for a new national endowment to support the poorest communities across England. Thankfully, we found that we had a common cause and more than that the proposal was deeply resonant with every civil society organisation we discussed it with. A number of the founding members of the Alliance for the Community Wealth Fund, as we came to style it, referred to their support for the proposal as a “no brainer” because the sort of investment we were advocating for was so obviously needed in these days of Brexit division and despondency.
The proposal is to give people in “left behind” areas, as the government terms them, access to the resources and support they need to improve their areas and their lives. It is radical and massively ambitious in a number of respects but small piecemeal projects are obviously completely inadequate to the challenges and opportunities of the times.
Our proposal is based on radical devolution – a transfer of resources and decision-making power to communities. We know from our experience of delivering the Big Local programme that local communities, with the right support, have the capacity to develop and deliver the activities, services and facilities needed to improve their areas. And, we know that provision designed and delivered or commissioned by local residents has much greater traction than that parachuted in because, “from the get-go”, there is a strong local commitment to making it a success.
Our proposal is also radical because it argues for a type of support that traditional methodologies are not capable of fully valuing. The Community Wealth Fund would provide funding for the development of “social infrastructure” in those areas which currently lack it. For us, social infrastructure takes tangible and intangible forms. It encompasses spaces and places for communities to meet and mobilise and the development of other new community assets: community-owned housing, pubs, swimming pools and businesses. It requires micro-investment in community development support and activities which bring people together and provide social glue such as walking clubs, knitting circles and befriending groups. It encompasses “bonding” and “bridging” social capital.
For a small number of brave people attending a community event is the first stepping stone to community leadership. A leadership that can enable communities to begin to address decades of under-investment as their efforts leverage additional external funding to replace lost services and facilities.
Building social infrastructure in areas which have been “left behind” requires not just long term investment but also appropriate capacity building support. It means letting communities go at their own pace and supporting them through setbacks. These last are not things that government, or even perhaps independent funders who arguably have more scope, feel comfortable allowing.
The Community Wealth Fund proposal is ambitious not least because significant funds will be required for its implementation. We believe that the Community Wealth Fund should be financed from the £2b of new dormant assets coming on stream from bonds, stocks and shares, insurance funds and pension policies matched by cash from FTSE 250 and 100 companies. It’s a big ask but one that we believe is compelling given the imperative of creating a brighter future regardless of the outcome of Brexit.
If the proposal chimes with you and the ethos of your organisation, you can help us make it a reality. Please lend the support of your organisation here: http://localtrust.org.uk/library/research-and-evaluation/community-wealth-fund
Local Trust brought the founding members of the Alliance together to develop the Community Wealth Fund proposal. It now provides the secretariat to the Alliance.