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A community development approach to neighbourhood improvement

The economic and policy landscape for neighbourhoods has changed dramatically in the last couple of years, prompted by a new government and recession. Much of the old architecture for helping disadvantaged neighbourhoods has disappeared and there has been a big debate in the sector about the government’s strategy for regeneration.

There is a new focus on localism and a range of initiatives to support ‘community resilience’ have been announced – such as Community First and Community Organisers. As the dust on these settle, attention is turning to delivery and implementation. A key question is how to combine the new policy aims with a very local ethos.

The Big Local programme is a Big Lottery Fund programme that is a genuine large scale attempt to put community development at the heart of area improvement. This involves putting residents and local communities at the heart of decision making but also giving them the right levers and support to ensure that they drive the improvements that they want in their local area.

A crucial part of this support are ‘Big local reps’ – these are advisers who provide ‘light-touch’ support to communities, helping them to make sense of the programme but, crucially, also helping to unlock the capacity that already exists within the community and building skills and networks. They are hopefully a way of meeting the challenges of a very grounded approach with a national programme.

There will be a range of other support systems in place – for example, opportunities for residents to network and learn from other areas which is already proving very successful, and support for social and community entrepreneurship (Unltd).

‘Big Local reps’ are designed to build on some of the lessons of previous initiatives, such as the JRF Transforming Neighbourhoods, Home Office guide neighbourhoods programme, and the NRU Skills and Knowledge programme.

Renaisi is currently recruiting up to 100 Big Local reps on behalf of Local Trust which is the new organisation charged with delivering Big Local.  More information on the role of the rep and how to apply is available here but essentially we are looking for experienced and skilled community development and renewal advisers.  The deadline for applications is 16 April 2012.

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