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Getting a handle on community organising

Last month Nicola Bacon, the Young Foundation’s director of local and advisory projects, wrote about community organising in the UK and introduced our new Building Local Activism programme, which is funded through BIG Lottery’s People Powered Change activities. This month I’d like to expand on what the programme is trying to achieve.

Our programme was conceived just before the government announced the National Community Organisers programme, which is being delivered by a consortium led by Locality. We felt that if community organising was to really take hold, communities across the country would need to be able to make an informed choice about which organising model best aligns with their aims.

In order to achieve this, we have designed our programme around two aims. We want to help organisations with a track record of doing community organising to scale their activities, and we want to understand more about the outcomes of different approaches.

We have now partnered with three organisations – Church Action on Poverty’s Changemakers, Citizens UK and the Novas Scarman Group – and over two years we will support each of them to scale their work into two new areas of England. This support will draw heavily on the Young Foundation’s experiences of supporting social ventures to scale.

The three organisations approach community organising differently; Citizens UK and Church Action on Poverty organise along Alinsky based principles, while Novas Scarman has considerable experience of delivering various forms of community work which can neatly be described as asset based community development, which has now entered the community organising lexicon.

I am sure that there will be some discussion to come about what community organising actually is. All of the organisations involved in existing and future community organising programmes will have their own views on this, and we hope we can help facilitate the debate.

Our programme also has another strand of work, which I touched on in a blog here a few months ago. We also want to learn more about how digital technology can help communities to campaign and lobby for change locally. There have been some fantastic examples of this happening on a national and international scale; 38 Degrees and Avaaz.com have just achieved notable successes in their efforts to stop News Corporation taking control of BSkyB.

Some of this is happening at a local level. Last year residents in Milton Keynes made it into the news when they organised a campaign – largely through Facebook – to stop a local library closing. Residents in Walthamstow successfully prevented a historic cinema being converted into a church, using social media to help them do it.

We want to help communities do more of this while sharing the learning with others across the country. We are beginning work with four groups; Hackney Citizens Advice Bureau, Leeds Older People’s Forum, Holloway Neighbourhood Group and Women’s Networking Hub in Birmingham.

We are still looking for two other community groups to work with. Please get in contact with us if you want to know more.

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