Building Better Futures through Community Assets

John McMullan, CEO of Bryson Charitable Group, gives his thoughts on our plans for a new funding programme, People and Communities, and how groups can build on the strengths in communities.

Agenda NI photo 1 of J McMullan

“It is a delight to have an opportunity to contribute some personal thoughts to this blog, which I hope will provoke some further debate. The whole of the UK is experiencing the ‘perfect storm’ of austerity, an extreme social and economic weather condition, buffeting our most vulnerable communities and families with wave after wave of spending cutbacks, service withdrawal and welfare reforms. However, one of the few constants in this storm is the Big Lottery Fund which remains resolute and steadfast in its commitment to investing to improve people’s lives across the UK.

“The Fund’s strategic plan People in the Lead is driven by that important principle: to give back control to those who understand their needs best; people who live in local communities and who are experiencing severe hardships.

“Our communities, even the most challenging, are populated with a broad and rich range of social assets (people). Unfortunately, that is mostly ignored by our policy makers, because they don’t see them as a tangible on a balance sheet, but they exist and if unlocked and enabled, through socially driven investment, offer a real and lasting solution to many of our most acute social issues.

“Let me make a few suggestions: Northern Ireland experiences the highest levels of fuel poverty (42%) in UK, yet our intervention programmes have no ambition to eradicate fuel poverty and are preoccupied with spending on a narrow range of installation measures. Put our communities in the lead and don’t be surprised if they develop a broader range of interventions, based on what people have experienced, which will include;

• opportunities for communities to create their own energy;
• collectively purchase energy;
• create real sustainable local jobs, providing the services and interventions necessary to reduce the levels of fuel poverty.

“It is not rocket science, but it requires public policy makers to let go and enable community driven innovation to take hold – unlock our social assets and the potential of people in communities.

“If we applied a similar approach to our ageing population, the results could be just as positive. In less than 20 years a quarter of the Northern Ireland population will be 60 plus. Enabling local communities to use their own social assets to support older people to remain at home for longer could offer significant advantages, including savings for the NHS, with reductions in hospital and residential care and the provision of a greater range of community based support services, delivered through locally based community organisations. It could further create significant sustainable employment in our areas of highest unemployment, for both adults and young people. By investing some of those savings into the creation of career paths for care workers, we get an amazing win/win, with even better care for our ageing population at home and in a way that puts choice and quality of life at the very centre of service delivery.

“I could say more about using similar models to tackle local long term unemployment, or indeed improving substantially our recycling rates and processes, but that would extend this blog longer than it needs. There is more to be said about outcomes driven commissioning; intelligent commissioning and social impact measurement, but my purpose is to stimulate a debate: So what do you think?”

Follow John on twitter @johnatbryson

Find out more about our plans and how you can help shape them on our website

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  1. I would also like to commend the BIG Lottery in being the anchor during this period of economic cuts. The funding it has provided has allowed many community organisations like our own, the opportunity to support the most vulnerable in the community. Many who have been supported and come through their turmoil, often come to the stage where they are motivated to support others to make their community a better place to live. The People and Communities Funding can empower them to make this happen. Often the most difficult part is taking the first step , applying for funding can be daunting and a block to seeing their plans come to fulfilment. Meeting directly with funders may make this less daunting. What do you think?

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