Communities Taking the Lead

CVA has been supporting citizen and community-led action in Croydon for well over a hundred years.

We’ve set up and supported many of the best-known charities in Croydon, working with local people from across the borough to build up and strengthen their communities. As we move towards another new decade the voluntary and community sector (VCS) faces another of the challenges that have defined its modern role. This time however it’s different. Previous challenges have been set largely by central government or by funders – the contract culture and the big society to name a couple. This time the challenge comes from within – and it is community-led. To be sure it coincides with another set of expectations being handed down from government through its post-austerity focus on transforming local services. The difference this time is that social movements around the world are transforming how democracy works, with citizens and communities testing out social, environmental, economic and health solutions of their own. The VCS, depending on how open it remains to new ways of working, will provide a natural home for these bottom-up, community-led initiatives backing social change. 

The challenge is clear – it’s not just about subscribing to principles like innovation, prevention and early intervention, it’s about putting them into practice. Right at the heart of this practice is the art of relationship building. Bringing like-minded people together, linking them up across communities and creating spaces in which they can find common cause provides the VCS with an invitation to step up alongside people who are doing it for themselves. In playing a support role the VCS can make connections go further, join up conversations, persuade more people to listen, put wheels in motion and remove roadblocks. Most importantly, when it comes to tackling the root causes of social problems, the VCS can ensure that local people remain in the driving seat and are given the right of way. This is the new passenger-seat way of working that challenges the VCS to innovate by building on its relationships in the community – to support both personal development and the collective actions that spring from peer-support groups. When the VCS specialises in nurturing the trust and self-confidence that makes people more active and better-networked it enables greater independence, wider connections, less isolation, proactive care, health and wellbeing benefits, more active communities, community resilience, community safety – in short, all the outcomes that government attaches to prevention and early-intervention programmes. 

Responding creatively to its latest challenge will require from the VCS a steadfast faith in communities, a scepticism about interventions and programmes and a conditional sign-up to principles like co-production, partnership-working, integrated localities and community hubs. The condition is this: that communities must provide the lead in both designing and delivering local activities. In offering its support the VCS accepts the ongoing challenge - to strengthen its relationship building practices and to transform its operations in the service of communities providing leadership from within.

Steve Phaure
Croydon Voluntary Action