Community organisations are key to an effective coronavirus response, and it is important that policymakers "catch up" to deliver long-term impact, according to a new report from Locality.
The report, We Were Built For This, highlights the vital role that community organisations have played in meeting community need and supporting people during the Covid-19 crisis, as they are often quickest to mobilise and are key to coordinating and delivering emergency support.
Locality is calling on government to support a community-powered economic recovery and to create collaborative public services.
The report looks at how community organisations reacted and adapted to the challenges of the crisis. Over 100 organisations contributed to the report. This includes seven in-depth case-studies with groups in Berwick, Bristol, Coventry, Grimsby, Hackney, Manchester and Thetford.
The report finds that community organisations have been able to harness the upsurge in community spirit – working with and coordinating grassroots groups and hyper-local support.
“The committed and agile way communities have responded to the coronavirus crisis points the way to a new future that’s built around community power. But to be truly transformative, policymakers need to catch up with the innovation that’s happening locally - and help embed it as the 'new normal' as we emerge from the crisis,” the report finds.
Locality suggests several action points. The first involves expanding a pledge that was included in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto to create a £150m Community Ownership Fund. The report says “this fund can be the start of something transformational”, and that its value should be topped up by a further £1bn.
Locality says that the pledged £150m could be used to kickstart the fund, while a further £200m per annum could then be leveraged by pooling additional investment from other funders and social investment into a coordinated national pot.
One source of this additional funding would be dormant assets, which could generate £500m. This support would be available for assets acquired through both Community Asset Transfer and the Community Right to Bid.
Given the particular challenges highlighted for the financial sustainability of BAME-led community organisations, the fund should be co-designed with BAME infrastructure organisations.
It adds that government should commit to ring-fence 25% of any future economic development funding for community-led partnerships. These partnerships would include local government, community organisations, residents, and local businesses.
The report also states that community organisations themselves “must seize this moment”. This means ensuring that new volunteers stay involved and sustain new relationships with grassroots organisations that have grown through the crisis.
It adds that successful community organisations will do this by focusing on community development, local organising and engagement.
'We cannot overstate the role community organisations have played'
Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, said: “We cannot overstate the role community organisations have played in providing and mobilising support during the coronavirus crisis.
“They have taken a lead in the distribution of food, medical supplies and hot meals, provided a friendly voice for isolated people, and delivered ongoing support for people in crisis.
“The challenge we face now is ensuring that these groups are given the voice, power and resources they need to support their communities through the recovery from the pandemic.
“Rebuilding our economy is going to be a national priority, but we have to learn the lessons of failed economic policies over several decades. Our recommendations for devolution of power and resources to communities are radical, but common sense. They would deliver much of the prime minister’s ambition to level up the country, build self-reliant and resilient communities and help us bounce back stronger from this crisis.”