Locality – Power of Community Network Meeting

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Here’s a blog-report I’ve written about the Locality Networking session I attended in Leicester today.

Sharing and learning is at the heart of the community development approach, which is why Locality, the UK charity dedicated to helping community organisations, hosts a regular series of workshops dedicated to discussing and making sense of what works in community capacity building.

Today I managed to attend the latest Locality workshop session in Leicester. Hosted at the Woodgates Residents Centre, and attended by twenty-five people from across the social sector in Leicester, Northampton and Peterborough, the session was led by Kathryn Roper and Mick McGrath. Kathryn and Mick explained what Locality does to support community projects at a grass-roots level, and how they aim to ‘unleash the power of community to make places better to live.’

The latest action campaign that Locality has just run, for example, is dedicated to saving public spaces for community use. When many local councils are facing drastic cuts to their budgets, and are looking to sell-off any surplice buildings and assets that they can’t find an immediate use for, then the Save Our Space campaign has sought to highlight and support communities who want to take ownership of these assets and “put these buildings and spaces back at the heart of the community to protect them for generations to come.”

But this advocacy work by Locality didn’t just involve telling a basic story of community groups struggling to cope on an individual basis, the story was based around a systematic investigation as a collaboration with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. This investegation able to highlight a major story in the national media about how the decline of access to public spaces is being driven by devastating local budget cuts. According to the report:

“The findings lay bare the spiralling impact of eight successive years of austerity, leaving services shut and buildings closed. Councils have been forced to take ever more desperate measures to stay in the black as their funding from central government has been cut by about 60% since 2010.”

Against this backdrop, then, Locality offers support to its members in England who are looking to diversify their funding stream and think about how they can better improve their capacity to act in the public good by providing services that, in many cases, local councils can no longer support. This means thinking about, and planning for, ways to build the capability of community organisations, so that they are able to undertake projects in an accountable, transparent, collaborative, and most importantly, sustainable way.

Locality shares governance and development tools to its members, and it holds an annual conference and congress each year. This years conference is being held in London on 12th June, and will be asking how community services can be kept local, how civic and social groups can get the best out of the local commissioning processes, and how community groups can build stronger partnerships with their local councils and authorities?

There’s a special resonance with the debates about local radio that is raging in local radio about the pressure of consolidation and deregulation as less radio stations are owned or managed locally. The Local Radio Group have produced a report investigating changes in Local Radio Deregulation and the crisis of media pluralism at a local level. According to the report

“The radio industry is currently witnessing a monopoly. Two large corporations (Global & Bauer) now own a majority of the local, commercial radio landscape in the UK at the expense of smaller, local stations and groups. Both corporations have been buying-out local radio stations all over the UK in the last few years, in anticipation of deregulation. Global have already shown why they did it; so that they could close buildings, cut staff and broadcast a virtual, national product using local FM licenses. How can this be deemed acceptable and allowed by the industry regulator?”

With this in mind, the renewal of the objectives of the Community Media Association to support the building of community capacity, to address voice poverty and to look for creative ways to engage with communities - with and through the use of a wide range of media - seems pertinent and timely.

There is a good deal of cross-over and affinity between the work of Locality and the Community Media Association, and I’m sure that both at a local level many community radio stations are already working well with their partner community groups and local councils in their areas. There is also some potential to develop links at a national level, to help coordinate and advance some of our shared policy aims, such as engagement with the Office of Civic Society.

It would be great to hear about many of the successful and emerging community projects that Locality has access to across the country, because these would make great stories and content for discussion across the different platforms that community media offers, ratio, print, TV, online. From a community media perspective, and as Dr Siobhan Stevenson explained to me in the latest Decentered Media Podcast I recorded with her, social gain and social value are at the core of community media. There is much fertile ground for collaboration I suspect.

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