Social change through local action:
No-one knows more about what an area needs to thrive than the people who live and work there. They have an inside knowledge and connection to their local communities that Whitehall just can’t rival.
This is the reality that has driven Government’s ambitions for localism and devolution in the last five years – with more power, flexibility and control pushed out from the centre than ever before.
At the local level, this revolution is being driven in England via a whole new generation of community organisers: trained individuals and volunteers committed to building relationships between people and inspiring communities to deliver positive social and political change through collective action.
This kind of local activism has a long history in the United States, with high-profile advocates including President Barack Obama who worked himself as a community organiser in Chicago, but it’s still a relatively new idea in the UK.
Launching the programme in 2010, former Minister for the Cabinet Office, Lord Maude set a target to sign up 5,000 community organisers by March 2015. In the end, the team went further than anyone thought possible: with well over 6,000 volunteers recruited and trained in 400 neighbourhoods, supporting more than 150,000 residents and 1,500 community projects. Locality, a network of community-led, locally rooted organisations, delivered the programme on behalf of Government.
Community organisers come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some start the job straight out of university; others have worked in community development for many years; and, for some, this is a way back into work after years of unemployment. Those who get involved to improve their communities are diverse too – young and old, long-term residents or new arrivals and recent asylum seekers.
The organisers begin by talking to local residents; listening to the changes they believe their local area needs; before bringing people together and supporting them to take action on the issues they care about.
The golden rule of being a community organiser is not to do anything for people that they can do for themselves.
So what have this band of officials and volunteers learnt and achieved together in the last five years and what next for the UK’s Community Organisers programme?
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