I’ve been working as a community organiser in St Pauls since 2012, listening to people, exploring their issues, challenging them into action, and supporting them to connect with others. Throughout this process I have met hundreds of people. They are frustrated about the lack of voice they have in how the area is run: issues ranging from rubbish, neglect of the neighbourhood by the local authorities, lack of opportunities for young people, to gentrification, the impact of cuts on local services, and the risks faced by local grassroots organisations including the Malcolm X Centre and St Pauls Carnival.
A recurring issue is about the money that comes into the community for service delivery being taken up by big service providers. These larger companies are not held accountable by Bristol council, while local voluntary organisations – which could potentially deliver better value for money, provide local jobs, and improve the local economy – struggle to make ends meet.
For example, a social enterprise, Learning Partnership West (LPW) took over the running of the St Pauls Adventure Playground in 2013 after the council slashed the youth provision budget by a third, leading to the deterioration of the service and the facilities. A meeting was called in October, in which LPW and the commissioner for Bristol Youth Links (the ‘umbrella’ organisation for council-commissioned youth services) were questioned about the lack of a social impact assessment and a cost-benefit analysis on LPW’s work since its contract started.
The meeting was triggered by the arrest of more than 20 young people who were dealing drugs in the neighbourhood. There was a lot of anger. The community felt this could have been prevented – and that the cost of processing and incarceration will be higher, both economically and socially.
What if the money spent on youth services in St Pauls was given to local organisations? They wouldn’t need to spend time and money building trust with the youth, because they know the youth; they are the youth.
What if St Pauls Adventure Playground was run by the community – including parents? Not as volunteers – but getting paid and sustaining the place as a social enterprise.
Imagine if the grassroots organisations in St Pauls were to work together as a consortium? They could effectively compete for service delivery tenders and employ local people to deliver.