Investing in the community takes time; lots of time and sometimes some (gluten-free) biscuits
Last week I got an email from a colleague.
‘It’s happening. The group is going it alone! They don’t want me to go anymore! No more arguing with my director about why I’m involved! It’s been seven years!’
My colleague is a social care commissioner who has a long term interest in asset based approaches. The project he emailed me about started as an attempt to produce a community support directory for older people. The ‘theory’ was that if people in different local community groups could work together then scarce resources would be better used with more people finding the right support.
What started as an attempt to get some quick wins with ‘community stuff’ became at times a turf war between groups trying to hang or offering different perspectives on what they thought they could do together but without being sure what it was.
They faced a groaning realisation - it wasn't a quick win at all; getting added value from the local community would take a lot more time and energy than they expected.
After years of stuttering progress the project became a vibrant, fluid network that helped community groups understand what each other was trying to do. People involved in the project found they had a role in resolving issues and helping groups to get going – acting as the glue to healthy cohesion!
This shows that one important element of a commissioner’s involvement in asset based approaches is being there for the long haul. This sort of investing to save doesn't always bring quick results and might bring no demonstrable savings at all. Yet investing to save is a key element to enable a community to build relationships, understand the skills and knowledge they have and find the time and space to share them.
Investing to save might mean offering meeting rooms, or administration time, or a tea, coffee and cake fund. It can be about long evenings listening to things you are not sure you even understand.
Commissioners should enable a local community to successfully support itself. Not every project will be successful. Your own perspectives on the type and role of the project may well be at odds with the views of those in the local community. As Alex Fox’s asset-based area briefing suggests, success comes from leading collaboratively, handing over or restoring power building and sustaining social enterprise and being neighbourhood focused rather than ‘organisational boundary focused.’
To see benefits from this we must invest our time and resources meaningfully, be prepared to keep on trying different ways, and at times be the ‘last person standing’ until others come along and take over.