Thursday, 20 December 2012

Building a Stronger Community in Croydon


Discussions around the country on issues of community strategies, neighbourhood renewal and regeneration often become bogged down over the different meanings people give to words like ‘community’, and ‘sustainable development’, ‘community cohesion’ and ‘respect’ (the relationship between different social groups). The development of future strategies for Croydon need to be underpinned by a common understanding between those involved in devising and implementing them as to what they mean by these concepts. This note discusses these concepts. 

What is ‘community’? 

‘Community’ can be defined as the web of personal relationships, groups, networks, traditions and patterns of behaviour:

·                     that exist amongst those who share physical neighbourhoods socio-economic conditions or common understandings and interests
·                     that develop against the backdrop of the physical neighbourhood and its socio-economic situation.

The word ‘community’ is often treated as a single entity. It is not – it is comprised of many different overlapping communities, including:

·                     geographic - people living in a  neighbourhood or on an estate
·                     of interest sharing concerns and perspectives e.g. users, disabled, ethnic, faith, gender/sexuality, age based, interest, workplace, business, sport, hobby

People move in and out of different communities, and can belong to more than one community at any one time. However:

·                     Some communities are more privileged than others
·                     Many communities can be excluded


·                     What are the many varied ‘communities’ in Croydon?
·                     Which are more privileged than others?
·                     Which are excluded or perceive themselves to be excluded?

The answers to these questions should form part of the analysis which underpins what the needs and aspirations of residents as individuals and collectively in their different communities that should be addressed. .

What Makes for a Good Community?

The following are ten key characteristics for a good and well functioning community that have been identified.

(1)          A learning community, where people and groups gain knowledge, skills and confidence through community action.
(2)          A fair and just community, which upholds civic rights and equality of opportunity, and which recognizes and celebrates the distinctive features of its cultures.
(3)          An active and empowered community, where people are fully involved and which has strong and varied local organisations and a clear identity and self-confidence.
(4)          An influential community, which is consulted and has a strong voice in decisions which affect its interests.
(5)          An economically strong community, which creates opportunities for work and which retains a high proportion of its wealth.
(6)          A caring community, aware of the needs of its members and in which services are of good quality and meet these needs.
(7)          A green community, with a healthy and pleasant environment, awareness of environmental responsibility.
(8)          A safe community, where people do not fear crime, violence or other hazards.
(9)          A welcoming community, which people like, feel happy about and do not wish to leave.
(10)        A lasting community, which is well established and likely to survive.


·                     Do current strategies reflect these characteristics?
·                     To what extent is Croydon such a community?
·                     Do current priorities and objectives help Croydon become a better functioning community? 

How integral is community development?

‘Community Development’ aims to enrich the web of relationships and make its threads stronger, to develop self-confidence and skills, so that the community (the people) can begin to make significant improvements to their neighbourhood (the place) and its material environment.

A critical aspect of the local Community Strategies is supposed to be that they are produced with the local communities that make up the local authority area. This requires agencies to develop close links with communities at neighbourhood and special interest level. This requires agencies having a ‘community development’ approach.

·                     How strong or weak are current strategies on the ‘community development’ aspects of building a stronger civil society and developing ways to ensure the local people are able to influence the decisions that affect their lives.

The community development approach, as explained by the Standing Conference on Community Development, starts from the assumption that most social problems are rooted in the political, social and economic structure. It is the process of building active and sustainable communities based on social justice and mutual respect. It is about changing power structures to remove the barriers that prevent people from participating in the issues that affect their lives. Community workers support the participation of people in this process. They enable connections to be made between communities and with the development of wider policies and programmes. It expresses values of fairness, equality, accountability, opportunity, choice, participation, mutuality, reciprocity and continuous learning. Educating, enabling and empowering are at the core of Community Development. 

Do current Croydon strategies make it clear:

·                     How service providers work with communities to develop policies, programmes and services?
·                     What policies and strategies do they already have to support community development?
·                     How these policies are shared and developed into an overall strategy to support community development?
·                     How the general public is informed about support for community development by  organisations bin both their individual and partnership roles?

What is known about the extent of Community Development in Croydon, where it is strong and where it is weak?

·                     Which agencies employ community workers?
·                     Do these workers provide general support for community activity or is their role more specialist?
·                     How many community workers are employed and are they employed on a long term or time limited basis?
·                     How many people are undertaking development with communities on an unpaid basis?
·                     What support of organisations provide to people working with communities on an unpaid basis?
·                     In which geographic neighbourhoods are there community workers (paid and unpaid)?
·                     Are resources for community workers allocated in ways that promote equity within and between communities?
·                     How many community workers employed by different agencies and those working in an unpaid basis work together? What are the opportunities for networking? 


·                     Which agencies fund community development at present?
·                     What proportion of funding is from mainstream sources and how much is through short-term initiatives?
·                     Which organisations provide long-term core funding to community organisations?
·                     Which organisations have small grant schemes for specific projects and how are these schemes publicised?
·                     How much finding is allocated to particular neighbourhoods and communities of interest?
·                     What application and monitoring processes are used by organisations and can these be simplified?
·                     How does funding promote equity within and between communities?
·                     How are communities involved in setting funding priorities? 

Other Resources 

·                     How is information from organisations made available to communities? Is it clear, jargon-free and available in relevant places, formats and languages?
·                     How is information about communities produced and shared by organisations? For example, are people within communities trained and employed to carry out surveys and are the results shared appropriately by different organisations?
·                     What resources such as buildings, information communication technology, printing, and equipment exist? How can these be made more accessible to communities?
·                     What use do public sector organisations make of goods and services supplied by community businesses and how could this be developed? 


·                     What community development learning opportunities do organisations already support?
·                     Do learning opportunities exist for community activists and volunteers, community workers, managers, people from diverse professional and service backgrounds, school and college students, and elected members?
·                     How can organisations work together to support the development of accessible leaning opportunities?
·                     What opportunities are there for organisations to learn together and with communities about partnership working? How can these opportunities be developed? 


·                     How are public sector organisations in Croydon evaluating community development?
·                     What is the learning to date and how has this been disseminated to those with a potential interest?
·                     What resources will public sector organisations make available for evaluation?
·                     How does learning from previous community development work inform the work of public service organisations?

Valuing Difference and Diversity

The concept suggested above of ‘community’ recognises that there are a range of diversity needs of different social, cultural, and ethnic groups. A key issue for debate is how this diversity can be respected and catered for, while at the same time connections be made between diverse groups in order to avoid the creation of separateness. This lies at the centre of the concept of ‘community cohesion’. The concept of respect between different groups is also linked to ‘community cohesion’.

The concept of ‘respect’ includes:

·                     valuing differences – different cultures, backgrounds, skills, faiths, abilities and disabilities
·                     acknowledging and recognising people’s life experiences and the choices they make
·                     sharing common bonds and working together on issues that concern us all
·                     being accountable – politicians should be accountable for their decisions. The council and other organisations that provide services should respond quickly and politely when people need help.

‘Respect’ can be shown towards each other by:

·                     treating other people as we wish to be treated
·                     leading by example
·                     being open and welcoming
·                     embracing other cultures
·                     giving thanks and positive feedback when these are due?

But ‘respect’ is more than just about the way different individuals and groups perceive and treat each other. It is also about the perceptions and actions of different agencies like those represented on Lambeth First.

Young people often say that they feel excluded and disrespected. Could the following measures help them feel more included?

·                     Youth centres and activities in schools and community venues – these should be inclusive and accessible for all young people, especially those with disabilities and others who find it hard to get involved. Youth should be able to take more responsibility for their clubs and centres.
·                     Opportunities for discussion – a chance for young people to talk about what’s important to them and to educate each other around issues like teenage pregnancy
·                     Young people should be taught from an early age to respect people, property and the community – adults should lead by example
·                     Affordable housing – for everyone, but particularly young single people and couples

Older people need to feel valued. Can this be fostered by providing:

·                     safe, easily accessible places to socialise, communicate and support each other
·                     access to transport
·                     adequate funding
·                     opportunities for their voices to be heard?

Disabled and vulnerable people can be better supported by:

·                     independent living support schemes run and managed by people with disabilities and their allies
·                     safe, accusable places to socialise - with transport provided
·                     disability awareness training run by people with disabilities
·                     fully accessible schools so that all children can be educated together
·                     a GCSE/A-level in sign language to help young people communicate with people who have hearing difficulties
·                     well-publicised consultation meetings where people with disabilities can express their views
·                     better communication with health professionals – people with disabilities need information so that they can make intelligent decisions on their care

Unemployed people are often treated as if they are worthless, workshy and on the scrap heap. . Being in work makes people feel included and increases their self-esteem – this can include unpaid voluntary work. People should be able to find work, regardless of their race or disability. Young people starting out in the world of work need support such as: modern apprenticeships, business advice, financial guidance and grants, good vocational education, scholarships for further and higher education. 

Relevance to Life in Croydon 

·                     To what extent is ‘respect’ about individuals’ relationships with each other?
·                     How can individuals develop ‘respect’ if they do not meet with people in other social, cultural and ethnic groups?
·                     To what extent are the suggestions outlined above being adequately met in Croydon through the work of the Council (education, social services, leisure & amenities, economic development, etc), the health service, the police, the employment service, private employers, and community and voluntary groups?
·                     What more needs to be done in order to help create a more ‘Cohesive and Respectful’ Croydon?

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