When I started working on my first funding campaign at Semble back in 2017, I had no idea what constituted a community group. Three years later and I have worked with hundreds of these groups, overseeing over £500,000 of business-backed investment. Yet while I’m a bit clearer on their definition, I am still constantly surprised by the breadth of services that are provided by the community sector. Often working on a hyper-local level, these grassroots organisations can be easy to miss when standing alone but together they make up an ocean of positive change.
A story that I have heard time and again when talking to community groups is their founding as a reaction to the cutting of state funding and services. The devastating effects of the 2007 recession saw a boom in reactive local activity as communities saw critical front-line services disappear as a result of years of brutal austerity. Yet out of adversity can come opportunity and so it did. Innovation within community groups tends not to be restricted by institutional frameworks or council policies, it can identify precisely what a local area needs and fill that gap. Take the well-known entity of the community garden as an example. There are hundreds of these green initiatives signed up to Semble’s 3,700-strong community group network. There are gardens that focus on treating depression and anxiety, those that focus on nutritional education and cookery skills and others whose objective is to support adults with severe learning difficulties. All while bringing people together, focussing on holistic wellbeing and, as a bottom line, benefiting the communities in which they exist.
Fast-forward to our present moment. The government is trying to manage this unfolding crisis but like a game of insidious whack-a-mole, the problems are appearing faster than they can be knocked back to a manageable level. There were obvious gaps in social support before the virus hit but these are only going to widen as the real economic impact starts to reveal itself in the wake of this more immediate phase of the crisis. The early indicators (from the Office for National Statistics) are frankly terrifying, with the number of jobcentre claimants increasing from 1.24million in March to 2.8million last month (representing a 126% increase) and a 20% drop in GDP since the lockdown was put in place.
This is where community funding must become a priority. Organisations that have invested in local community groups – from corporates to charities, councils and national governments – must not shy away from that mission now. It is precisely the scale and nature of community groups that make them so well suited to help in this moment. They know better than anyone what their service users need at this time. They are small and agile, able to respond to the changing circumstances quickly and compassionately.
Perhaps most powerful is the community sector’s ability to deliver significant impact with relatively low levels of funding. This is made possible partly due to their experience and expertise but crucially through their ability to harness volunteer support. I’ve seen community groups pull off projects worth tens of thousands of pounds on a fraction of that budget due to the involvement of dedicated and passionate volunteers. We have seen the ground swell of community sentiment and an extraordinary volunteer response to the NHS first responder’s initiative. This moment needs to be seized upon now but it cannot be built on sentiment alone.
Now is the time to make resources available to these groups. Whether financial donations or the supply of skills and volunteer time, we all need to contribute what we can to allow this crucial sector to do what it does best – respond to the needs of a society in crisis. Given the right resources, the hundreds and thousands of small, local projects and initiatives across the UK will drive a collective movement of epic proportions. They will not only support those who need it most, they will bring us all together, bonding communities and improving the wellbeing of the nation.
At Semble this is what we are driven by, what we aspire to help achieve and what we will continue to work towards through our business-backed community campaigns. So please, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Whether it’s skills, knowledge, funding or your time, there is no contribution too small to make a difference.
Image inset: taken from groups on Semble’s 3,700-strong community group network