I popped into the Resource Centre in Tilbury Place this week to say hello to the team, and spent a happy hour learning more about the services they offer to local community groups.
With more than 40 years of experience, it’s an inspiring place full of ‘can do’ people and the most wonderful equipment. Among my favourites are the candyfloss machine, giant Connect Four and the bouncy castle. Meanwhile, the more serious customer can borrow anything from a flip chart to a PA system, depending on the size of audience.
The team are on hand to share their skills and years of knowledge. They can show you how to make badges, print newsletters or write the constitution of your organisation.
This concept of sharing know-how, equipment and resources is at the heart of community wealth building. Empowering communities to take control of their environment and build strong networks across neighbourhoods will have many positive effects. In my own ward, the Crew Club, a community-led charity that provides opportunities for children and young people, is branching out into health and well-being. They don’t tell people what is good for them but take them by the hand and share their experience. They’ve just taken a group through the ‘Couch to 5k’ programme and achieved their first parkrun.
Small groups built from the bottom up will have stronger and more immediate legitimacy than a service imposed from above. Based in trusted and familiar spaces, they become the first responders to people in crisis.
Food banks no longer just provide food – people can drop in for a cup of tea and a chat, get money advice and meet their local councillor for help.
My vision is for people to feel ready to take the next step and take ownership of community assets. With ongoing and severe cuts to council funding, we must preserve community spaces. They need to be run by local people, for the community. To achieve that we must prepare the way by building networks and trust; learning new skills and sharing our expertise and knowledge. Most of all it needs time and commitment, but real community ownership will be its own reward.