1. Promoting the well-being of Croydon’s residents is about everybody being able:
· to reach their potential
· to participate in the democratic process
· to influence the decisions that affect their lives
· to engage in community and voluntary and political activity
· to live without fear of being marginalised, discriminated against and social excluded
· to have their culture respected in return for respecting the culture of others
Building Civil Society
2. In building a strong civil society it is essential to recognise that:
· there are differing interests, sometimes conflicting
· there are different solutions to any problem
· that by joint working, reaching a common understanding of why there are differences, through conflict resolution and mediation, solutions can be agreed which will have wide ranging support
· the work of the community and voluntary sector is vital
· the dealing with issues of equalities and discrimination are central
3. Underpinning a strong civil society are the concepts that civic involvement:
· is a right, that Merton citizens should be involved in how they are governed through the election process and more on-going participatory mechanisms
· overcomes alienation and exclusion, enabling everyone to contribute their skills to society’s mutual benefit
· strengths the community by reducing the opportunity for social fracture and conflict
· maximises the effectiveness of services and resources through responding to people’s needs and aspirations
Role of Croydon Council and its Partners
4. Croydon Council and its partners should be working:
· to reduce the incidence of social exclusion
· to combat racism and other discriminations
· to support the work of the community and voluntary sector
· to develop methods of community participation (rather than just consultation) in decision making processes
· to ensure that the inter-connections between the work of all the partners are fully understood in its deliberations
· to encourage its partners not to take short-term crisis decisions that might adversely affect the work of others and jeopardise the implementation of agreed strategies
· to recognise the right of the community to organise to oppose decisions that they do not agree with
The organisations making up the community and voluntary sectors have an important role to play in this.
The Role of the Community and Community and Voluntary Sector
5. Croydon has a range diverse community and voluntary groups. They play a unique role in supporting the community, at neighbourhood and community of interest level. The sector’s roots go back into the 16th Century with the growth of charitable bequests to the poor. Following the turmoil of the Reformation different faith groups began to emerge not linked to the established Church, and these established their own organisations for mutual support. In the 18th Century friendly societies developed to provide financial support at times unemployment, sickness and death. The 19th Century saw the establishment of trade unions, building, loan and co-operative societies, arts, cultural and sports organisations, and clubs. These particularly met the wide-ranging needs of, and were vehicles achieving the aspirations of both the area’s middle-class and growing working class. The number of charitable organisations grew as ways the middle and upper class could contribute to the alleviation of the poverty of the working class, and of those in higher classes who fell on bad times. This range of organisations provided services and financial support in the absence of public services. Many campaigned for central and local government to develop the range of public services, from housing to swimming baths, from libraries to adult education. As well as locally created organisations there were branches of national organisations. After the Second World War the need for many of these organisations declined and new forms of organisation were developed to meet people’s needs within the context of welfare state provision, including advice services, self-help groups, tenants, residents and community associations, and Black and Asian and other ethnic minority organisations. Many pioneered what were to become public services.
6. Community and voluntary organisations have a number of characteristics.
· They range from the informal through groups with minimal terms of reference, to those, which are registered as charities, Industrial & Provident Societies or as Companies limited by guarantee.
· They include self-help and user controlled groups, local neighbourhood groups, single issue groups, branches of national organisations, and local affiliates of national organisations
· They are independent and self-governing
· They do not have shareholders to whom they have to distribute profits
· They are voluntary in the sense that they are made of members who give of their time without payment
· Some have no staff or premises, others have staff and premises, and some have developed trading activities or undertake contracts to deliver specialist services.
The Contribution of Community and Voluntary Organisations
7. Community and voluntary groups make a valuable contribution to the well-being of individuals, families, groups with a shared geographic or other interest, through their activities (services, social, educational, leisure). At their best they:
· help disadvantaged people link with service providers
· provide services alongside the public and private sector
· respond to the expressed needs of different groups in the community rather than to the perceived needs or ‘agency’ agendas of the public sector
· reach people and involve those whom the public sector has failed to reach
· mobilise both human and financial resources which the public sector cannot
· take risks
· experiment, innovate and work in creative ways
· bring a ‘bottom-up’ perspective into policy debates with public agencies
· listen to what local people, members and users want and need
· mediate between different, often conflicting community perspectives
· articulate the view of people without the skills or confidence to speak for themselves
· advocate for the rights of the most marginalised and excluded people in society
· are motivated by their commitment to improve life for the people they work with, investing time and energy in achieving improvements
· are a repository of ideas and experience
· provide mentoring and leadership
· involve people in service delivery whether as users or self-help/autonomous groups
· provide added value through the time and energy of their volunteers, their generation of donations and the re-investment of surpluses generated by service delivery
· undertake activities which provide additional support and services to public services
8. Community and voluntary organisations have many roles often several at the same time.
· Service Provider
· Strategic Partner
· Change Agent
9. The community and voluntary sector has economic significance as:
· purchaser of goods and services
· provider of basic skills and other training support that help people into the labour market
· increase the income of those on benefits while they seek jobs or of those who never will be able to work because of disability, health and age needs.
10. It has social significance:
· acting as a vehicle for self-help and collective action
· providing health and social services
· contributing to social inclusion
· engaging volunteers
· generating and distributing resources for social and educational purposes
· campaigning and providing a voice for many socially excluded people and special interests
· providing ways in which people can be involved as citizens.
11. Community and voluntary groups particularly work with people who experience one or more of the following forms of disadvantage and social exclusion:
· financial – individuals lacking market power
· personal – potential users who cannot articulate their needs with support or whose lives are in crisis
· societal - individual or groups who are marginalised and discriminated against
· community – people who live in a community where civil structures do not work properly
12. Although there are concentrations of disadvantage and social exclusion in some parts of Croydon. These pose a challenge to the Council and its partners in terms of how to change the way available or potential new resources are used to reshape how mainstream services can achieve reductions in disadvantage and social exclusion.
14. The following are some of the questions that need looking at given the downward spiral into greater disadvantage and social exclusion caused by the economic problems and the Government’s drastic cutbacks.
· How do Croydon’s local communities hang together in the first place?
· How far do people in them trust and co-operate with each other, look out for each other’s interests and find common cause?
· How much community activity is there prior to intervention through specialist programmes?
· How much community activity do we hope there might be after such intervention?
· What is the profile of autonomous community groups and voluntary organisations?
· What are they doing, who are they serving, how effective are they?
· What are the obstacles to establishment of such groups or initiatives?
Co-operation within the sector
15. Community and voluntary groups increasingly find mutual benefits in working together:
· potential to make more of an impact, sooner
· improved access to funding – including match funding from partner organisations
· matching strengths and weaknesses
· sharing of skills and knowledge (including intelligence about needs; subject expertise; technical skills in bidding and project delivery)
· sharing of risks
· sharing of resources (e.g. for project administration)
· better understanding of what others are doing
16. Central Government has been keen that voluntary and community groups should be involved in the planning and service delivery process. It recognises that there are many ways in which local groups can contribute to policy goals. However these goals may not be shared and may pose big issues or choices. Groups need to ask themselves:
· Which policy goals dovetail with their aims and objectives?
· Which will benefit their service users most?
· How will they resource new or expanded activities?
· How can the voluntary sector become more and more closely involved in the various policy agendas?
· How can voluntary organisations best take advantage of the new opportunities, to benefit service users, their staff, volunteers and organisations?
· How can they work better with public agencies to ‘join up the dots’, and respond constructively to all the calls from Government for active voluntary and community sector involvement in partnership?
· How should the sector be seeking to influence developments locally?
Engaging in Partnerships
17. In order to effectively take part in partnerships, community and voluntary groups need:
· knowledge of the opportunities arising from policy and funding developments
· opportunities to show how they can contribute
· resources to network and build their capacity for partnership working
· time capacity to engage
· the structures to enable their engagement
18. Some community and voluntary sector organisations have their own fora, partnerships, national associations and second-tier support and development agencies, which provide advice, information and technical support. Local infrastructure support is important. e.g. Croydon Voluntary Action Council.
19. While being critical of the ways in which public and private agencies deliver their services and reach their decisions, community and voluntary groups recognise that they need:
· to work in ways that does not hinder their ability to be locally responsiveness, representative and accountable.
· to keep under review the way they communicate, run their meetings, and monitor and report on the impact of their activities and services.
· to be inclusive of everyone within the community they serve, and reach marginalised groups
· to root their work in good quality information and research
20. Public sector organisations in Croydon need:
· to improve their understanding the value of working with the voluntary and community sector
· to help promote and support the involvement of voluntary and community organisations
· to avoid undermining the involvement and work of groups
· to change the way they work in partnerships
· to set reasonable timescales for involvement and consultation in decision-making processes
· to treat all partners contributions as of equal value, even if their financial input is not the same
- The continued development of thriving community and voluntary sector will improve the ability of public and private sector organisations to contribute building a healthy civil society in which there is a higher level of participation by Croydon’s citizens.