Last week, David Wilcox and I visited Dudley at the invitation of Dudley CVS’s Lorna Prescott to document some of the work that is going on there to join up some of the different initiatives intended to assist local people-led development. Partners in the Borough have been realistic about the new environment they have found themselves in since major public spending cuts started to be felt. Finding that the government’s “Big Society” rhetoric was not necessarily appealing to many in their communities, Lorna was instrumental in helping local partners to come to their own vision, which embraced the Our Society concept, which Lorna, David and I have helped to develop on a national basis.
The local Our Society strategy has moved forward, powered by the drive of people like Lorna, and with the leadership of the Borough’s Local Strategic Partnership, the Dudley Community Partnership. David and I talked to Dennis Hodson, Director of the Partnership about the challenges of supporting people-led development in the age of public austerity, including the tale, which hit national headlines, about what happened when a local community wanted to take over the cutting of grass verges which the local authority could no longer afford to undertake.
One of the most important roles of the Our Society Strategy is in pulling together the strands of different activity in the Borough , particularly where there is funding available. Money is scarce in this field at the moment, and it would be criminal to waste it by duplicating activity and failing to take up opportunities to achieve synergies. There are some key programmes which are able to offer financial support, including the Big Lottery’s Big Local programme, Community First, and others, and Dudley’s Our Society Strategy is designed to ensure the Borough makes the most of these opportunities by strengthening the linkages between them. As highlighted in this discussion between Lorna, Donna Roberts of Dudley Council, and Joanne Weston of Dudley Community Partnership, a prominent concern is to ensure that equalities issues are given due attention.
In times of tight resources it is ever more important to take advantage of free tools, like social media platforms, to help bring people together and progress their plans. In this video, Lorna talks to David Wilcox about how social media is playing an increasing role in developing community initiatives, and also touches on some of the frustrations of engaging with key public partners which are lagging behind in adopting such methods.
We had an enjoyable day in Dudley, which passed by far too quickly. It is clear that there are some very interesting lessons to be learned from emerging practice in the Borough which is starting to prove that progress can be made in supporting People-Powered Change even in quite disadvantaged areas if reduced levels of funding are carefully targeted and linked together.