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Community Organisers briefing

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 Now with details of the programme delivery

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The Coalition Government has committed to training 5,000 independent community organisers over the lifetime of the current Parliament.

In a speech to unveil the Big Society plans in March 2010 David Cameron announced the creation of a:
"Neighbourhood army" of 5,000 full-time, professional community organisers who will be trained with the skills they need to identify local community leaders, bring communities together, help people start their own neighbourhood groups, and give communities the help they need to take control and tackle their problems"

The first group of community organisers are due to begin training in April 2011. The 5,000 organisers will be divided into:

• 500 ‘senior' full-time Community Organisers who will act as coordinators for organising activity over a relatively large area (e.g. a Borough or District).
• 4,500 ‘middle level' part-time voluntary Community Organisers who will support the work of the senior organisers at a more local level.

The Prime Minister has indicated that money for training community organisers will be diverted from the FutureBuilders programme. However, community organisers will be expected to secure funding for their own salary and activities.


Background
According to the Coalition Government community organisers will play an important role in delivering the Big Society by building community spirit, encouraging local community action, increasing the effectiveness of existing community groups, creating new groups and social enterprises and generally empowering communities to tackle the issues that matter to them. The Office of Civil Society has stated that the policy is based on the principles of Saul Alinsky and Paulo Friere.

Alinksy established the community organising movement in poor neighbourhoods in the United States which has trained generations of community organisers, including President Obama. Alinsky's framework for community organising (based on his 1971 book Rules for Radicals) is now employed throughout the world. In the UK an example of an organisation based on Alinsky's principles is London Citizens, an alliance supported by the Citizen Organising Foundation who have campaigned around issues such as a ‘Living Wage' and the treatment of asylum seekers.

Friere was a Brazilian educator who developed a method of learning explicitly designed to raise people's awareness of their circumstances and increase their ability to bring about change. Friere's methods, outlined in books such as ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed', are used by organisations such as the RE:generate Trust .


Who will run the community organisers programme?
The Office for Civil Society in the Cabinet Office is leading the development of the community organisers programme. They see their role as getting the programme going to create a critical mass of community organisers.

On Monday 1st November 2010 the OCS announced a tender (deadline 23rd December 2010) for a National Partner to further develop, implement and manage the programme. The main tasks of the National Partner will be to:

• Develop a core training framework
• Develop a support network for community organisers, including digital media
• Appoint and manage training providers to recruit, select and train community organisers.
• Support the continued development of organisers once trained
• Acquire funding to continue training and support post 2015
• Create an independent (and independently funded) ‘Institute for Community Organising' (ICO) to oversee the work post 2015.


Update - March 2011
In February 2011 the government announced that Locality, a nationwide network of community led organisations, formed through the merger of the Development Trusts Association (DTA) and bassac, has been chosen to deliver the Community Organisers programme. This will be done in conjunction with a range of partners including Urban Forum.

The Locality programme will comprise of the following key elements:

• A training framework including a learning bursary (not salary) of £20,000 for up to 500 senior organisers in the first year, residential and e-training, action camps, a knowledge hub, a trainer network, accreditation, signposting to progression and a code of conduct.
• Hosting by community-led organisations (100-200 over the lifetime of the programme) including a range of Kickstarters who can get started quickly. All hosts will receive four days of Locality support to plan for resilience and sustainability of the Community Organisers.
• Networking support through web and social media, including a Lessons Log and a Knowledge Hub based on a wiki approach.
• An Institute for Community Organising mutually owned by the Community Organisers themselves (based on a Guild model) to assure quality and provide ongoing training and support. The aim is for this to trade independently in 2014-15.
• A Learning & Policy Group made up of academics and policy-shapers (including Urban Forum Chief Executive Toby Blume). This will draw on the lessons from the programme and feed them into policy.


The initial 10 ‘Kickstarters' will be:
• Barton Hill Settlement (Bristol)
• Birmingham Settlement (Birmingham)
• Cambridge House (South London)
• Community Links (East London)
• Goodwin Development Trust (Hull)
• Keystone Development Trust (Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire)
• Kirkgate Arts (Cockermouth, Cumbria)
• Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester)
• Penwith Community Development Trust (Cornwall)
• St Peter's Partnership (Tameside, Greater Manchester)


What will community organisers actually do?
Initial indications from Office of Civil Society (OCS) presentations at regional consultation events are that community organisers will be expected to:

• Identify gaps or failings in services provided by the state
• Mobilise community support to tackle these gaps or failings locally
• Help people to start groups and charities
• Enhance social capital and strengthen interactions between all parts of the community
• Liaise with civil society organisations, the state and the community
• Help to secure funding for local activities and their own work

According to Locality the Community Organisers programme will be guided by the work of both Friere and Alinsky plus Clodomir Santos de Morais's work on entrepreneurial awareness and wealth creation by the poor. Community Organisers will be trained to listen and encourage dialogue rather than bring any message or seek any specific outcome. The programme will be based around consciousness-raising rather than capacity-building. This will involve finding the ‘generative themes' that motivate people to act, either to change the power structure or support ‘Do-It-Yourself' responses in communities.


More information
To read the full Locality bid for the Community Organisers programme and to keep up to date with developments go to http://www.dta.org.uk/whatsnew/hottopics/communityorganisers

Jess Steele, the Programme Manager for the Community Organisers programme, has a blog at http://jesssteele.wordpress.com/


Nick Bird
November 2010
(Updated March 2011)

 

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