Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The dichotomy of community work...

I have spent the last 7 years working in the local Watford and South West Herts community.

Most of this has been gathering information and sharing stories about all the good things that go on in our communities, often by very humble people, who shy away from taking credit for the work they do.

Most of us applaud the work these people undertake... many people give generously when asked and take a keen interest on developments, often telling others how amazing they are and constantly cheering them on.

The success that ensues, often fuelled by the passion, enthusiasm and industriousness leads to things escalating quite quickly... before long what we have is a full time endeavour... enough for perhaps 2 or 3 people.

And here is where the dichotomy begins to raise its head...

  • Everyone agrees that the cause is a good one, even essential
  • Everyone agrees that the outcomes are good for the recipients
  • Many people feel privileged that they are presented with an opportunity to make a difference in some small way... whatever works for them


Some people are not always best pleased at the new 'project' on the block... why so?
  • Some feel that this new thing is in competition with their project and dilutes their activity
  • Some believe that this new project will work better if assimilated into their activity and seek to merge / take control
  • Others see it as a bit rebellious and therefore actively diss the project
  • Surreptitious closure or control... Sometimes money in the form of grants or support is offered as a subtle means to take financial control. At a later date when the organisation begins to depend on this money its is withdrawn, or even the threat of a reduction can amount to a financial coup

Local Authorities provide less and less services...

As our communities evolve there is less and less money available through local authorities to handle many of the activities that historically have been funded in this way. Looking at the local council finances (Publicly available) a lot of spending is on providing temporary accommodation for those in need, in a housing market that has got out of control. Low paid work, temporary jobs and zero contract hours further exacerbate issues but it is unlikely to improve going forward.

The community has responded

More and more local initiatives have sprung up such as Food Banks, Time banking, People collecting or trying to provide services for the homeless, the vulnerable, those without work and can't make ends meet, and the disabled... actually the list goes on... these are people in our community doing amazing work that used to be handled by the council. Food banks (which are provided via community donations) are now ironically seen as part of the welfare state and yet little if any money is provided via the state. 

One of the biggest headaches is...  

It is still not easy to empower people to volunteer. Legislation, rules, regulations, protection for those being 'served' and those undertaking projects makes it nigh on impossible to build a team. All people often want to do is provide a willing pair of hands, maybe help out in a way that works for them, but the bureaucracy is like wading through treacle... quite simply it becomes too difficult. 

So the work that is needed is often distributed amongst a hugely overworked small group of passionate people. These 'community angels' struggle on, often financially detrimental to themselves as this is  altruistic work.

And herein lies our greatest challenge. How can these people be supported? In any other organisation they would be considered as the cornerstone or backbone as they deliver highly vocational roles... 
  1. Doing difficult work
  2. Pouring their heart and soul into it
  3. Working unsocial and often on call 24/7
  4. Selfless 
  5. Empathetic and heart centred delivery 
But in our society... we welcome what they do, and apart from the applause from the sidelines and cheering on, they are often left forgotten... the recipients receiving the vast majority of the attention.

Rewarding those taking on real Human challenges

Many doing such work are persuaded to take up charity status... that makes it easier to raise money! ... and once more we are slowly dragged towards the rules, regulations and control of the charity sector.

Where we raise money (simplest way to guilt trip people into making a social contribution) to pay for a good cause... and yet... much of the money is siphoned off not to provide for the much needed service but to pay salaries and other overheads... effectively legalised begging to pay for the "business like" charity sector... surely there is a better way?

Consider this... how many jobs are now provided in the charity sector that are funded purely by contributions from private individuals or private companies in some shape or form?

Is there another way?

These community angels are not people looking to make a fortune and look good. Often they are humble people who derive real satisfaction from helping others less fortunate than themselves.

What they 'need' is "enough" to carry on doing the great work they are doing and lets face it most of us don't want to do what they are doing and are more than grateful that they are doing it!

No empires, no massive salaries, not out to prove they are better or more clever than anyone else... just passionate to do their bit to ease the suffering of people who are on the edge of society.

You would think that there might be a fund set up to encourage people with this kind of thinking; which is desperately required in today's society.  Such a fund might empower those that want to answer their calling to do so without the threat of financial devastation...  How many human issues might we alleviate with this or a similar approach.

Final Words

The reality is we can do what we like. We can set up community organisations outside the remit of Companies or Charities. There are 10's of thousands of associations out there doing "one thing or another" to solve a human need or bring people together. These "people led initiatives" get people talking, boost self worth and increase the feeling of belonging... delivering so much more to the community than just the problem which is being solved.

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