I’ve worked in community development roles of one shape or another for more than 15 years. This period has seen some successes and a fair share of frustrations.
Over that time I’ve seen a move to a far more collaborative approach. In the past, this wasn’t always the case.
Organisations sometimes had different agendas and priorities and these weren’t always aligned across our community. This sometimes only served to make progress more difficult.
Things have changed, organisations have evolved and it’s now agreed that the key to success is working together with a common vision for the future.
Here’s what you need
In my experience, one of the biggest frustrations of the community and organisations that represent the community is being told what is needed to improve an area.
Lots of people have done it – from big business to expensive consultants with a vision to sell.
I believe that the key to success in transforming communities is to listen to them. Listen to what the people who live and work in our towns, estates and villages have to say. They know what the problems are where they live, and chances are they’ll suggest ways to address them.
They’ll certainly know what doesn’t work.
The work that Suzanne Wilson and Cllr Emma Williamson have done in the estates of Whitehaven demonstrates that.
They’ve worked with the community and encouraged residents to get involved in decision making, and they’re now the ones making choices about their communities.
Together we’re stronger
It’s a cliché, but investment has got to be about making a sustained difference. It can’t be about pet projects or quick fixes.
We know that our funding and the skill set that our industry brings can help be part of the solution, but it can only ever be one part.
Transforming the local economy so it is less dependent on the nuclear pound is the smart thing to do.
But we’re not the only people to decide how it should diversify.
We know that the tourism sector in West Cumbria is less strong than it is in the rest of the country.
We also know that we’re not the only people who should decide how to fix this.
Educational attainment in some parts of our community isn’t as good as it should be. But we’re not the only ones who will help improve it.
We can help bring together those who can influence change, those who know the community, and those who are experts in the field.
The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated this.
We’ve supported lots of community activity – through funding and with many willing volunteers, but this has been organised and delivered by our local authorities, community groups and the Cumbria Community Foundation – organisations who best know how to reach the most vulnerable and quickly.
Our relationship with our local authorities has never been stronger and we saw the benefit of this when the crisis hit.
"No one has the monopoly on wisdom”
Andrew Beeforth has been the chief executive of the Cumbria Community Foundation for all of its 20+ years. In that time, he’s seen the very best and very worst of community and third sector support.
The foundation exists to address disadvantage by making life-changing grants and promoting philanthropy.
He believes that joint-working and community conversations are the key to successful projects:
The ideal way to deliver is to get all interested parties around the table, with a level playing field. By doing this, everyone with a stake in the work can work together – focusing on the problem and how you’re going to address it.
We don’t have the monopoly on wisdom. We know what we’ve learned over 20 years, the community groups have got their own experience, and funders, like Sellafield know how their investment has added value in the past.
When you combine all these and focus on adding value by delivering a long-term transformation to the area, then you are more likely to succeed.
Social impact, multiplied
The Sellafield Ltd social impact strategy will only be delivered through collaboration and co-creation – that’s the multiplied element.
It’s the right thing to do and it will have the biggest impact. After all, it’s not a strategy for the future of Sellafield but for the future of the communities in which we operate.