The Future of Community Investment: the story so far
By Robert Sugden and Adam Chester
Since 20 November, the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment has hosted four roundtable discussions on the future of community investment – in Swansea, London, Manchester, and Glasgow. And we’re still not done! Ahead of the upcoming discussions in Bristol, Belfast, and a second London roundtable, we thought it would be useful to summarise some key points so far.
Who has been there?
Each of the four roundtables we’ve hosted thus far have been sold out. Delegates have come from a variety of different organisations, including large and small social landlords, as well as outside of the housing sector, for example the Local Trust, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Wales Co-operative Centre. Those attending have ranged from Heads of Community Investment to Officer level.
What has been discussed?
Our initial discussions reflected on the position of community investment within the sector at the moment, looking at its fluctuating status, its relationship with a changing political agenda, as well as the ongoing funding challenges faced by many.
Delegates took the shared view there is an opportunity to capitalise on the recent upswing in interest in community investment, as well as a desire to ensure community investment is valued in the long term. There was a recognition that social landlords are committed to being in their communities in the long-term and will continue to work with residents and local people regardless of future political or economic upheavals.
Against this backdrop, delegates asked how we can influence those leading our organisations so that they value and continue to fund community investment. There has also been recognition of a wider, ongoing conversation about the appropriate remit of community investment teams, especially within the current context where public resources have been under pressure and local service provision has shrunk. While many of those attending expressed the belief that our work with the most vulnerable in society is more important than ever, this can’t be disconnected from wider questions about what social landlords mean when they talk about their social purpose.
Delegates shared their experience of numerous positive projects, from creating local millionaires to supporting third generation unemployed residents into higher education. We have been struck by the valuable work that is going on around the country, much of which doesn’t get the publicity it deserves.
How are people looking to the future?
While the purpose of the roundtables was for delegates to have interesting and productive conversations about the future of community investment, we also talked about some of the barriers that prevent people from doing this in a systematic way.
These include uncertainties about how community investment is perceived within their organisations and whether they will continue to have adequate resources to deliver projects. These resource uncertainties mean that managers and officers tend to focus on the current projects they’re delivering, rather than taking a strategic overview. A lack of external funding for long-term projects, as well as a lack of long-term measurement and evaluation processes, also prevents people from thinking about the future in a strategic way.
Despite these barriers, there have been plenty of ideas for the future of community investment. These have included practical discussions about a small selection of sector-wide Impact measures around community investment, as well as a how to create a more systematic picture of the funding and spending on community investment across the sector. In addition, there have also been discussions about how to align community investment with ongoing policy developments, agendas and technological developments.
As well as being committed to long-term thinking, there is also a recognition about the need for an infrastructure that supports this strategic viewpoint. Similarly, delegates also discussed the commitment to put residents at the heart of decision-making, and to work with colleagues across their own organisations, so they can tackle issues collaboratively.
The role of the Centre
Many of the initiatives that delegates want the Centre to focus on are already being developed, including providing a collective voice for community investment professionals and championing them to the social housing sector and beyond.
There was also a request for the Centre to help organisations build relationships locally in line with the placemaking agenda, whether that’s with the health, education, or local business sectors, among others.
We’re looking forward to the final three roundtables which are being held at the beginning of December, to see what other trends and themes emerge.
Following the completion of all the roundtables, we’ll be publishing a summary report.
To get this report when it’s release, and hear about future events, please sign up to our mailing list at www.ceci.org.uk