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Community Development in Leeds

October 20, 2009

I have been inspired to start this blog to try and provide a home for the practice of community development work in Leeds.

It seems to me that much ‘community development’ work in the city is actually the delivery of national and local government initiatives prepared in response to policies that may have had very little input from the communities that they are designed to help.

Just because we call it community development work does not make it so!

Good community development workers are increasingly becoming an extension of the state rather than a catalyst for genuine community development.  I am fed up of hearing people tell me that they take public money and then see how far they can go in subverting it to do ‘proper’ community development work.  Not only are the ethics of this questionable – but so too is the efficacy.

If high quality community development processes work then we should ensure that they are properly resourced.  And if the public purse won’t pay for stuff that it can’t control then we must look elsewhere for investment.

But this is not about turning our backs on public funding.  It is about developing a proper relationship with funders so that they recognise what underpins effective community development work (long term relationships and an adherence to a set of values and practices) and themselves managing to resist the temptation to buy pale imitations and short-cuts.

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2 Comments
  1. Ouch. I am one of those people, I think.

    For me it’s not about subverting what is paid for, but recognising that the Government Agenda is sometimes the same as that of the communities and sometimes not. And giving Govt enough of what it wants to allow us the freedom to respond to what the communities want.

    Most people who are employed by someone else will recognize this dynamic as what gets them through their daily grind.

    The real issue is that sometimes by focusing on “real CD,” we engage with the communities more than the powers that be, rather than looking at assisting the powers that be to become more responsive.

    How much of real CD is about battling authority to achieve relatively simple outcomes? Struggle is a useful tool for development, but too much of our energies are dissipated in battling dragons who don’t recognize they are breathing fire.

    CD is about speaking Truth to Power, yes, but it’s also about helping Power to reflect.

    If we take the King’s Shilling without helping the King to reflect then not only are we missing a trick, but we are not really challenging the injustice that should lie at the heart of all CD work.

    I contend that radical CD, “Proper CD”, may feel ideologically purer than state funded counterparts, but faces a different set of challenges, when trying to transform the Powers that Be.

    • Jon

      This is very helpful in developing the conversation.

      As I see it we have allowed our pre-occupation with public policy, funding and managerialism to fragment CD work into a number of policy streams – each of which competes with the others for a slice of the action with the ‘consumer’. We have given up our ability to work with people and communities in any sort of holistic way that really promotes integration and inclusion. MAAS, LAAS and LSPs are fine in theory – but in practice it ends up with a whole range of fragmented and often poorly coordinated ‘services’.

      I am not sure that radical community development work is that interested in transforming the powers that be – but is more interested in helping individuals and communities to pursue their own self interest and develop their own power. On occasion this might mean helping them to influence the authorities but this is a means rather than an end.

      And please be clear my goal here is not to knock any of the great work that is going on in Leeds. I have been massively impressed by much of what I have seen in mental health, healthy eating, enterprise, crime reduction, housing and so on. I just think that as a community development sector we need to learn how to organise more effectively and find our voice!

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