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March 23, 2011

The flip side of success

In recent years, Neilston Development Trust has hardly been out of the news and this Briefing has covered many of their achievements.  Politicians frequently cite them as a role model, and their experiences are shared at conferences around the country. But there is another side to their story. One which the Trust’s leaders believe is important to be told – especially if the Government wants other communities to follow their example

Extract from the Trustees Report for the year ended March 31st 2010

One consequence of the current economic downturn is that the most vulnerable may become more so. The need for the Trust and services it delivers will arguably become more pressing.  The national policy landscape has never been more favourable to the progress of organisations working for grassroots-led regeneration. A range of organisations and programmes working to support locally rooted work in areas as diverse as asset ownership, healthy living, cultural activity, social enterprise and sustainable development, demonstrates a need to seize this moment of opportunity. There are nevertheless many deep-seated issues that no amount of temporary support can eradicate, the most serious being the fact that the social goods, which social enterprises exist to promote, are often those most difficult to accommodate to the enterprise model we are encouraged to adopt. That is why an independent, reliable and easily serviced revenue stream from socially appropriate sources, such as our proposed joint venture windfarm, will provide such a valuable bedrock on which to found our work. Without such a resource to see them through the early years, it is difficult to see how organisations such as NDT  can fulfil the expectations placed upon them.

But not every community has access to a windy hill and the potential which renewables offers. The operating losses which we have experienced are not, we submit, the consequence of mere mismanagement, but evidence of a core issue facing all small community-led trusts and organisations which have enthusiastically embraced the new roles assigned to us, for which we gain praise, but insufficient support.

For these reasons, the Trustees wish to take this opportunity to make a clear statement to members, and ask them to endorse our plea to the agencies who have expressed such enthusiasm (at the highest level) for our work and that done by organisations like us – volunteer dependent organisations which have entered enthusiastically into the development of community-led enterprise and local regeneration, and are increasingly being looked to as standard bearers for the new world of co-production, social entrepreneurship and effective localism.

The statement is this:

“If Government wants soundly governed, responsible, sustainable social enterprise to sit at the heart of communities, providing an appropriate and well considered complement to the proper functions of the public sector, building social cohesion, capacity in creative partnership with other agencies; if it wants volunteering to play a positive part in the growth of social and personal capital; if it genuinely wants to see sustainable thriving and ‘empowered’ communities in charge of their own future – why, then, should these organisations not be properly resourced in their early years to become effective, functioning community companies, picking up on the energies and vision of local people, of course, but not being reliant on that alone?
 If even a fraction of the challenges of the agenda set out for this new time are to be met and realised, the flowering of local energy and creativity where it manifests itself should be nurtured  – and soon – lest it withers on the vine. And not just by one ‘spot’ initiative after another; but by a steady, unglamorous commitment to the creation of a lasting edifice.  This means core funding in the early years.  National funding for emergent community trusts and like organisations would run to a few millions per year,but would deliver long-term value and resilience in a network of real agents for change.”