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September 23, 2015

Anchor concept holds firm

The idea of a community anchor organisation (CAO) first surfaced in a Home Office report published in 2004 called Firm Foundations.  For years now, SCA and others have tried to import this idea into Scotland and finally it seems, with some success. The term now features heavily in Scottish Government’s community empowerment and regeneration strategies. We profile CAOs on our website but this data has become badly out of date. If your group is one of these, or you’d like it to be, please send us the relevant info so that we can refresh content on our new website.



An examination of the characteristics of strong and independent communities shows that they possess the ability to unite – and `hold together` – usually around some local organisation which they own. For some reason – in certain areas – the local community sector, the fragmented array of small voluntary groups, invest authority in a local umbrella vehicle to champion their collective interests. There are no examples of sustained community empowerment without some such locally embedded organisation, although in some areas this leadership role is achieved by two or more groups acting together. In theory structures like the Scottish `Community Planning Partnerships` could strengthen communities by linking them to decision making – but experience has shown that, without reference to some independent local organisation, community representatives are too isolated to be effective.


Community empowerment policy in England is led jointly by the Office of the Third Sector (The Cabinet Office) and the Dept. of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). They have both endorsed the importance of community led vehicles like development trusts for building strong and independent communities. They have jointly adopted the term `Community Anchor Organisation` (CAO) as a generic category for such vehicles – to give new emphasis to their significance.

Since 2009, when Scottish Government and COSLA jointly launched the Scottish Community Empowerment Action Plan, the concept of community anchors and the key role that they play in building local resilience, in the design and delivery of local services and in the field of locally led regeneration has become increasingly embedded across Scottish Government policy. Now, with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, community anchor organisations are widely acknowledged as being pivotal to the community empowerment process.  It is therefore important to be absolutley clear what a community anchor organisation is.

Anchor definition

The first use of the term Anchor Organisation was in the government report Firm Foundations, which was published by the Home Office in 2004 when David Blunkett was Home Secretary. This radical document is the government’s official framework for community capacity building and it states: “We are calling them `community anchor organisations` because of the solid foundation they give to a wide variety of self help and capacity building activities in local communities and because of their roots within their communities.” In 2005, the Home Office funded the Community Alliance to develop the `Anchor` concept and to promote the model around England. The Community Alliance website carries information, historical and current.

In June this year (2007) the Dept. of Communities and Local Government published a draft of its Third Sector Strategy in which CAOs feature prominently. The Strategy refers to the `Firm Foundations` origin of the term `Anchors` but also offers a carefully developed definition of what it is intended to signify.


“Working with the Office of the Third Sector, we are exploring the increasing potential of approaches involving `community anchor` organisations. These are independent community led organisations with multi-purpose functions, which provide a focal point for local communities and community organisations, and for community services. They often own and manage community assets, and support small community organisations to reach out across the community.”