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May 31, 2017

Five lessons learnt

For over 30 years, business support agency Community Enterprise has been offering its services to communities across Scotland. Over that time, hundreds of community groups of all shapes and sizes, have been helped along the road to become a little more self-sufficient. Often that work involves helping to bring in extra investment. Recently, their efforts to do this across a number of communities came to fruition simultaneously– applications for £10 million all green lighted in the space of a fortnight. CE believe there are five big lessons to be learned from their experience. 


Community Enterprise

In the last two weeks of March 2017, funding decisions worth £9,692,000 were announced for groups CE development team had been working actively with.  With imminent funding likely on the back of this success, this has resulted in well over £10m of investment.  Some were revenue and some were capital investments, but all the groups were communities taking control of the things that matter to them.

Not a bad achievement in a fortnight.  Virtual corks popping (well we might have treated ourselves to an extra custard cream or two), and phone calls from happy clients.  Community Enterprise is unique in working long term with groups, really buying into their project and getting to know them. We wait with anticipation for these announcements, because we know that some of the most innovative and creative people in some challenging areas will see things happen.

Big shifts in policy towards community empowerment mean that there is more and more momentum towards communities taking control of buildings and services.  In Stranraer, a new re-vitalised community centre will address the severe impact of the movement of the ferry terminal, creating jobs and activity that will reinvigorate this community.  In Tranent, a 1920s art deco cinema will re-open offering health and well-being services to local people – as well as a completely community owned and controlled cinema again.  In the Broomhouse area of Edinburgh, over 20 years of social care and community support will be re-imagined into a community controlled anchor organisation driving local change.

Groups tell us that there are five things that lie behind this fortnight of success:

1.            It takes time and tenacity. One of these projects approached us with their fairly well-formed idea 12 years ago.  It has taken that long to get to this point. While working on these new ideas, community groups are spinning numerous other plates.  They don’t give up – but their tenacity needs support and encouragement.

2.            Failure is OK. All of these groups have had major bids rejected in the past.  A knock back is depressing and daunting but successful projects dust themselves down, use the learning to re-scope things and press on.  But again, they needed encouragement to do that.

3.            Support needs to be specialist. Our clients have had to tap into everything from VAT specialists to bat specialists.  They needed trusted out-sourced services and money to pay for them at the right time.  That too needed support, experience and knowledge.

4.            A joint approach early. Good things happen when funders, support agencies, and local groups talk to each other and work together.  Failure tends to happen when a group fills in a form and sends if off with fingers crossed.

5.            Groups need a long term trusted point of contact. The key to the success of all of these projects has been the sustained input of our development staff – visiting, keeping in touch, signposting, securing, and delivering the right support at the right time.  And that won’t end.  Once the funding is in place and the project is implemented, that encouraging point of contact becomes even more important.