May 19, 2020
Anchors to the rescue
As lockdown took effect, Scottish Government wasted no time in making funds available to support those most likely to feel the brunt. Given the unprecedented nature of the crisis, it was only to be expected that the systems and procedures for distributing the money would take a while to settle down. One approach, identified at the outset, was to utilise the many hundreds of community anchor organisations that operate across Scotland. Trusting these local organisations to respond quickly to local needs makes a lot of sense. Important then, that everyone understands what a community anchor organisation is.
Much of the community sector is made up of informal, often unconstituted and unfunded activity. Largely sitting under the radar of the local authority and other public bodies, this mass of local activity nonetheless generates the vitally important ‘social glue’ on which our society depends. Alongside this rich texture of informal community life, often there will be a number of more formal and constituted voluntary organisations, many of whom will have specific interests such as running the community transport service, a local food growing project or the locally based credit union and so on.
In addition to all this formal and informal community activity, there is now a substantial body of evidence to support the view that those communities that are most effective in being able to self organise and respond to whatever challenges they might face, all have something in common. And that is the presence of a particular type of organisation (sometimes more than one, working in partnership) which sits under the control and ownership of local people. These organisations are typically well respected within the community and are considered to offer a degree of local leadership on behalf of others when representing the interests of that community to external stakeholders. These organisations may also own a range of community assets (land and buildings) and possess the means to generate their own independent income stream. Typically they play a supportive and nurturing role in relation to much of the informal local activity outlined above.
These organisations have come to be known as Community Anchor Organisations. A term first coined in 2004 in a UK Home Office report – Firm Foundations – SCA has consistently advocated for this concept to be incorporated into the developing national policy discourse around community empowerment and the renewal of local democracy.