Some years ago, SCVO, the largest of the umbrella bodies for Scotland’s voluntary and community sector, hosted some roundtable discussions to consider the challenges facing the sector and to ponder what, if anything, should be done. There seemed to be a concern in some quarters that the sector was in danger of becoming becalmed and had, to an extent, lost its bearings. By chasing ever larger public service contracts, the worry was that whole swathes of the voluntary sector were now de facto part of the public sector and, by virtue of an increasingly close and complex relationship with Scottish Government, it had become seriously compromised in its ability to speak ‘truth to power’. In essence, this was about the independence of the voluntary sector and the extent to which anyone felt there was still an intrinsic worth in being distinctly different and separate from both the public and private sectors. Without some ‘red lines’ to delineate and defend those important differences, the sector would be reduced to whatever the markets or government had no interest in subsuming. For whatever reason, those SCVO discussions went nowhere but the questions raised remain just as pertinent today. In fact, almost certainly more so.
In the most recent briefing…
The climate talks in Madrid look to have staggered to a close – more out of the sheer exhaustion of delegates than them having reached any progressive agreements. ‘Must do more to tackle the emergency’ was about the extent of it. While we should undoubtedly be demanding more from our world leaders, it is the global scale of the challenge that deters many from taking action at a local level. That said, one thing you can do right now is sign this Communities Call for Action. Another is to take inspiration from this list of climate actions already underway.
We’re going to be hearing a lot more about Scotland’s coastline, islands and waterways in 2020 – the official Year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters. In recent years, a growing number of coastal communities have been working together to safeguard their marine environment and to lobby for more protections. To give a flavour of who they are, Coastal Communities Network produced a short film to introduce themselves. But as anyone who has stood in front of a camera knows, things don’t always go to plan. In true festive spirit, the Network has shared their Christmas special bloopers edition too.
Underpinning many aspects of the Community Empowerment Act is a presumption in favour of the community. So for instance, communities requesting the transfer of a public asset can have a reasonable expectation of receiving a positive response. Or at least, that is the theory. An award-winning community enterprise in Castlebay on Barra have been trying for four years to engage the Council in a constructive dialogue about the future of their premises. They simply want to own their building so they can refurbish it. This a remarkable tale of Council intransigence and obstruction.
With the steady rise of car ownership over the past century, the streets that run through and connect our neighbourhoods have become little more than carriageways for cars to funnel through. However in days gone by, streets were the lifeblood of a neighbourhood, places where people would meet and chat and where children could play in safety. Gradually, some communities are beginning to reclaim their streets as a new form of ‘commons’ – nicely illustrated in this short film from Dumfries. Sustrans is about to re-launch its Street Design programme. Worth a look.
Now that we know with a degree of certainty that PM Johnson is finally going to get it done, at least in name, by the end of January, speculation can turn to the nature of the deal we are going to be saddled with. In recent months, huge amounts of data has been crunched by Scottish Government research teams and, using eight separate indicators, a Brexit Vulnerability Index for the whole country has been created. Simply by entering your postcode you can check your neighbourhood’s anticipated vulnerability. Clever folk, these Scottish Government statisticians.
The steady downward trajectory of Scotland’s serious print media took an ominous lurch towards extinction last week with the announcement that nine senior journalists had taken voluntary redundancy at the Herald. It seems no amount of tweaking the financial model can rescue what’s left of Scotland’s fourth estate. In the US there is more of an established tradition of private philanthropy and the business community providing financial support for local journalism. The BBC already fund 150 journalists across the UK and recently its Director General, Tony Hall, called on our business community and wealthy citizens to step up.
We can probably all agree that leadership plays an important part within any organisation. But there is much less consensus around what those leadership qualities should be and indeed, what sort of qualities are needed for different roles in different situations. Julia Unwin, who chaired the recently published Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society, suggests we need to think about leadership in a very different way if our sector is to have any chance of thriving in what she describes as the ‘perilous and frightening decade’ that lies ahead.
One of the somewhat dubious advantages of getting older is that there comes a time when your working life is mostly behind you as opposed to stretching out in front as a smorgasbord of future possibilities. As a consequence, I have become increasingly interested in the story of how the community sector has developed over the years. What factors shaped the way the sector has developed? What made a difference? Anyone intrigued by such questions might be interested in a session offered by the GCU archive centre in January.