In Warwickshire, the County Council has been working with resident-led community centres and Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action (WCAVA) to develop ‘community anchors’: local bases for coproducing better, and more accessible, public services. A vital ingredient has been the development of community leadership training with volunteers at centres in Warwick and Leamington Spa.
The GAP Centre in Warwick is the base for a successful community-led organisation serving two local estates. It was set up by local residents in 1999 in response to tensions between young people and older adults. Based on what was a disused church hall, the GAP Centre is a now thriving Community Anchor serving all sections of the mixed local community. The centre is used as a base by local public services as well as by a large number of community activities and voluntary groups. In 2010, the GAP Centre started a programme with young people at local Woodloes Primary School funded by the Warwick Area Fund. GAP also provides training and support in developing youth services to other groups through the Community Anchor Network supported by WCAVA.
The GAP Centre is also the centre for several cohorts of volunteers who have been through Warwickshire’s Community Leaders Programme developed by Maria Franchi of Mosaic. The OCN accredited course has led on to a wide range of community action around the wider area including community consultations involving young people, a film about the area, a website, campaigns over the local no 66 bus route and for improved play facilities. The GAP Volunteers have produced an Action Plan for the area focusing on policing and youth activities, the development of leisure activities and services for older people. The Action Plan sets the basis for joint working between the community including young people, Warwick District Council, the police, Extended Schools, children’s centres, Warwickshire County Council, local churches and sporting and social clubs.
Growing Together is the GAP Centre’s allotment project set up in March 2009 by GAP Action Partnership’s 4th cohort. With help from Warwick Town Council, the Probation Service’s Community Payback Team and local residents, Growing Together has created community allotments with raised beds on the Percy Estate.
Lessons learned at the GAP Centre and at the SYDNI Centre in nearby Leamington are now being applied more widely with volunteers from Rugby, Nuneaton and Bedworth involved in Community Leadership training . The leadership programme and the development of community anchor organisations which it supports are examples of top-down policy meeting effectively with bottom-up grassroots ideas and enthusiasm. Community anchors (or community hubs) could play an important role in enabling citizens and public agencies to work together: a key target for Big Society.
Find out more about the role of Community Anchors in enabling coproduction at the Chamberlain Forum Conference: Coproduction in Practice at the ICC in Birmingham on February 11th. The conference is part of the West Midlands Every Voice Counts programme supported by the National Empowerment Partnership.