Over the next few weeks myself, colleagues and – most importantly – residents of a dozen or so small communities across Wales will take the first steps in breaking new ground.
We shall begin the process of delivering the Invest Local programme, which will provide around a million pounds worth of funding into each of these communities. However, while the magic million figure is important, and certainly eye catching, it’s not in itself very important. A lot more money has been spent in some areas and a lot more fanfare given to some initiatives.
Far more important is how Invest Local is going to work.
Invest Local is a new type of community-based programme, one that reflects great credit on the initiative of its funders – or perhaps I should say investors – the Big Lottery. It recognises that for all the effort and money invested into communities labelled as disadvantaged in Wales over the last 20 years, too little has changed; and to keep on doing the same thing simply invites the same old failures.
Not only do problems such as poor health and low skills persist, but the residents of many of Wales’ more disadvantaged communities, especially those whose Industrial roots have now withered, have become even more marginalised economically, socially and politically. And in many ways the programmes that have been set up to help these communities have made elements of this problem worse, assuming that local people can do little for themselves, giving them even less say over what happens in their area.
We’re now going to try and turn some of our past assumptions on their heads.
We are going to run a programme without driving targets, without stringent financial rules or themes based on addressing the so-called root causes of poverty. What we’re going to do is to give the choices and decisions to people living in the communities, invite them to identify their own priorities, and trust them to get it right.
The only hard and fast rule from us is that we expect the process within each community to include a wide cross section of people from the area. We’ll also encourage people to think about long term aims as well as short term ones, but beyond that the choices are up to them. We hope that people working on Invest Local will collaborate with other agencies working in their areas but we can’t force them to and, more importantly, we hope it will give local people the chance to be clear and assertive about their demands and their wishes, rather than always being dependent on someone else who has the money.
And perhaps most importantly we are in this for the long term. Our programme will be running for 12 years, giving people who are running the programme in their communities time to think, talk, work together, learn from others, make mistakes and build again. And to work to their own agenda and their own timescales rather than those of anyone else.