Matthew Brindley, Building Communities Trust’s policy officer outlines why it’s so important the next Government recognise, respect and invest in Strong Welsh Communities and their organisations.
With just a week to go before the Senedd Elections, many political parties in Wales are talking about how they will empower communities. This is good news, but enhancing the role of Welsh communities and their organisations will take more than just words.
Earlier this year we published our manifesto and campaign for healthier, happier, more resilient communities in Wales. It’s informed by over 20 events we ran in every corner of the country involving over 250 people from community groups. For many, it was the first time they’d discussed policy, and their experiences and ideas have fundamentally shaped our roadmap for change.
Over the last year the Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the value, strength and resourcefulness of community groups.
With additional support from Welsh Government and other funders, they’ve provided food, friendship and support with a knowledge and care that only local people can. But that support was only possible because in so many Welsh communities, there were already strong organisations and groups of people supporting one another.
Recent research shows that this work has far reaching benefits for the people of Wales beyond the current crisis. Community-based activities can improve health and wellbeing, contribute to the local economy, improve the life chances of people living in poorer areas, protect the local environment and tackle climate change.
But too often Welsh communities face structural barriers to realising these benefits.
In our conversations with community groups up and down the country, they spoke of feeling undervalued and overlooked by Government and public bodies. They described how councils and other public sector organisations did not involve or collaborate with them to the extent they could and should. All the while sustainable funding to develop the skills and capacity of local people and their organisations was an ongoing challenge.
Critically, communities across Wales too often felt that Government only sees their weaknesses and not their strengths.
This is not be surprising considering Welsh Government has no overarching strategy for communities in Wales and they’re not specifically included in any ministerial portfolio. At the same time Welsh communities have the weakest rights in the UK to own and run public buildings and land.
Our Strong Welsh Communities Manifesto seeks to fundamentally change this and calls on the next Welsh Government to ensure communities have:
More Recognition: We want a Minister with dedicated responsibility for communities, so the work of community organisations is fully recognised and supported by Welsh Government.
More Respect: We want improved collaboration between public bodies and community-led organisations, and recognition of the knowledge, experience and strengths of local community groups.
More Investment: We want Welsh Government to create a Community Wealth Fund for Wales that provides long-term flexible funding for communities that most need it (using money from the next round of UK dormant assets).
Our Manifesto doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel or add complexity. Instead, it puts forward practical steps that will help realise many of the progressive ambitions already enshrined in Welsh law; such as wellbeing, prevention, involvement and collaboration.
Many of the communities we talked with already support these ambitions. They are just frustrated that this ambition is not reflected in tangible improvements to their everyday lives.
We firmly believe that if the next Welsh Government makes it a priority to listen to, trust and support communities, it would do much to secure a healthier, happier and more sustainable future for the people of Wales beyond Covid.