How the Fourteen programme helped shift the power to communities

Fourteen has put its money where its mouth is, enabling communities and funders alike to pilot new ideas and approaches, test theories and allow local people to be the decision-makers on the issues that affect them

The most exciting thing about the Fourteen programme was our ability to affect change from the ground up. Fourteen launched in 2014, using a similar structure to Local Trust’s Big Local Areas. The £3m programme, funded by Spirit of 2012, was an exceptional opportunity to #ShiftThePower to communities. It posed three key questions – what needs to change? How do we make that change happen? And who is best placed to drive it?

Since the release of the Civil Society Future’s report a lot of noise has been made in the sector calling for communities to be more empowered. Fourteen has put its money where its mouth is, enabling communities and funders alike to pilot new ideas and approaches, test theories and allow local people to be the decision-makers on the issues that affect them.

Localised management and existing trust is key

Community Foundations understand what is being delivered well where, who has influence locally and which issues their communities face. Tapping into these connections from the outset supported us to build trusting relationships quickly and connect with people who could champion our approach. The local decision-making panels were made of up of people from the community who volunteered to oversee how the money should be spent. It was vital to have a ‘recognisable face’ to help build credibility and get others onboard.

Flexibility affords empowerment

Fourteen provided great flexibility in the activities that could be funded. Money could be spent on community events, ideas development, commissioned projects, volunteer coordinators and training – the list goes on. Communities had the autonomy to support what mattered to them. As a result, Fourteen’s design was hugely effective in encouraging community-led solutions and local ownership of the programme.

Time to consult and pilot needs to be built in from the outset

Our experience tells us community-led solutions and empowerment does not happen overnight, but we’ve made a start! We found that for a programme to be truly community-led, people need training, time to consult, the opportunity to pilot ideas, build relationships and to their grow their understanding of their community beyond their existing perceptions. Developing a panel of local decision makers, creating a community plan – and actioning it – takes time.

Mainstreaming community-led action will take years – and it can never and will never involve everyone. But it serves to break down barriers and invites everyone to the table. Having seen what a palpable difference this programme has made with my own eyes, it invigorates me to see both the voluntary and public sectors recognising the merit in funding these sorts of approaches. And I’m proud Community Foundations have been at the forefront.

Looking to the future, as community-led approaches are adopted more widely by trusts and foundations, the question will be whether they can prevail over the sometimes immediate and outcome driven nature of Government funding, especially given it can be tricky to measure their impact. Time will tell.

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