Community Links

Community Links blog

Freedom of the Borough honours presented to two of our own

May 23rd, 2016

The Council’s highest possible honorary award has been bestowed on Community Links’ co-founder and Life President Kevin Jenkins, and Val Fone who has worked with Community Links since 1980.

At Newham Council’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), held last week at Old Town Hall Stratford, Kevin and Val were two of 11 local recipients bestowed with honours in recognition of their contribution to Newham.

Mayor Sir Robin Wales said: “We offer them sparingly, but when we do, they are awarded to remarkable people. Each recipient has made a significant contribution to Newham life past and present. All are ambassadors, helping to improve how we are perceived locally, nationally and internationally.”

Since the formation of the London Borough of Newham in 1965, only 17 Freedoms have been conferred (one to our own Frances Clarke) and only four people have been conferred with the title of Honorary Alderman. Kevin Jenkins, who received an OBE in 1996 was awarded both Honorary Freedom and the title of Alderman during the special event on Thursday for his contribution and work with local people of Newham over the past 30 years.

In recognition of Kevin’s distinguished service to the Borough of Newham, the council outlined his achievements, which are as follows:

Few people can have given more to Newham than Kevin Jenkin OBE. He has served local people with tireless devotion through 28 years as a Newham councillor and through his work at Canning Town care charity Community Links.

Kevin co-founded Community Links in 1977 and became Life President on stepping down from a full-time position last year. He has provided opportunities for thousands, particularly the most excluded, enabling them to build trust and confidence and overcome challenges they faced.

Kevin’s work is shared as best practice across the country and is based on a belief that investing in children and young people should be at the heart of any drive to regenerate an area and build cohesion and inclusion in a community. This includes projects that divert young people away from crime and offer support to reduce repeat offending. Kevin has also brought new money into Newham, securing external funding for 12 community facilities.

In 1996 Kevin was awarded an OBE for his work at Community Links. In 2008 he won the Beacon Prize, known as the Nobel Prize of the charity world. Kevin also has supported innumerable emerging community organisations to develop themselves, including Newham Consortium for Youth, Newham Drugs Advice Service and the Newham Bereavement Centre. He has also worked tirelessly with Brampton School, the Rainbow Community Centre, the Greatfield Residents Association and the Dying Well group.

Val Fone, director of Action & Rights for Disabled People in Newham was awarded Honorary Freedom by Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales. Action & Rights for Disabled People began life as a Community Links project in 1980 and has been based at Community Links’ building  as an independent organisation ever since. One of our rooms at 105 is named after Val’s late husband Doug to recognise the importance of their work and of Val and Doug’s contribution to Community Links.

Val’s achievements which have been recognised by Newham council are outlined below:

Valerie Fone has worked for disabled people’s rights for almost 40 years as a community worker, a carer and as a local councillor. She was elected to Newham Council in 1994 and 1998 in Greatfield ward.

Val, initially with late husband Doug, set up and led the Action and Rights of Disabled People in Newham organisation, a cross impairment disabled people’s organisation that promotes equality. It also helps co-ordinate the Newham Transport Action Group.

Val exemplifies the charity’s aim of ensuring that disabled people are not prejudiced based on their impairment. It also ensures their full equality in Newham’s mainstream activities.

Val and Doug, who lived with multiple sclerosis, were pivotal in campaigning for equal access for disabled people including access to East Ham Town Hall and to council meetings. As a council we believe that every Newham resident has an equal right to play a full part in our community. That we take this for granted today is due in no small measure to Val’s brave and, at the time, ground-breaking work.

Val continues to work tirelessly to ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against in any setting: public, private or voluntary, or in any context be it employment, leisure or services. She has never, in her various roles, sought special treatment for disabled people, instead she has worked to ensure that disabled people experience full equality in everything that our borough has to offer.

Val has truly devoted her life to others and has been instrumental in patiently and doggedly shifting attitudes towards disabled people in Newham and in systematically addressing the practical barriers that would otherwise restrict opportunity and limit participation in the life of our borough.

Download a copy of the commemorative publication from the London Borough of Newham

New activities at Outdoors in the City

May 20th, 2016

Today we celebrate a new phase of development for Outdoors in the City – marking 10 years as a social enterprise for Community Links


Named after female climber Brede Arkless – the first woman to be accredited as an International Mountain Guide, the centre was established to provide opportunities for the local community to take up outdoor activities.

Outdoors in the City is one of Community Links’ trading assets which has the dual aim of building healthy minds and bodies plus a revenue return to support charitable activities.

With new features which focus on the educational aspects of outdoor learning, alongside activities including zip lining, rock climbing, POWERFAN® and a gladiator challenge, today the centre opened its doors to local schools, companies, supporters and funders to showcase its unique facilities.

Caroline Oakley who runs the centre through Oakley Adventures, said the facility developments are part of a new chapter.

“Our facilities now appeal to a broader age range. We have activities for everyone to enjoy.”

“Not only can children and young children develop confidence, self esteem and team work skills but our activities are also ideal for company team building and staff development days, tailored to address key company drivers” she said.

The celebration which included the unveiling of a new sign sponsored by the British Mountain Guides, as well as the releasing of three doves – marks a new spirit of social enterprise adventure in Community Links’ 2016-2019 strategic plan – Act early to tackle poverty.

By increasing opportunities for outdoor pursuits and experiences, Outdoors in the City are helping to address the levels of physical inactivity in Newham.

Last year Outdoors in the City introduced over 2,500 people to the great outdoors. The centre is helping to increase physical activity and introduce participants to an exciting range of recreational activities which are that little bit different from the usual active pastimes in the area.

Children, young people and adults can come together to make memories and share experiences through family days, adventure based parties and community projects hosted at the centre.

Outdoors in the City welcomes the local community to try out its facilities at the following community access days:

- June 3rd

- July 16th

- August 6th

Activities include abseiling, climbing, BMX biking, bush craft, orienteering, problem solving exercises, obstacle course, environmental art and high rope activities including; a gladiator challenge, zip line, leap of faith, crate stacking and POWERFAN®

Early action on homelessness in Wales

May 19th, 2016

The Welsh government has recently introduced a Housing Act with a new focus on early action to prevent homelessness. This post explores further how such a model can help people to lead thriving lives, while contributing more and costing less.

At Bow County Court in Newham, not far from Community Links, a young couple were recently handed down an eviction notice. The Shelter Housing Advisor at hand advised them that the bailiffs would not come for a few weeks and they should stay in their property until that time. As the article they were featured in described; “such is the madness and complexity of the UK’s housing rules that if you leave your property a moment before the bailiffs come to evict you, you’re “voluntarily” homeless and ineligible for support.”

This is just one example of the flaws in the social security system that Community Links’ Early Action Force is trying to transform. The idea is to build “fences at the top of the cliff, rather than waiting for the ambulance at the bottom”.

It is a welcome announcement then, that the English government has begun to consider the possibility of introducing an additional ‘prevention duty’ for local authorities working on homelessness. This additional duty was inspired by the new approach that the Welsh government has taken towards homelessness, as outlined in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

The new Act revolutionises the Welsh government’s approach to homelessness, focusing on preventing the problem, rather than waiting for it to occur and then dealing with the consequences. It is a new, inclusive system designed to help everyone at risk rather than just those in priority groups. The significant early action elements are new preventative duties to help anyone threatened with homelessness within the following 56 days by preventing situations from escalating and to enable any homeless person to secure a home.

Of course, this approach is extremely new so it is difficult to fully evaluate the success of the model. However, reviews so far describe the “overall picture [of the Welsh approach as] an encouraging start with homelessness being successfully prevented for the majority of households.”

Enabling people to lead thriving lives

A major strength of the Welsh approach to homelessness is the focus on earlier action; assisting anyone at risk of homelessness before they lose their home. This means the very real impact of ensuring that people do not have to go through the traumatic experience of eviction and homelessness. Although some of this prevention work was being carried out previously by local authorities, the new legislation now gives people a legal duty to assistance and ensures this is measured. Between July and December 2015 3,605 households were assisted under the new prevention duty with a success rate of 64.8 per cent.

The new legislation also requires local authorities to take a person-centred approach through the use of Personal Housing Plans which are jointly developed with the client. These plans don’t just evaluate immediate housing problems but also consider underlying issues, with the intention that resolving these issues should help reduce any future possibility of facing the risk of homelessness again.

Contributing more

Evidence from Shelter Cymru highlights that despite an increase in people facing homelessness, their caseworkers are achieving better prevention rates than ever before. They credit the new Act for assisting them in achieving a prevention rate of 93% – a new record for the charity.

Data from the Welsh Government also indicates that single people are benefitting more from the new legislation. Between July and December 2015 the success rate for single households was 57.6 per cent, only slightly lower than the figure for all households. This is a significant achievement for Welsh local authorities given the shortage of single accommodation in Wales; demonstrating that they are embracing the duty to help households prevent homelessness on an equal basis, despite single households previously having few rights to homelessness assistance.

Source: Shelter (April 2016)

Costing Less

It is clear that the transition to a preventative approach towards homeless would need additional funding at the outset. In Wales, the Welsh Government has provided an extra £5.6 million in funding to local authorities, with the money to be spent at the authorities’ discretion, provided it prevents or relieves homelessness.

It may initially appear that the early action approach comes at a higher price; however, the significant direct and indirect costs of homelessness must be considered. The staffing and legal costs required to carry out evictions are huge. There are also the indirect costs caused by homelessness on the NHS, the police and justice system, and social services. A government evidence review on the cost of homelessness in 2012 put the figure at around £1bn (gross) annually and this is only likely to have increased given the rise in homelessness over the past four years.

There has not yet been any research conducted on the financial impact of the Welsh homelessness model but as with other preventative action and given the high costs of homelessness, it is likely to prove more cost effective than acute spending in the longer term.

A preventative model that works(?)

The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 is certainly a trailblazer in homelessness prevention, and the early feedback seems positive.

There has been some criticism of elements of the Act such as the removal of priority need for prison leavers, and the introduction of the ability to discharge duty once tenants have been in private sector accommodation for more than 6 months or if they ‘fail to cooperate’ with their Personal Housing Plans. There is also evidence that local authorities are not adopting the legislation in a consistent manner. It remains to be seen if these issues will prevent the Act from providing a sustainable solution to homelessness in Wales.

However, the paradigm shift in thinking by the Welsh government should be welcomed and it is very encouraging to see this early action approach adopted at a systemic level. We hope that the new Act will further influence the English government to consider a homelessness prevention duty, to ensure that our housing system allows people to lead thriving lives, contributes more, and costs less.

Ethnic minority women failing to attend cancer screening appointments

May 17th, 2016

As our health programme expands it outreach work to Camden this month, we take a look at the challenges we’ve identified for ethnic minority women accessing health services in Newham.

Could unexplained weight loss be a sign of lung cancer? – was the first question asked by our health advisor to a group of Pakistani women at Katherine Road Community Centre earlier this week. While some answered yes, it was clear from the following questions in the pre training survey that the women in this group were not at all confident about identifying signs of lung cancer.  What’s more, a few of them spoke very little English.

Cancer Research UK recently surveyed 720 White British, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, to find that a quarter to over a third (26-38%) of women from an ethnic minority background thought that cancer was incurable.

These findings alongside other cancer research studies in the British Journal of Cancer suggest a wide range of barriers resulting in non-attendance at cervical screening among ethnic minority women, including lack of knowledge about screening, low perceived risk, language difficulties, embarrassment or fear of the test, negative past experiences, negative attitudes to the NHS and practical difficulties such as time pressures.

Worryingly, women from ethnic minority backgrounds have a low engagement with early detection of cancer, and are less likely to attend cancer screening or see their doctor about cancer symptoms.

This research demonstrates the value and impact of Community Links’ health education sessions which are raising awareness of breast, bowel and lung cancer – increasing knowledge of the signs and symptoms, as well as encouraging early detection and screening.

While the research above suggests people’s attitudes and fears are preventing early detection and screening uptake, our experience indicates that there are additional barriers, ones which are very tangible. For instance, we are finding that many people are reporting that they did not receive their bowel cancer screening kits through the post.

Furthermore, a significant number of women we reached to discuss breast screening appointments had not received a letter inviting them for a mammogram – an examination of the breasts.

When women turn 50 they should receive these invites every three years up until the age of 70, however what our ‘Calling Project’ highlights is that many women are reporting that they have not received any information about breast screening.

Our experience sheds light on the findings that nationally 100,000 women a year are ignoring their first invite for breast screening – most of whom are in their early fifties. Currently, the proportion of women in England attending breast screening after their first invite is at a decade low.

In 2014/15, just 63.3 per cent of women aged 50 to 70 were screened for breast cancer within six months of receiving their first invitation, down from 65.8 per cent the year before and 70.1 per cent in 2004/5.

Participation in breast cancer screening is lower in deprived areas. Research shows women are more likely to attend breast screening appointments if they have access to a car which suggests delivering breast screening locally is important in addressing poor uptake in less affluent areas. However, further investigation at a local level is needed to understand the multiple barriers preventing  people from attending cancer screening appointments.

Cancer can be life-changing, but it can also be curable and preventable. So, what are we doing?  We are applying our Early Action approach by reaching out to thousands of people annually;

Our outreach workers are telling people that they must keep their contact details and home address up to date in their GP practices to receive important information about cancer screening and detecting.

During our health education sessions at libraries, community centres, schools and colleges our team give out resources produced by the ‘small c’ campaign, which are cards listing the potential symptoms of bowel, breast or lung cancer. Individuals are encouraged to tick the ones they have and present the card to their GP if they have any concerns.

This is particularly helpful for people who have language difficulties, lack confidence or fear going to see their GP. Our conversations with people are crucial. We encourage individuals to value these cards and use them to exercise more responsibility for their own health and the health of others around them.

To find out more information about our health programme please contact:


Devolution and the elections today

May 5th, 2016

The Early Action Task Force met the Chief Executives of the Core Cities group last week. In reflecting on the agenda before and after, and in conversations around the margins I was struck first by the scale and range of devolution opportunities under way now or peeking over the horizon, second by the constraints and third by the significance of this moment.

The government is devolving a diverse range of responsibilities. Some are customised and in response to specific, local devolution bids. Manchester, the host city for our meeting last week and the first to secure a deal, is leading the charge with local partners but others are coming up fast.

Other responsibilities are moving out across the whole country. The new alignment between health and social care for example is a very significant national shift.

And some devolution is neither sought nor necessarily desired. We have noted on this blog in the past responsibilities that were held and funded by central government and have now been passed down but without the money. Ministers would say that this allows local politicians to make choices and select their own priorities. Many councillors would say they have been required to shoulder the blame for some else’s cut, without sufficient funding they don’t have the power to do what used to be done. This is why it is important to distinguish between the devolution of “responsibility” and the devolution of “power”. Sometimes they go together but not necessarily.

In sum we are undoubtedly witnessing a significantly shift of sovereignty from Whitehall to City Hall. Enhancement in the quality or cost efficiency of the service, however, is less of a certainty. In fact such are the challenges involved in inheriting diminished budgets, corralling diverse local partners and establishing new structures, cultures and lines of accountability that it would not be surprising if change in the quality or substance of the frontline services was not a first order priority. As one senior manager told me in February “keeping the show on the road might be a sufficient challenge for the first year or two.”

I have a lot of sympathy with this position – the challenges are formidable – but of course it would be a missed opportunity if structural and systemic change on this scale changed little where it matters most.

Like it or not, churn creates opportunity. Opportunities to plan for the longer term, opportunities to knock down walls between organisations, departments and individuals who should work more closely together, and opportunities to redesign budgets in ways that align costs and savings and offer proper reward for social investments that yield long term return.

Voters in London, Bristol and Liverpool will vote in the next mayoral elections today. Other major cities across the country will be electing their first city region mayors a year from now. This new army of freshly empowered city Mayors will have more power to change public services than colleagues in the boroughs and smaller municipalities and a more authentic mandate to address many domestic issues than the Westminster politicians who are committed to devolution and who are more interested in scarce political capital on national or international issues.

Devolution is a rolling programme. There may be few instant changes on the front line but we are witnessing a generational shift in sovereignty. Cities will be the new theatre for domestic reform and mayors will be the new principal players. Vote today if your city is offering the chance , play a part in the next act. For all of us who yearn for social change it may well be the most promising show in town.

Local early action: lessons from the UK’s first Early Action Commission

May 3rd, 2016

 photo EACLAUNCH_zpsl3x91qsr.jpg

Evidence from the New Policy Institute suggests that we are entering uncharted territory with regards to local government finance. By 2020 the combined current and capital spending of local government as a share of the economy will reach its lowest point since 1948.

This is likely to have a huge impact on local communities. ‘Service transformation’ are buzzwords in both the policy and practitioner communities at the moment, and early action – addressing the causes of social problems rather than their consequences – is the best response to an increasingly urgent local situation where finances continue to deteriorate as the need for acute services continues to rise.

Our new briefing, written in collaboration with the New Economics Foundation (NEF) sets out a bold new model for thinking about how we can act earlier in different localities. It draws on learning from the UK’s first Early Action Commission (EAC), based in Southwark and Lambeth, and aims to share insights from how it worked in their area, and therefore how it might be approached elsewhere too.

Co-author Anna Coote has written a blog on NEF’s website that gives a bit more detail about the briefing itself. Here we have a guest blog written by Gordon McCullough of Community Southwark, an organisation that was integral to the establishment of the UK’s first EAC, focussing on what has been achieved since it was set up:

 The morning after the night before

Following the launch of the Southwark and Lambeth Early Commission report last November the hard work really began. That is not to say the Commission itself was plain sailing but that producing the recommendations was only half the story. The Early Action Task Force’s new guide on how to make early action happen locally is a very insightful document. What it doesn’t cover is what happened on the morning after the report was launched. But before going into that I thought a couple of my observations on the work of the Commission might be useful.

My first observation is that the lament about early action being common sense but not common practice may not be entirely true. Throughout the process many felt the Commission provided an opportunity to ‘hold a mirror up to’ what they were already doing’ with regards to prevention (the term early action had yet to gain traction). A lot is going on to be sure, but these examples didn’t form part of a wider prevention or early action strategy – they were isolated cases being pursued in addition to other services. My second observation relates to this point. Many wanted the Commission to provide solutions to specific problems that Southwark and Lambeth faced (for example, 44% of 10 to 11 years being obese or over weight). A reasonable ambition I hear you cry. In fact, it was mentioned that in trying to bring achieve systemic change there was a danger that the Commission was trying “to boil the ocean” ultimately achieving nothing. Thankfully the Commission was not seduced into dealing with the here and now but stuck with its wider ambition; taking a system wide view of how early action could be embedded into local processes, structures and culture.

A tepid ocean?

To begin with I can only talk about what has happened in Southwark. As a first step, the Southwark Health and Wellbeing Board (which sponsored the Commission) have agreed to commit to working towards a cultural shift in their organisations to deliver the ambitions of the Early Action Commission. Southwark Council have agreed to include overarching statements in the Council Plan and the Southwark Plan outlining their commitment to working towards early action. These high level strategic documents are seen as important levers in driving a change in behaviours across the organisation. It is still early days but the commitment to co-designing a new voluntary and community sector strategy that will have a strong emphasis on early action is a welcome step forward.

The Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in Southwark have also made a number of strategic and operational decisions in light of the recommendations of the report. In their response the CCG has set out in their Five Year Forward View an ambition to have a much stronger emphasis on early action. The CCG hopes to achieve this by replacing its current commissioning intentions and work plans. A programme structure will be developed within which early action will be a key objective. It will be driven by an ‘Early Action Challenge’ group that will have VCS and local authority representation. This is particularly exciting as Southwark Council and the CCG are developing a joint commissioning team. The challenge group will have an important role in championing early action. Finally, the CCG, in their future plans, have committed to shifting investment to early action and preventative measures. They noted that The Early Action Taskforce classification of spend provides a useful tool for establishing current investment in early action. The CCG have committed to undertaking a review of current spend, which will utilise this approach and use the information as a baseline of investment into upstream preventative measures.

Will this change anything?

I hope so. Strategically the pieces are being moved into place and there is a growing understanding and acceptance of early action (even amongst those who felt that it was already happening). There have been some disappointments, in particular since the publication of the report the two boroughs have yet to pursue a joint early action agenda.

Nevertheless, a number of things have changed as a result of the Commission. So when someone asks me how was it was for you. I pause and try and reflect on what words of wisdom I would give someone trying to do this type of thing. I won’t repeat what is in the Task Force’s report but I think the need for someone acting as a local Sherpa is really important. In retrospect that role partly fell to me and perhaps I could have sought to exert more influence earlier on and not assumed early action was common sense and everyone would agree. I should and could have acted earlier to prepare the ground for the recommendations. If pushed however, I would say that local leadership, political will and a clear vision about why systemic change is needed are the best ways to avoid a hangover on the morning after the night before.


Gordon McCullough is Chief Executive of Community Southwark which first called for the Early Action Commission to be established in December 2013.

Food for thought

April 29th, 2016

With record numbers of people in work, why are more and more people relying on foodbanks?

This month the Trussell Trust foodbank issued a press release stating that foodbank use remains at a record high, yet almost in the same breath we hear that UK unemployment is at a decade low and benefit sanctions are down. Surely the use of foodbanks – a last resort for those struggling to put food on the table – should be dropping in such an economic climate?

Community Links isn’t a food bank, but in recent years we have been providing food bags for those who come through our doors and who are most in need. As with the Trussell Trust, we have experienced a growing demand for our relatively small stockpile of food, so much so that between June and September last year we actually ran out of provisions and had to turn people away.

For the communities we support in Newham work is no longer a certain route out of poverty as stagnating pay and the increasing cost of living, especially in London, make life less and less affordable. These everyday realities are reflected in the Trussell Trust’s data on the reasons for referrals to their foodbanks. Between 2013/14 and 2015/16 the number of low income referrals rose from 20.3% to 23.3% whilst benefit delays dropped from 30.9% to 27.9% for the same period. Similarly the University of Hull’s Mapping Hunger report found that foodbank use is higher in areas where there are more people in skilled manual work, where people are unable to work due to long-term sickness or disability and areas that are deprived. These findings resound in a place like Newham, where deprivation is high and over half the borough’s residents work for below the London living wage.

No one knows and understands these realities better than Jane, who heads up our reception at Community Links and who is the first point of contact for many local people coming to us for help, advice and support:

“We can’t see people starve – so we give them food. We get people from all walks of life; some people have had their benefits stopped, other people are on low incomes; they’re actually working but can’t afford food for their families. When we haven’t got any food that is a real problem; we give out foodbank vouchers but we know the foodbank is really overrun.”

Generous donations from harvest festival collections in over half-a-dozen schools across Newham make our modest food bags possible, however, there is a limited supply and a growing demand for food. Critically the solution to the escalating issue of food poverty won’t be solved by charities like Community Links and the Trussell Trust providing more food, but by Government addressing the root causes of poverty in our communities. For us these are high housing costs and insecure accommodation, low pay and insecure work, and the problems people face accessing benefits.

In 2013 we blogged on whether foodbanks were becoming part of our welfare system. Since then the number of people turning to the Trussell Trust for emergency food has increased from 346,992 to 1,109,309, with an increasing number of these people being in work. Reflecting on these shocking figures it’s fair to say that consecutive governments have failed to stem the flow of people relying on foodbanks. Even the welcome introduction of the new mandatory national living wage this year will do little to counteract the impact of escalating housing costs, insecure work and the predicted losses for low-income working families on Universal Credit.

To avoid the increasing reliance on foodbanks it’s no longer enough for governments to talk about making work pay and affordable housing. Instead we need to act earlier and build a social security system which values and invests in people’s strengths and capabilities, ensuring they’re secure and ready to both seize opportunities and deal with setbacks. Key to this is ensuring a house is a home, especially for vulnerable families who too often see their employment, education and social opportunities dashed as a result of accommodation insecurity.

Paying for prevention: Six actions for funders

April 27th, 2016

In the second report of the Early Action Task Force – “The Deciding Time” we argued that voluntary agencies that are delivering acute services with a queue at the door can’t immediately release the time or the money to track back and work on prevention. If, we said, “the sector believes that this journey is important and timely it must begin it with funders in the vanguard”.

This challenge was picked up by a small group of the UKs leading funders. We worked with them first on applying our classification tool to their funding portfolios and then, building on this experience, on the development of a National Early Action Funders Alliance.

The Alliance was launched in July 2014 and now has a membership of more than 60 funders including most of the UK’s biggest and most influential grant makers. It has established and, from January 2015 begun making large grants through, its first joint project – the National Early Action Neighbourhood Fund.

The Alliance have also published a very helpful literature review “Making a Strategic Shift towards Early Action: Lessons and Recommendations“.

The argument in The Deciding Time – that funders have the both opportunity and the responsibility to be thought leaders and the crucial agents of change – is as critical today as it was in 2014. When I was invited to address the Funders Alliance a couple of weeks ago I thought about six actions that I would like every independent funder to consider:

  1. Join the Alliance: Don’t consider this one for too long – just do it! It is a lively and thoughtful coalition committed to prevention but also keenly aware of the challenges and of competing pressures for their funding. Joint work like the ground breaking classification exercise and the Neighbourhood Fund are a smart way forward in uncertain territory.
  2. Know where you are: You can’t plan a journey if you don’t know where you are starting from. Our work with funders began with the development of a simple tool for classifying current expenditure. These measurements can then form the base lines for transition goals e.g. “We will shift expenditure towards earlier action by 5% per year for the next 4 years” . This guide explains the classification process which has now been adopted by a very wide range of organisations.
  3. Ask the question: “How are you reducing need?”: Many grant makers now ask applicants for evidence of their environmental policies. This has been driving awareness and behavioural change across the sector with a ripple effect well beyond. There is an opportunity to do something similar around earlier action. Grant makers should ask to see 5 or 10 year Transition Plans with milestones for the gradual shift of resources into earlier action.
  4. Strike a grand bargain: When a grant seeker asks for funding to meet the needs at their door the grant maker should offer 25% more – first to meet the need and then to reduce it. That or nothing. We call this extension funding. Over 5 years to 10 years and on a substantial scale it would transform the nature of need and the role of key funders.
  5. Invest in the sustainably of those organisations: One of the many deeply depressing aspects of the Kids Company story was the oft repeated outrage that the charity had such minimal reserves. Infact the terms of the Cabinet Office grant very probably insisted on the return of any grant money left unspent at the end of the year. Other funders would have expected the same. And who runs the marathon to raise funds for a charity that promises to keep its money in the bank? So it is that reserves in this sector are often acquired (if acquired at all) by a rare and inverted slice of someone else’s misfortune (legacies) or by a stealth bordering on deceit (we achieve the objectives but don’t spend all the cash and don’t tell anyone). This is no way to run a serious organisation with long term plans. Responsible funders should routinely add a 5% tier one contribution to every grant just as they now routinely include full cost recovery. This would enable successful organisations to plan to reduce need in the longer term and to build with solid reserves at the heart of the business model.
  6. Measure the difference, not just the numbers: Embedding a whole system shift towards earlier action requires structural and cultural change. It will not be achieved by layering short term projects on top of failing systems or regressive cultures. Projects may be a means to an end but are not the end game. Consequently numbers can only ever be a partial indicator of progress. Ethnographers should be engaged to access progress and it should be their insights, as much as the numbers in the outcomes column, that drive the continuous cycle of testing and learning – design/deliver /assess. Design/deliver/assess.

Ask anyone in the third sector about their long term vision; invariably they will talk about obsolescence, working for the day when they are no longer needed. Press further. What did your organisation do this week, this year to advance that day, to reduce need? Too often the answer is little more than an unhappy shrug. We are too busy doing what we do. Many funders display a similar disjunction between what they think they are for and what they support .

We know that present trajectories, social, economic and environmental are all unsustainable. These escalating needs cry out for braver, bolder, more challenging leadership from third sector funders driving the shift to prevention. These six simple steps can unleash the change that we all seem to want but are seldom achieving.

The economic case for early action

April 21st, 2016

Last week I was invited to address the All Party Parliamentary Group focusing on the first two years of childhood. I was asked to make the economic case for early action, so it seemed appropriate to start with George Osborne and his remarks to the House on introducing the 2015 spending review: “Investment in the long term economic infrastructure of our country” he said is a “major goal of this Spending Review”. This is “precisely right for a country that is serious about its long term economic success”.

George Osborne 0480am

What kinds of investment was he talking about? “New roads, railways, science and flood defences and the energy Britain needs”.

This investment was to be achieved by making “difficult decisions on day to day departmental spending”.

In other words the Chancellor was arguing that the economic success of the country depended on sensible long term investment – a reasonable case to make, but also that investment in physical infrastructure should be prioritised over, indeed prioritised at the expense of, investment in people. Surely, I suggested, the “long term economic infrastructure” is underpinned by a nations physical AND social assets. One without the other is no way to achieve a stable, successful and sustainable society.

Asset life cycle

Luke has previously discussed on this blog the business concept of the “asset life cycle” – the amount that it is necessary to invest each year to ensure the optimal performance of any given asset for the minimal ongoing investment. A typical capital project of the sort that the Chancellor was describing would plan for a big investment at the start and steady planned maintenance there after, so ensuring that the asset retains and grows in value without continuous large and unpredictable spending on repair and renewal:

 photo assetlifecyle1_zpsvbnwrduk.png

What the planners do not do when budgeting for a motorway or an airport runway is minimise the costs on the original build and then continuously fill the cracks and potholes after they have appeared:

 photo assetlifecyle2_zpstn99ttbp.png

These things are so obvious that they seem scarcely worth saying, and I wouldn’t have said them last week were it not for the fact that although the principal is no different government does not apply the same logic to the unborn or newly born child. Instead the state spends as little as possible when the child is born, the start of the asset life cycle, and does the metaphorical equivalent of filling in the cracks and potholes, at far greater expense, after they have appeared.

Using money better

The National Audit Office Early Action Review for the Public Accounts Committee in 2013 highlighted the problem “A concerted increase in effective early action could help to deal with the root causes of many problems, benefiting individuals and society and saving the taxpayer billions of pounds each year, BUT governments have consistently failed to deliver. Early action accounts for only a fraction of annual spending and this spending is not properly co-ordinated. There is no common definition of early action, no central ownership, and little capacity at the centre to drive effective delivery and share good practice.

“The Treasury is far too focussed on the short term, meaning that it risks missing the opportunity to help stabilise the public finances over the longer term, improve outcomes for citizens and get better value for money…it is now time for Government — led by the Treasury — to respond imaginatively to the challenge and opportunity of early action and to adopt an integrated, long term, preventative approach to public spending for the benefit of society as a whole.”

Under questioning from the PAC the Treasury was persuaded to accept the cross government leadership role but progress continues to be glacial, despite the evidence that investment in early action yields rates of return which consistently outperform the ROIs on the roads and railways of which the Chancellor spoke with such approval last autumn. In their analysis of 15 economic studies of programmes from birth to 9, for instance, Reynolds and Temple found an average rate of return of £2.83 per £ invested whilst the Department of Transport estimate the rate of return on HS2 at between £1.80 and £2.50 per £ invested.

What to do?

The NAO report noted that “The UK budgetary process does not include the sort of longer-term vision seen in other countries which could help inform strategic decision-making and would be more conducive accepting short-term costs in return for later benefits.” They made the case for longer term planning as part of the solution.

We agree and have recommended the publication of 10 year spending plans in each Spending Review. Plans would continue to be reviewed every 2 or 3 years, as now, but the current government would consider, publish and be held to account for the effect of its decisions over the next 10 years. Comparing the 1 year costs and consequences of any given policy option often yields a quite different answer from comparing the costs and consequences over 10 years. It therefore leads to a quite different spending decision
This is of course exactly what happens in physical infrastructure projects where the long term asset life cycle is properly considered and decisions are routinely made with implications beyond the current spending period or the lifetime of the present government

Acting on the powerful economic case for early action nationally, and indeed in the cities and regions with newly devolved powers, requires an understanding of, and a commitment to, 3 ideas:

1) The idea that investment in early action is just that – an investment – just like investment in our physical infrastructure yielding a long term return at least as good if not better than roads and railways.

2) The idea that just as HS2 and other capital building programmes are planned and costed for the benefit of future generations not just the here and now so too must we embrace longer planning horizons locally and nationally, for all our social investments.

3) The idea that, if spending on early action is an investment with long term value then it must be classified as an investment and protected in the same way so ensuring that such funding cannot be raided to meet short term pressures.

Without these understandings and these structural changes the economic case, strong though it is, will still be overlooked and diminishing services will continue on unsustainable trajectories, dealing with consequences not causes, barely meeting current needs and accumulating impossible liabilities for the future.

6 reasons to take on a challenge for Community Links

April 20th, 2016

From marathons to karting challenges we have them all. While some require great stamina and strength others can involve you taking a leap of faith from an aeroplane door whilst strapped to a complete stranger. But what all of our challenges do have in common is that they are usually unforgettable and always rewarding.

Doing a charity challenge is an experience like no other and whilst cycling to another country or experiencing an open water swim are incredible feats, you can also take great pride in knowing that what you’re doing is making a real difference to the lives of those who truly need it.

With the London Marathon this coming Sunday, we have created a mile guide to keep our runners motivated to the finish line.

Mile 1
As you approach the start line and wait for the horn, think about our young people aged 5-11 who have nowhere else to go after school except for our community hub Asta because their parents are at work. Asta is a beacon of hope on the Silvertown estate in an area of great need.








Mile 6
With so many people cheering you on from the sidelines take a moment to consider everyone that Community Links supports. From children at our centres, to young people on our employment programmes, to elderly people who are reached by our health programme to go for bowel cancer screenings.









Mile 11
You’re almost half way and in need of a push. Don’t forget how we motivate and prepare young people for the world of work through our Future Links programme. Some of whom never finished school and are currently out of the system.








Mile 16
Now past the half way mark. Think about all of the children who receive gifts from our Christmas Toy Appeal. By gathering generous public donations, each year Community Links reaches out to thousands of East London’s most disadvantaged children, families and vulnerable adults at Christmas.








Mile 21 
Your legs are really starting to ache, but you’re powering through because you know what your success means for our advice services. People are queuing outside our front doors every morning for help from our advisers. Some speak very little English and others haven’t got the money to buy themselves dinner for the week.








Mile 26 
You’re almost there and you can see the finish line but you are completely exhausted. Remember the children from Arc in the Park – a dedicated centre for special needs children. Every child, whatever their needs and abilities, has the right to participate fully in their community – to have the same opportunities as their peers, to make friends, to have fun and to access leisure facilities. This is what is being achieved at our Canning Town centre with activities responsive to what disabled children/ young people and their families want and need.








Yay, you’ve done it! You ran the London Marathon and have raised an incredible amount of support and funds for our work.

Have a moment to take it all in, realise what a huge achievement it is and look at all of the people who have benefited. Your support allows us to continue running community projects for over 14,000 people every year. Without the generosity of our individual, corporate and trust funding we would not be able to meet the needs of so many disadvantaged local people, and voice their issues nationally to have an influence in policy making.

A huge thank you to our Marathon runners Phil Robertson and Matt O’Toole – CVC Capital Partners, Jason Gray – consultant at CVC Capital Partners,  Ashley Carson- BNY Mellon, Steve Burton – Barclay’s and Caroline Brooker – Clifford Chance

If you are interested in taking on a challenge for Community Links, please get in contact with

Our upcoming events include:

29th June- Karting Challenge
16th July – The Great London Swim
20th-24th July- London to Paris Cycle Challenge (Tour De France)
31st July- Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 Peloton Relay (team challenge)

All year round events: Skydiving and Climb High for Community Links (team climbing challenge)

If there is a specific event you would like to take part in, let us know and we will try to make it happen
We are happy to support you to organise your own event be it a bake sale, quiz/race night, book sale, curry night, dress down day