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Fake relationships and Revolution 3.2

Monday, February 13th, 2017

The launch of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission a couple of weeks ago attracted more media attention than might be expected for such an event. No doubt this was largely due to the appalling circumstances of its genesis: Ms Cox was deeply concerned about the issue and was planning the commission at the time of her murder. MPs Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy are now carrying forward the work that she began.

However I don’t think the tragic association accounts for all the attention: As I have written previously, at least one in five Brits are lonely often or all of the time. Loneliness is a twenty first century  plague and although almost all the press coverage over the last two weeks has focused on  older people this is, as I noted a couple of weeks ago, a misleading emphasis.  Study after study has shown that no age or social group is immune.

 

We have been thinking about the early action contribution to this conversation. Our Early Action in Later Life report stirred passions in 2014 with the assertion that “befriending schemes are to social isolation what food banks are to poverty”.

We meant no disrespect to befriending schemes or to Food Banks, both are an essential response to a crisis, but neither, on their own, offer a long term solution. Alongside the remedial work we need a deeper, longer term approach to redressing the causes of loneliness.  Just as we must ask “why are so many people hungry?” and tackle those issues, so too must we ask “why are so many people lonely?” and confront the causes

This takes us into the wider issue of social isolation which we need to address not only to beat loneliness but also to boost educational performance, enhance economic opportunity and social mobility, reduce health inequalities, improve social cohesion and indeed do almost everything that really matters.

And, far from making progress on social isolation, we are not even moving in the right direction. Instead we are, as Alvin Toffler wrote, “experiencing the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future”.  Our every transaction is now automated from paying the rent to fixing a doctor’s appointment. Social media has redefined our understanding of friendship. We have limitless virtual networks but fewer real friends. Those that we do have are likely to be scattered and distant. We network but we don’t relate. And we have devalued our understanding of the concept of “relationships” to the point where I travel to Birmingham and Virgin Trains assure me that they “value our relationship”.

Fake relationships are as ubiquitous in 2017, and just as insidious, as fake news.

Across the sweep of history this sequence is not unfamiliar. First the agrarian, then the industrial revolutions disrupted social patterns and called for new ways of behaving individually and collectively. Social change followed but it took a while. Now we are again in the catch up phase. Part 3.2 as it were, of the technological revolution that has so transformed our lives in recent years.

We have to tackle the scourge of social isolation by fixing the cause. To do that we must begin with a two part question:

First, what is a real relationship?  I think it is one that nourishes with depth and meaning.  It is between people, possibly facilitated by a machine or an organisation but not with a machine or an organisation. And it is about more than kindness or reciprocity, empathy or solidarity although it is all these things. It may be closest to what in Africa is known as Ubuntu – “my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours. We belong in a bundle of life” Desmond Tutu.

And then, what is a real 21st century relationship? We can’t rewind the clock even if we wanted to. Our generation’s big challenge is to fathom out how we use and benefit from the recent advances in ways which don’t devalue our essential humanity but which value, sustain and enrich it.

Voluntary organisations like ours don’t have all the pressing mandatory duties of a statutory authority. We have the freedom, and with the freedom a responsibility, to try to understand not just how we manage or ameliorate a problem but how we build a better society. I’m not sure what Revolution 3.2 should look like but I do think  we should try to free the space to think about it not least because, as Dr Toffler also said, You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”

Living our values in 2017

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Life begins at 40, or at least our next adventure does.

Michael and Arvinda, our chair and Chief Executive announce today that Community Links is joining with the family of Catch22. This will give us the opportunity to develop our innovative work within the enhanced security of a bigger group and to work on a bigger canvas but without compromise to purpose or principle. We will continue as a separate organisation within the group, driven by our own values, retaining our brand identity and charity number and responsibility for our own work programme, staff and finances.

Catch22 make us look young! Its antecedents reach back to 1788. The modern organisation now runs a wide range of social welfare projects with local authorities and other commissioners across the UK. It is big, good and well-respected.

On stepping down as CEO of Save the Children Fund last year Justyn Forsyth said “If charities are not prepared to change, we will, in turn, be less able to change the world.” We at Community Links agree. “To generate change” is the first line in our statement of purpose and this continuous commitment to learning and evolution must apply as much to ourselves as it does to the world around us.

So our new partnership is an important change and a bold step but it is also a natural one for Community Links. Collaboration has always been at the heart of our model – collaborating in our own community and collaborating with business and with government, even when both have been unfashionable in the third sector.

We are doing it now because radical change and committed collaboration is needed more than ever: I noted in my Christmas blog that we entered 2016 with business leaders predicting economic recovery but with austerity and reckless disregard still demolishing the public realm. Local authorities were confronting impossible choices and anticipating imminent crises for social care and other essential services. Abject poverty was more accepted (witness the development of Food Banks), more intractable and also more visible than at any time in my working life. The 16% increase in the number of rough sleepers in 2016 announced last week is the latest evidence but surely no surprise to anyone who walks at night through any UK town or city centre.

The PM began 2017 with encouraging words about a “shared society” but these as yet shapeless aspirations are scant consolation to set alongside the brutal choices now facing managers in our council services, hospitals and government departments.

We at Community Links have changed our delivery models, increased our independent fundraising and reorganised our teams repeatedly since 2010. We are proud of the good things we have achieved in this difficult period but under no illusions. On a budget shorn of Legal Aid, New Deal and almost all local authority funding we do significantly less.

I wrote here last year about my profound sadness and anger at the loss of experienced people and valuable projects but surrendering to sentiment is a craven indulgence. Wiser by far to regroup and renew the charge. Community Links is still a big organisation. We could just reorganise again for the new financial year, thousands of charities across the UK do great work with far less, but we don’t think battling on in isolation optimises our assets. In this extraordinarily challenging environment we can do better together. That’s what will be getting me out of bed in the morning now, determined to advance again in the new alliance.

Important things won’t change. We decided when we began that a sense of local ownership was crucial to a model that was all about helping people help themselves. At the same time we believed that the learning from our local experience could be of value to other practitioners and should also be shared with policy makers and politicians. Community Links developed a special mix of the local and the national that has characterised our work ever since. This won’t change.

Going forward with an organisation that has a far bigger footprint and greater financial stability will enable Community Links to sustain those crucial local services, to connect with new networks and to continue to innovate and contribute to the wider business of making the world a better place. It is a smart, pragmatic alliance but it is also much more than that: The new arrangement will enable the future stewards of our organisation, to continue to live the values that have made us what we are. This matters partly because we believe that moral certainty is always important and particularly because we think it will be even more important in the years ahead:

When Community Links started the public, the private and the voluntary were clearly separate sectors. Now charities are anxious to be seen to be “business like”, businesses to stress how much they care and statutory services to do both. New forms like CICs and B.Corps, mutuals and social enterprises further muddy the waters. Indeed two of Community Links own most successful ventures in recent years are now an independent free school (Education Links) and a charitable foundation building social businesses (Shift).

In this crowded arena there will be no enduring logic in ministers pledging support exclusively to the voluntary sector or independent funders supporting only registered charities. Don’t look in the Mem and Arts for the distinguishing signifiers in the future, find them in the beliefs and behaviours.

As we enter this big birthday year at Community Links we believe that the values that have served us well since 1977 can be most effectively sustained and fulfilled through partnership with Catch22.  This is, for us, the forward thinking, 2017 way:

“To generate change. To tackle causes not symptoms, find solutions not palliatives. To recognise that we all need to give as well as to receive and to appreciate that those who experience a problem understand it best. To act local but think global, teach but never stop learning. To distinguish between the diversity that enriches our society and the inequalities that diminish it. To grow – but all to build a network not an empire. To be driven by dreams, judged on delivery. To never do things for people but to guide and support, to train and enable, to simply inspire.” (The Community Links statement of purpose)

Tackling racism at its root

Friday, November 25th, 2016

The murder of Jo Cox, which led to her killer being given a life sentence on Wednesday, was a shocking reminder of where racist thinking can lead. Yet, despite a concerning rise in far-right activity and hate crime against ethnic minorities, there appears to be little focus on preventing racism from taking root.

 photo Tackling racism at its root_zpssrwfy8cx.jpg

However, one small organisation in Swansea is acting earlier to tackle hate crime and promote better opportunities for young people. Through working with disadvantaged ethnic minority young people, the Ethnic Support Youth Team (EYST) noticed that the young people they worked with were experiencing increasing levels of racism and hate crime. They realised that nearly all the emphasis in this area was on encouraging victims to report hate crime, but little was being done to prevent it from happening. Furthermore, a rise in far-right activity in Swansea highlighted that it was a particular type of young white person being recruited into these organisations: extremely disadvantaged, often excluded from mainstream education, and sometimes within the youth offending system.

In response to this, EYST developed the Think Project, a targeted intervention for 16-25 year olds which mirrored the work they were doing in preventing radicalisation in young Muslims. The project stands out as one of the few programmes in the UK that solely focuses on targeting young white people who are most vulnerable to far-right extremism. Delivered through pupil referral units, youth offending teams, and schools, it is a three day educational programme that combines education about Islam, migrants, and asylum seekers with positive, first-hand experience of diversity. It is delivered by ethnically diverse youth workers and connects the young people with those they have previously feared or misunderstood, hearing their stories and challenging myths.

The importance of learning the facts and gaining these experiences couldn’t be starker. Of the nearly 500 young people that Think Project has worked with in the last four years, over half thought that immigrants make up 50% of the population of Wales before completing the programme, and a quarter believed it was around 75%. The reality is closer to 6%. This distorted perception of reality plays into the hands of far-right groups who claim the country is overrun with immigrants taking our jobs, homes, and benefits. Yet Think Project demonstrates that given the opportunity to learn the facts and gain positive first-hand experience of diversity, these opinions can be challenged. The project’s external evaluation showed that whilst most young people on the programme initially held strong and largely negative views about immigration, asylum and diversity, these views change significantly for the 95% of participants by the end of the programme.

The power of Think project is most clearly demonstrated through the stories of those involved:

‘Kayleigh’ took part in one of the group sessions delivered in Merthyr Tydfil, and by her own admission at the start of the programme, ‘just didn’t like people with different skin colours, didn’t like it when they talked their language, just couldn’t stand them’. After the 3 day programme she said ‘I feel completely different now, we’re all human, we’re all here for different reasons’. After the programme, the Think project workers supported her to take up volunteering opportunities with an international volunteering exchange charity. She thoroughly enjoyed a one week residential volunteering opportunity in Cardiff, meeting people she would never have met in her home town. She is now considering undertaking volunteering abroad with the same charity, something she says she would never have done without the Think Project. She volunteered to speak about the impact of the project at the end of project conference, and has applied to become a community organiser with Hope not Hate.

 

Key to the success of Think Project has been recognising that whilst these young people are potential perpetrators of hate crime, they are also victims of the failures of our education system and society more generally. By providing a safe space where they can air their real and perceived grievances and by treating them with respect, the Think Project enables their views to be debated and challenged without pushing them deeper into prejudice. During the programme, emphasis is placed on improving the participants’ confidence, understanding, and communication skills and once it is completed participants are encouraged to pursue volunteering opportunities. In doing so, Think project is further increasing their resilience to far-right groups as well as increasing their opportunities to thrive.

Think Project sets an example on how to act early to effectively tackle racism and create better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable young people. But it is only a small organisation, and its perception as an ‘add-on’ service means that the issue of funding is a constant challenge. Whilst there are also much wider challenges around poverty and inequality which must also be addressed, it is crucial that schools and educational institutions begin to act earlier on racism, and equip our young people with the tools they need to become positive and active contributors to society. In the words of Jo’s sister, Kim Cox, “Whilst we can’t change what’s happened, we can try and choose how we respond… with love, strength and positivity”.

 

You can read more about Think Project on their project website here.

You can see more examples of early action in our case study gallery.

 

Help local families by donating to our Christmas Toy Appeal

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Every year, Community Links and the Newham Recorder work together to collect toys to give to underprivileged children at Christmas. For the 39th year, our friend and former editor of the Newham Recorder, Colin Grainger is with us once again supporting the appeal which he helped to launch and has been a part of ever since. In this blog, Colin Grainger writes about the importance of our Christmas Toy Appeal and how you can support it. 

                                                                                                                                                                 Photo Credit: Archant/ Ken Mears

This week sees the launch of a special community appeal that has has shown the true soul of life in Newham for the last 40 years. And the success of the Community Links and Newham Recorder Christmas Toy Appeal shows how much we look after each other in this special part of London.

I hope you can help support the incredible kind of outreach work that has helped  change the lives of young people who are at risk through no fault of their own.

I first helped launch the Community Links and Newham Recorder Christmas Toy Appeal as a reporter on the paper and did so throughout all my roles there, especially in the last 15 I spent there as Editor. But the special pull of the campaign means it never leaves your heart, even if you leave the workplace you spent most of your working life at.

We have helped thousands of children over those years and the appeal is just as relevant today. The need has grown with the campaign and we need to collect the equivalent of 18,000 toys. Over the coming weeks, Community Links and the Recorder are coming together again for the campaign to reach out to thousands of vulnerable children, families and adults.

Christmas can be a time of stress and isolation. But this appeal helps Community Links strengthen communities and raise aspirations, making Christmas special and futures brighter. So I ask for you to find it in your heart to add some special youngsters to your Christmas shopping list this year. When you buy gifts for loved ones and friends, please add another gift – for a child in Newham. All toys need to be new and unwrapped and can be for any age up to 16. In particular, the appeal is always short of toys for teenagers.

Each year the pressure mounts to reach the target, but we have always made it. Hundreds of celebrities and people in the public eye, including the Royal household, have helped us. Businesses do their bit. Newham Council are always there to help. It is an appeal that involves people from all walks of life.

Please give a toy so that together we can fill those empty sacks and ensure that Christmas Day is special this year for every child in Newham.

I shall be doing my usual 50 lengths sponsored swim so if you want to sponsor me please feel free to do so. I am trying to raise £250. You can donate by going to my Just Giving page here.

What to give

Gifts should not promote war or violence, and should ideally be both fun and educational.

• Story books for all ages,

• All types of craft sets, model kits, jigsaws, stationery and coloured pencils.

• Dolls and accessories.

• Cars and car sets for all ages.

• Boxed board games.

• Rucksacks.

• Lego, Duplo and other construction sets.

• £5/£10 fashion or sports vouchers.

• Compilation CDs.

• DVDs of children’s films.

• Toys from newborn to three years and early years toys from three to five years.

Where to give

DROP-OFF POINTS

• Beckton Library, 1 Kingsford Way, Beckton. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• Beckton Community Centre, 14 East Ham Manor Way, Beckton. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• Canning Town Library, Barking Road, Canning Town. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• Custom House Library, Prince Regent Lane, Custom House. Open Mon, Tues, Sat 9.30am – 5.30pm, Thurs 1pm – 8pm.

• East Ham Library, 328 Barking Road, East Ham. Open Mon – Fri 9am -8pm, Sat 9.30am – 8pm.

• Field Community Centre, 147 Station Road, Forest Gate. Open Mon – Fri 10am – 4pm.

• Grass Roots, Grassroots Children’s Centre, Memorial Park, Memorial Avenue, Stratford. Open Mon – Fri 10am to 4pm.

• Green Street Library, 337-341 Green Street, Upton Park. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• The Gate Library, 2-6 Woodgrange Road, Forest Gate. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• The Hub, 123 Star Lane, Canning Town. Open Mon – Fri 10am – 4pm.

• Jack Cornwell Community Centre, Jack Cornwell Street, Manor Park. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• Jeyes Community Centre, 1 James Close, Plaistow. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• Katherine Road Community Centre, 254 Katherine Road, Forest Gate. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• Manor Park Library, 685 – 693 Romford Road, Manor Park. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• Plaistow Library, North Street, Plaistow. Open Mon, Tues, Sat 9.30am – 5.30pm, Weds and Fri 9.30am – 5pm, Thurs 1pm – 8pm.

• Stratford Library, 3 The Grove, Stratford. Open Mon – Sat 9.30am – 8pm, Sun 1pm – 5pm.

• North Woolwich Library, 5 Pier Parade, North Woolwich. Mon, Tues, Sat 9.30am – 5.30pm, Thurs 1pm – 8pm.

• Newham Bookshop, 745 – 747 Barking Road, Plaistow. Open Tues – Sat, 10am to 4pm.

• St Bartholomew’s Church Centre, 292 Barking Road, East Ham. Open Mon – Fri 10am – 5pm.

• Theatre Royal Box Office, Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford. Open Mon – Sat 10am – 5pm, or until the start of that evening’s show.

• Community Links, 105 Barking Road, Canning Town. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5.30pm.

• Community Links ASTA Hub, 14 Camel Road, Silvertown. Open Mon – Fri, 10am – 3pm.

• Arc in the Park, Hermit Road Park, Bethell Avenue.Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• EAT 16, St Lukes Community Centre, 87 Tarling Road, Canning Town. Open Mon – Fri 8am – 3pm.

 

What do Community Links and the punk movement have in common?

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Community Links is turning 40 in 2017. That means we’re a few months younger than the punk movement, whose 40th anniversary is currently being celebrated. 

While Community Links may admittedly have little in common with the Sex Pistols, the beliefs animating this charity’s founders and the rather more legendary Sid Vicious were rooted in the same decade of forgotten industrial peripheries and broken ideals that followed the 1960s, with their passionate rejection of postwar injustice, their popular struggles, the widespread student demonstrations and all the local-yet-global mass protests. The ultimate goal of this – then small – group of activists from east London might have been justice for all rather than a rebellious call for anarchy in the UK, but the irreverence and DIY ethos animating some of the first actions organised by Community Links had perhaps something to share with the ripped-up T-shirts and gravity-defying mohawks that still define the punk era.

“With £360 we bought an aging Routemaster, unscrewed the seats, sold them, bought art supplies, knocked in some benches and a couple of moveable tables,” remembers David Robinson of those early years. The bus could soon be seen parked on council estates around Newham, as a diverse group of community workers, activists and volunteers entertained children, listened to people and gave advice. When, in the early 1980s, the tower blocks campaign was set up in collaboration with local residents who were tired of being isolated in low-quality, high-rise forms of social housing that tended to sway in the wind, the loudspeaker became Community Links’ most prized possession; leaflets and other campaigning material were hand-drawn, glued together and published as zines; and protest strategies also included gathering a group of people, having them dress up as cardboard blocks and shout loudly, at the demolition of two high-rise estates, “2 down, 107 to go!”

Radical beliefs and radical action required radical means. If the system wasn’t working, the only way to escape alienation was to go back to the roots, back to the people, back to the community. To do something radical yourself. To do-it-yourself.

A lot has changed since then. Forty years are a long time for a human life, let alone in the existence of an organisation. The Greater London Council, Europe, Thatcherism, Gordon Brown and the coalition meant doors were opened then shut abruptly; that funding abounded then was hard to come by. Community Links has indeed grown then shrunk again, but that initial DIY sensitivity still pervades it – though it’s expressed in different styles, ways and forms. The work on how third sector organisations should live their values, published in the mid 2000s, is one such example: “It was produced as a report,” says Richard McKeever, who oversaw much of Community Links’ editorial output through the years, “but it has a toolkit at the back. It’s go-and-do-it-yourself stuff.” Not too different from some of those early National Tower Blocks Directories, which included constructive stories of empowerment and how-to guides on a wide range of topics, from getting rid of cockroaches to regenerating green spaces on high-rise estates.

And it’s precisely these local stories, these ground-up perspectives, these simple human insights into complex social issues that have characterised the work of Community Links since 1977, while the political context has continued to change around. Gone are the days when the charity resembled more a spontaneous movement than a mainstream organisation, and the same is true for punk – which last summer was curated into exhibitions at the British Fashion Council and the British Library. But structural definitions aside, the imagination of those who’ve participated in both likely remains the same. It remains radical; it remains open to rejecting and reinterpreting the system as a whole if needed; it remains focused on the acquired awareness that alternative – and sometimes more effective – solutions can be found in the pragmatic knowledge of local communities. That’s why Community Links has never ceased to gather stories, amplify the voices of the disempowered, propose constructive narratives, bring local people in touch with Downing Street, and Downing Street in touch with Newham. And that’s also why we’ve been working, for the past five months, on a book that will hopefully act as a collection of thoughts, recollections and learning narrated through the voices of some of the people who have interacted with Community Links for the past four decades. To inspire, despite the adverse context stifling most changemakers today, a different policy framework. A systemic, go-and-do-it-yourself type of framework.

The book will be released next year, in time for our 40th anniversary celebrations. Keep checking this blog for updates!

Acting early this Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

“If Julie hadn’t detected her cancer early what would have been the cost? Not just to the NHS, but the loss of income to her family, let alone the human cost of her suffering. She worked full time, had a family, two children and a partner. What would have happened to them?”

Community Links Health Projects Manager, Frances Clarke, knows all too well the importance of detecting cancer early. This is a particularly pertinent issue in Newham, which has some of the worst cancer survival rates in the country, with only half of women over 50 in the borough attending breast cancer screening, compared with almost three-quarters of women for the rest of England.

In 2010 Community Links decided to take tackle these unacceptable figures, and establish two new programmes dedicated to Detecting Cancer Early. The first telephones people at risk to persuade them to attend screenings, as letter invitations and other reminder services weren’t working. The second acts even earlier by going into schools to explain the signs and symptoms of cancer, the importance of self-examining, and to encourage students to raise awareness with their parents.

A culturally sensitive calling and health advocacy service

Our calling project contacts women five to seven days before a breast screening appointment. Team members can speak a variety of languages and have a detailed knowledge of their local communities. It began as a reminder service, but soon evolved into health advocacy, as callers recognised that people were often unaware of screening services or had practical reasons stopping them from attending. Now callers reschedule appointments, give house-to-clinic travel directions and tell people about local services if they are carers. Funded by NHS England, the breast screening project now reaches 20,000 women every year, working in Camden and Newham.

Working with children and parents in schools

Our schools project has raised awareness of breast and lung cancer in eight schools in Newham. It’s different because rather than visiting for one-off lessons, it works with staff to embed the project into school activities over the long-term. It runs field trips for pupils to see cancer screening and interactive peer-led health lessons with cancer survivors, incorporates cancer awareness into other lessons, and spreads its message through newsletters, displays and social media, engaging parents at performance and parents’ evenings.

Increasing awareness, uptake of screening, and self-checking

The screening project increased women’s uptake of breast screening by 15% in consecutive years, whilst the schools project found that girls’ knowledge of breast cancer symptoms increased by 58% and by 54% among mums. The number of mums who self-check monthly also rose to 46% and their awareness of local screening services increased by a third.

This dual approach demonstrates that everyday social interactions, a friendly phone call or family conversation can literally save lives by encouraging early detection. Frances Clarke said “we’re saving people’s lives immediately, but we’re also giving people skills for life to continue self-examining and spreading information to the generations above and the generations below. Grounded in Community Links core principles of early action and deep value relationships, this approach also reduces demand on already overstretched NHS cancer services, freeing up vital resources for those who need it most.

With Breast Cancer Awareness Month upon us again, it is more important than ever to focus our energies on practical early action solutions to beat breast cancer.  Our ‘Detecting Cancer Early’ programme is just one of many early action projects that we are featuring in our online case study gallery.

Community Links and BNY Mellon announced as Charity Times Awards finalists

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Community Links has been shortlisted for The Charity Times Awards 2016. Our Future Links programme was chosen for the Corporate Community Local Involvement category, to recognise the work we do with young people in Newham, in partnership with BNY Mellon.

Working together for the past ten years, BNY Mellon and Community Links have designed and grown a pre-employment programme called ‘Future Links’ for disadvantaged 16-24 year olds in east London who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). Together, we are addressing the 25% unemployment rate amongst Newham’s young people, whom account for 40% of the population.

Karen Green, Director of International Community Affairs for BNY Mellon said:

“We are delighted to have our partnership with Community Links recognised by the Charity Times Award judges. Since the launch of Future Links in 2010, BNY Mellon and Community Links have created, grown and refined a fantastic 10-week employability programme for young people, which has so far seen 373 graduate and 85% progress into sustainable employment or education.”

Our partnership programme is having a huge impact on the futures of young east Londoners. By exposing them to the world of work and teaching them new skills, we are empowering young people to progress into work or further education. The young people supported through Future Links often come from very challenging backgrounds or circumstances. Last year alone; 59% left school without any GCSEs, 11 had no parents/step-parents who they could depend on, and 6 had children of their own.

Yet, despite this;

  • 46 graduates from the course (78%) moved into a positive next step
  • 28 (47%) moved into sustainable employment in a variety of roles
  • 18 (31%) moved into education or training
  • 46 gained accreditations in areas such as Health & Safety, First Aid, Money Management etc.

The programme’s success also enables us to share our experiences to practitioners and policy-makers nationwide. We have used our experience and learning to date in a submission to the Parliamentary sub-committee on Education, Skills and Economy advocating the need for pre-employment programmes. Following this, we gave evidence to the London Assembly inquiry into diversity in apprenticeships.

The awards, run by Charity Times Magazine, celebrate best practice in the UK charity and not-for-profit sector. This year’s winners will be announced at the Charity Times Awards Gala Dinner and Ceremony on 28 September 2016 at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, London.

For more information on Future Links, you can visit this page.

The rise and fall of the Office for Civil Society

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Under cover of darkness the Office for Civil Society (OCS), a shadow of its former self, slips, almost unnoticed, out of the Cabinet Office, shuffles across Whitehall and finds refuge in the cavernous DCMS.

Does it matter to Community Links and organisations like ours? Not much now, no. And therein lies the sadness. Our contact, once regular and varied, had withered into almost nothing.

It is the final act in the rise and fall. Established as the Office of the Third Sector in the days when Gordon Browns Treasury team led the domestic agenda it embodied the administration’s commitment to placing the third sector at the heart of policy making and service delivery. It was well resourced, well led and consistently influential. In the time when Community Links was running the PMs Council on Social Action (2007 to 2010) our contact was almost daily and invariably productive.

The name changed in 2010 but the address remained the same, right next door to a new Prime Minister then cheerfully singing the praises of the Big Society. Midst the rubble of a collapsed economy there were still grounds here for optimism and confidence. How the mighty fall.

Gradually the OCS lost resources and influence to the point where the National Citizen Service and social investment were almost all that remained, but even as recently as March of this year hope flickered. George Osborne directed significant new money into an extension of NCS and into the Life Chances Social Impact Bond fund. The PM found a new tune. Once bitten by the opening bars of the “Big Society” our expectations of “Life Chances Strategy” were more wary, but it did sound like the kind of thing that might involve a role for the third sector. Theresa May picked up the refrain in her first Downing Street remarks last week. Perhaps the OCS would be loved again?

Not so. Unceremoniously abandoned across Whitehall last weekend there seems to be no more logic to the new location than that 27 Marsham Street had a few spare mugs and a desk or two.

The social investment work is important, to this government as well as to the sector, and it is definitively cross departmental. It would be far more sensibly located in the main Cabinet Office or the Treasury. One thing is for sure – it has absolutely nothing to do with culture, media or sport.

And as for the National Citizen Challenge, it is all that remains of youth work in many areas. It is not, in our judgement, an adequate replacement but it is big, well-resourced and apparently here to stay. Not embedding it properly, structurally and systemically, with schools and other services for children and young people is mindless and careless.

The institutional memory at Community Links stretches back to the days when governments contact with the third sector was largely run through the Active Community Unit in the Home Office. It was a bit like the Charities Unit in a big but unenlightened business, administering a modest and largely unchanging portfolio of grants to a small number of established organisations, unseen and unregarded by most people in the business and largely irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of charities.

The OTS and then the OCS changed all that. It was not just, or even primarily, about the money but about the conduit for contributing ideas, influencing policy, working together at the centre of government.

When there is so much for organisations like ours to work for and shout about “Revive the OCS” may be well down the agenda but it shouldn’t be forgotten.

In a belated written statement to parliament yesterday (Thursday)  afternoon the PM “confirmed” that the OTS had moved to the DCMS  4 days ago.  Rumours that No 10 staff had been “looking all over” were neither confirmed nor denied.

 

Project is a ground force for spirit of human kindness

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Our long term supporter and friend, Colin Grainger, shares with us the remarkable partnership between Community Links, a college and its students and local companies, which has brought real lasting social value to our centre Arc in the Park. Colin Grainger is a former editor of the Newham Recorder and now a freelance journalist for the Guardian. Every year Colin plays a huge part in our Christmas Toy Appeal, which reaches out to thousands of vulnerable families at Christmas. 

In the last few weeks, the nastier side of life has surfaced in this country and it is not something I personally recognise as the true picture of the nation I am proud to live in.

But today I am happy to report on something that has shown the true spirit of human kindness still very much exists in east London. Something which I hope brings a little of the Great back into Britain.

It involves a charity that has been a part of my life for nearly 40 years, a facility that has done so much to help young people overcome their problems, a facilities management and building maintenance provider, a college and its students and companies who are proud to work for the greater good, proud to put something back into the community they serve.

In just five days, these special people in the photo above, transformed Arc In The Park in Canning Town in such a way that it will help future generations.

The fine upright and outstanding citizens of east London showed what can be done when we all work together. All of us, all colours, creeds and backgrounds.

The students from Barking and Dagenham College are all from Newham as are many of the workers. Some of them, as they will tell you in the film, were actually helped by Community Links when they were youngsters

As part of their Social Value commitment, Vinci Facilities worked with Community Links to engage them in working on a restoration project, at Arc in the Park in Hermit Road, Canning Town.

Vinci, Barking and Dagenham College and all those involved in this restoration of Arc have brought real lasting social value. It’s time for these people to stick out their chests and be proud.

Thanks go to AKW, Crown Flooring, PW Building Services, GBN Services, AkzoNobel, Dulux, KND Construction, 1st Environmental Services, John Plank Ltd architectural hardware, A Plant, Scaffolding Access Ltd, 3D Specialist Joinery Ltd, Fire and Safety Solutions, Broadway Decoration, Newham Play Association and Inveigle Productions for this brilliant film. Filmed and edited by Gary Dudman, Jamie Elliot and Louise Levitt.

Good old Bob

Monday, June 20th, 2016

Bob Holman, who died last week, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea and I don’t think he’d mind that I said so. I think he would smile.

Our friend was a tireless critic of bunkum and conceit, of pomposity and privilege and he had the guts and the stamina to speak out over and over again, very courteously but fearlessly and relentlessly. Throughout his life Bob wrote and talked and campaigned against poverty and injustice but the many books, the numerous articles, the pithy letters to the newspapers, the lectures and presentations were only part of an extraordinary 79 years. To paraphrase Gandhi, Bob was the change that he wanted to see in the world, an active and dedicated community worker, forgoing his professorship, living and bringing up his family in the communities where he worked – Southdown in Bristol and Easterhouse in Glasgow.

Born in east London he never lost his early love for the place, writing biographies of local heroes George Lansbury and James Keir Hardie in his later years and often drawing on his childhood experience here. Bob was a friend of Community Links from our earliest days. This is an extract from a piece he published in 1990 drawing together that affection for this area, generous support for our work and above all his passion for radical change:

“I support Community Links for many reasons. First I believe Community Links is right to identify poverty as an issue to which it must give most attention…. lives characterised by material hardship and want… Britain is a prosperous nation and I cannot accept that so many of its families have so much while others have so little. The team at Community Links share this belief.”

“Second, I admire Community Links because their response is not one that patronises people with low incomes, not one which makes them feel inferior and demeaned. On the contrary, the users at Community Links have become its doers, its volunteers, its committee members, and its staff. Community Links shares opportunities, responsibilities and power and so treats others as equals…”

“George Lansbury would have approved of Community Links opposition to poverty, its insistence on local control and its integrity.… He served as an East End MP and borough Councillor for much of the period 1900 to 1940 and his home was always open to those in need. … Lansbury was not ashamed to talk about love. He wrote “I love England and especially dear, ugly east London.. I want people to join me in striving to bring love into all our lives” …

“Love of this nature” concluded Bob “will not allow one section of our population to be in luxury and power while others are poor and powerless. I commend Community Links because it is doing something to stimulate this kind of social love”

The Lansbury quote appeared also in Bobs 1990 biography of the politician. Its title recalled the Labour leader’s local epithet: “Good Old George.” I looked out my tatty edition last night along with an equally dog eared “Faith in the Poor” which he compiled eight years later. It was a simple collection of conversations with people in poverty – people, he said, who knew better than anybody what would be right for them, their families and others in similar positions. Tucked into the back of my copy are some of Bob’s letters, often angry but always resolutely hopeful and determined, generous, passionate, funny and humble. Helena Kennedy QC is quoted on the back cover: “Cabinet ministers should go and sit at the feet of Bob Holman”.

How very sad it is that that moment has passed. Now more than ever politicians and policy makers of all political persuasions, not to mention public service managers, third sector leaders and community workers everywhere, should surely read the book.

Good old Bob.