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“Two peanuts of hope in the crackerjack box of despair”

Friday, March 10th, 2017

There wasn’t a lot to celebrate in the 2017 budget, indeed we might say there wasn’t a lot in the 2017 budget, full stop, but we have found “two peanuts of hope in the crackerjack box of despair” (Homer Simpson 2006).  We will start with them and then offer a quick Community Links perspective on the three issues which have dominated all the other  media commentary. 

First, the London Devolution Agreement

The Agreement was announced and published alongside the main budget statement. It included:

  • Co commissioning of criminal justice services with substantial potential for reducing offending and for improving services for victims and offenders. To be finalised in June
  • Devolution of a number of health care powers. Further details expected next week
  • Devolution of the adult education budget from 2019/20 and the promise of “greater influence” over careers services.
  • Transfer of the budget for the Work and Health programme and a further commitment to a “strategic dialogue” on employment support.
  • Powers to pilot a new Development Rights Auction model for funding future infrastructure projects. This model is likely to provide very significant new funding.

There is lots more detail expected in the coming weeks but the headlines are encouraging with more power and more resources invested closer to home. Now the responsibility passes to London’s leaders for ensuring that devolution does not stop there but that local communities are fully involved in designing, developing and delivering these important services

Second, the “next generation” passage from the Chancellor’s speech

“If you talk to people from any background and any part of the country about their hopes and their aspirations for the future, you’ll hear a recurring concern for the next generation. 

Will they have the qualifications to find a job?
Will they have the skills to re-train as that job changes, and changes again, over a working lifetime?
Will they be able to get on the housing ladder?
To save for a pension?

In short, the question that concerns so many people is “will our children enjoy the same opportunities that we did”?

Mr Deputy Speaker, Our job is to make sure that they do.

That’s why we are investing in education and skills to ensure that every young person, whatever their background and wherever they live, has the opportunity to succeed and prosper. The proportion of young people not in work or education is now the lowest since records began that’s a good base from which to build. But it is only by equipping them for the jobs of tomorrow that we ensure they will have real economic security.”

We are with you on all this Mr Hammond, now what can we do about it? A Bill of Rights for the Next Generation perhaps?

Finally our view on the three topics that have attracted most attention:

Business rates: The coverage has focused on the prosperous areas that are of most interest to Conservative MPs. In Southwold for instance a sausage roll will apparently soon cost £8.17 if the butcher raises prices in line with the rates increase. Business rates are in fact a problem for any area where property prices have gone up which, of course, they have in east London, and it is a particular issue in areas which have been undergoing regeneration like Canning Town and Stratford. We don’t yet know the likely impact of the measures that the Chancellor announced yesterday but this is seriously alarming and an issue to which we will return.

NI increase for self employed. Hammond hits white van man” screamed the Metro front page yesterday morning. “Hammond hits highly paid barristers and consultants” would have been more accurate. As the Resolution Foundation have pointed out this is a progressive measure. Low earning child minders and window cleaners in Newham will benefit. The messaging was dreadful but the change is good.

Social care: No amount of spin could make £2b over 3 years for social care and £450m for the NHS sound like anywhere near enough to turn around the crisis in health and social care. Most expert analysis suggests it will fill less than half the gap. Of course Conservative back benchers worried about “trolleys in corridor” stories in their local papers know this too. What will they do now?

Good news for the voluntary sector, but don’t stop now

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

The Dormant Assets Commission reported last week that an additional £1bn to £2bn lies in old insurance policies, investment portfolios and pensions and can be released for funding the voluntary sector. This more than doubles the amount that has already been identified. 

The Dormant Accounts Act in 2008 provided for the collection and distribution of these forgotten funds. All the money so far has gone to Big Society Capital but Civil Society Minister Rob Wilson has already indicated that the new money could be used to “help good causes” in various ways.

First let’s put the numbers into perspective. The wonderful Comic Relief took 30 years to raise £1bn. Children in Need raised £46m last year. The Big Lottery Fund, far and away Britain’s biggest independent funder distributed £583m. All three are tremendously important funders of the third sector, particularly of smaller local organisations, but a dormant fund in excess of £1bn would be significantly bigger than all of them put together.  In the budget speech today the Chancellor will even announce to the nation government programmes with smaller numbers attached. There has already been much trailing,  for instance,  of an anticipated £320m for the expansion of the free school programme.

We congratulate the Minister for establishing this important Commission and we welcome its findings.

This, however, is only half the story.  I also want to make two other points:

First, the original arrangement was applied only to the small group of major banks included in the Merlin agreement – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS.  At the time Gordon Brown made clear the intention to first establish the process with the biggest players and then expand the scheme.  Seven hard years elapsed before the Commission was set up to explore the options in December 2015.  Throughout that time we pressed ministers, their shadows and their seniors, Manifesto groups, a party leader and a PM to, at the very least, take a look at the possibilities. I recalled repeatedly that £11bn was the number first discussed as the full potential of the scheme at the time of its inception. Back of a Treasury envelope, perhaps, and maybe overstated but even half that sum, harnessed to a programme for refuelling the voluntary sector, would have been a really substantial and eye catching government programme or manifesto pledge.

Why did no one listen for so long?  It’s not as if the sector has had more money than we needed in these recent difficult years.

Second, the Commission reporting last week was understandably cautious in its estimates and limited in its purview. £1bn to £2bn is a long way short of those early numbers. I think there is more money still yet to be unearthed. Much of it may be in smaller amounts, some of it might even be local and in unlikely places.  In London, for instance, £223m lies on dormant Oyster cards – the sort that most Londoners have, at some point, lost, replaced and forgotten. Suppose TfL spent a very generous £10m on a three month campaign promoting the reclamation of this money. I doubt if very much would be claimed but suppose we were left with just half. As we have pointed out to London’s Mayor you could do a lot of important work in London’s most disadvantaged communities with £100m.

And these are all schemes that keep on giving. Although the big numbers have accumulated over many years and will never be repeated, additional installments reach the deadline date every year.  The London Oyster pot, for example, rose by £53m between 2015 and 2016.  Once the reclamation procedures are in place the process will generate a more modest but regular yield year after year.

Let us be clear, none of this money belongs to the banks, the pension companies, TFL etc. It belongs to us. If it can’t be returned to the original customer it should be used for the common good. It should not be used to bolster numbers and generate interest on big corporate balance sheets.

It is, without doubt,  terrific news that a further £1bn plus will be flowing into the sector soon and I don’t mean to be a grumpy old man but, amidst the rightful welcome, lessons must be learnt: Pain could have been avoided if the opportunity had been responsibly explored a long time ago.  Let us not now endure another nine lean years before thoroughly exploiting ALL the possibilities.

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


• 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.


Champions of the Shengha

Monday, September 26th, 2016

You could be looking at  the game Champions of the Shengha and the book “Change the world for a fiver” for quite some time before you noticed any connection. That is exactly how we would want it to be.

Both are bright, attractive and original products highly competitive and desirable in their own markets but there is more: both are explicitly designed to drive positive behaviour change, to influence social and cultural norms and to help prevent complex, expensive problems.

The first was a little book that reached number 3 in the Sunday Times best seller list and sold over one million copies in 2004. It was effectively 50 public service announcements presented in a style that was modern, engaging, irreverent, challenging and fun. It was produced by the then new Community Links project called We Are What We Do and was probably the first consumer product explicitly designed to “nudge” – to change behaviour but not through threat or exhortation. Steve Hilton was one of the volunteers who helped with the creative work. He was so inspired by the idea that when he rocked up at No 10 as David Cameron’s principal adviser six years later he established, in Downing Street, the government’s own Behavioural Change Unit

The equally successful and ground breaking “I’m not a plastic bag” designer tote bag followed – a collaboration with market leader Anya Hindmarch. Gradually our learning and thinking advanced and the products and the process became more subtle and sophisticated.  The project became an independent social enterprise applying a, by now, well tested  and rigorous research, design and venture building process to issues like mental illness, poor diets, social isolation and energy inefficiency. We Are What We Do changed its name to Shift, I am still the chair and Champions of the Shengha is our latest offering.

We have been developing “Champions” through our purpose built BfB Labs. Here we have been pioneering emotionally responsive gaming as a way to increase resilience to mental health problems amongst young people. After 3 years of R&D, we are launching our first product today. Champions of the Shengha, trains and rewards players for controlling their emotional state. This is tracked through a unique wireless wearable device which we call the BfB Sensor. Our recent independent clinical trial on the game not only showed that participants loved playing it, but that it could effectively train emotional regulation skills and that the young people quickly started to apply these skills in their everyday lives.

We think the game is groundbreaking and the potential is huge. Online gaming is an enormous market. Many of the existing games are compelling, even addictive. Clear and uncontested evidence shows that regular playing of these games affects our behaviour and damages our mental health particularly in the vulnerable adolescent years. Champions of the Shenga doesn’t just mitigate these dangers it turns them upside down – it is also compelling and fun and commercially competitive but it builds rather than reduces the players emotional resilience and it improves rather than damages their mental health.

We are launching Champions through crowdfunding on Indiegogo  today. It may all seem a long way from Community Links and a funny little book but its roots are here and its purpose is our purpose. Please take a look at  Indiegogo, join us if you possibly can and be sure to spread the word.

Seeking the sunshine, then and now

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

What would James Keir Hardie have done to end the civil war currently engulfing the Labour Party?

Probably not much more than anyone has been able to do in these recent turbulent times. He resigned the leadership of the party in 1908 largely because he couldn’t manage the internal rivalries. The path to what the Labour Party founder and one time MP for West Ham called the “sunshine of socialism was as bitterly contested 108 years ago as it is today. None the less there are lessons to be learnt from a man who truly broke the mould of British politics and who was, and who still remains, a local hero to many in east London

As the modern Labour party lurches like a Saturday night drunk from one clumsy fight to another we have an intriguing opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Keir Hardie.  A new play called “ A splotch of red” retells the story of this pioneering radical. It will run for 4 nights and one afternoon next week in the big hall at Community Links that once echoed to the perorations of the blazing Scotsman.  Written by acclaimed play write (and a Newham resident)  James Kenworth, it is the third in a series of unique collaborations between local young people and established artists. The Independent thought the last one was “terrifically powerful…highly recommended”.

At the time of Keir Hardie’s election in 1892 the borough that we now call Newham was “a little isolated republic outside the vast area of the metropolis where the factory and dockyard workers swept their human rubbish, the flexible labour of those marginalised women and men who powered and serviced the capital, concentrated in overwhelming numbers”.  (Claisse J, Will Thorne, the campaign for West Ham south.) Poverty today is of a different order but the distinctions between the work force in this borough and in some of our more prosperous neighbours is miserably consistent.

Some of Keir Hardies first campaign demands were met long ago –  an old age pension for instance. Others would not be out of place in Canning Town today. Lower and controlled rents, for example, and the taxation of land values are the kind of radical, heavyweight solutions that are needed now to shift the housing problems affecting so many of our current residents.

The new MPs first period in parliament, and tenure as our local MP, was relatively brief. A combination of a patchy performance in Westminster, local divisions and a revitalised opposition, led to his electoral defeat in 1895 but what the then cabinet minister Sir William Vernon Harcourt first described  as a “little splotch of red”  didn’t go away.  The first Labour Council was elected in West Ham four years later and Newham Council has remained Labour controlled ever since.

Of course James Keir Hardie was a 19th century politician and Community Links is a 21st century charity. We are very different animals but the connections are much more than locational. Keir Hardie believed it was important, indeed essential, to share the experience of poverty with the rulers of the day whether or not they wanted to listen. During his time as our local MP his was, often quite literally, a lone voice but he persevered, both in his period here and long after.  This determined visionary never lost his conviction that the world could be a better place.

Talking about poverty however was nowhere near enough. He was later to say “my work has consisted of trying to stir up a divine discontent”. This was the community organising of its day and profoundly pragmatic.

James Keir Hardie both spoke out and enabled the might of other voices to be heard.   Times change but challenges remain. The right principles have timeless application and they still live here.

Tickets for “A splotch of red”, are currently available here and priced at “whatever you can afford”.  I imagine that the driven and passionate man who once sat where I sit today, would have appreciated that.

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.


MPs, Sex and Early Action

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

It is not for this blog to comment on the merits of the Conservative leadership candidates, but reports from the MP hustings on Monday evening were of wider concern and very relevant to our agenda. This piece, by David Robinson, was first published in the Huffington Post.


At the Conservative party leadership hustings on Monday evening Andrea Leadsom apparently referenced her work on developing a long-term and cross-party vision for the early years. Her commitment to early action builds on a lengthy involvement with Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership, a charity providing therapeutic support to help parents bond with their babies, and with PIPUK, the national body for Parent Infant Partnerships, which she founded.

The hustings were private but lobby correspondents were soon reporting that Leadsoms performance was “a car crash” and, specifically, that her remarks about the importance of the early years went down “like a cup of cold sick”. “It was meant to be an application to be PM”, one MP scoffed “not a childhood development officer”. Several stories recounted how talk of “the prefrontal cortex of a baby’s brain” “lost the room” and the Sun described “people talking to one another and playing on their ipads.” All the quotes were attributed to anonymous male MPs.

What was it about the significance of the early years that the boys found so much more difficult to grasp than, say, the case for quantitative easing or the minutia of Article 50 or so much less relevant to the future of the country than whether Ms Leadsom did or did not receive a tweet from Boris Johnson last Thursday evening? It is unimaginable that reference to investment in, for instance, the Northern powerhouse would have been received with such derision. Even the metaphors were infantile – “cold sick”, “car crash”.

Ms Leadsom co-founded the All Party Parliamentary Group on the early years which I was invited to address in April. I pointed out in my presentation to the meeting that investment in early action yields rates of return which consistently outperform the ROIs on roads and railways (£2.83 per £ invested in programmes for Under 9s, between £1.80 and £2.50 for HS2). Quite apart from the strong social case for early action there is also, if only the lads had been prepared to listen, an overwhelming economic one. Foolishly they apparently didn’t listen to their wannabe leader and they certainly didn’t listen to me. My engaged and knowledgeable audience consisted of approximately 50 women and exactly 3 men. I was surprised and disappointed by the scale of this discrepancy but regular attenders assured me that it was “always like this”.

I have no idea who should be the leader of the Tory party but I do know that any mature and rational reading of the evidence evinces the inevitable conclusion that the next Prime Minister needs to understand the importance of early action and invest intelligently in the long term social infrastructure of our country at least as much as they need to understand the importance of investing in roads, railways and northern cities. It says more about the audience at the hustings than it does about the speaker that a promise to focus on “bankers, Brussels and babies” should have been so scornfully dismissed.

Sometimes I am ashamed of my sex.

Sticking at the job

Friday, June 24th, 2016

My first proper job was as a relief worker in children’s residential care. For four months I worked in an adolescent home where I got to know one troubled 16 year old particularly well. Perhaps it was because I was just a few years older or that we had shared interests in football and boxing, whatever the reason, he talked to me as he didn’t talk to other members of staff.

One evening in my last week I told him that I was moving on. Probably ill-advisedly I promised to keep in touch, suggested we might fish together. It was late on a beautiful evening in July and we were talking at the bottom of the big garden. I can see him now, stand up, walk to the house, stop with his back to me, silhouetted against the open kitchen door and shout without turning round – “I wish I’d never met you Dave, then I’d have never had to fucking say goodbye”.

And he didn’t. For the next 4 days he refused to talk to me and when I did occasionally visit the house in later months he always left the room.

3 years later I met the family social worker on Stratford station. She told me that Patrick had taken his own life the day before his 18th birthday.

I know it wasn’t my fault – our relationship was far too fleeting for that. But if I wasn’t part of the problem for Patrick nor was I, as I had once fondly imagined, part of the solution.

I don’t think good social work necessarily involves years of engagement with the same families or the same individuals and I don’t think good community work necessarily demands an endless commitment to one community. There are times however when both do depend on strong, stretching, resilient, trusted relationships and they are not forged in the blinking of an eye.

Building organisations in this space is no different.  Steady turnover in the staff team and dependable consistency are like fast food and slow cooking, there is a place for both.

Sadly the third sector trade press and the wider media have published a relentless string of articles over the last year damming the long haul charity founder and attributing the collapse of Kids Co to something called “Founder Syndrome”. (I know, it sounds like a disease. Apparently it’s meant to)

I go part time next month after more than 35 years of working full time at Community Links – an organisation I cofounded. I have no plans for stopping entirely.  We will never know if Community Links would have been stronger or more successful without me, but at the risk of hubris I think the solid presence of our organisation in this east London community over the better part of 4 decades and the reliable relationships that have grown up around many staff colleagues and volunteers (not just me) who have worked here for sustained periods over that time is not a weakness. Sticking at the job isn’t the only way to succeed but it’s not wrong.

Smart organisations are those that understand how to continuously blend the fresh expertise, the new networks and vital insight of the latest recruit with the cherished relationships and hard won experience of existing colleagues.

Perhaps I would say that, wouldn’t I, but our Chief Executive has reached a similar conclusion from a different perspective:

Community Links” says Geraldine Blake “is unusual in many ways but not least that when our founders stepped down from managing the organisation they remained employees: David Robinson in our national research and policy unit and Kevin Jenkins in our trading development team.  A daunting prospect for a Chief Executive?  What you need to make this work is fierce focus on mission, values and impact right across the organisation, strong and regularly refreshed governance, and founders with a great sense of humility and humour.  Then you have the best of all worlds: new eyes, hard-won experience, and phenomenal intellectual assets to call on.”

One Kids Company doesn’t make a case and one Camilla doesn’t make a syndrome. One year on from its failure we are fast allowing the tribulations of an outlier to frame a sweeping, uncontested wisdom for our sector. Please stop, before we have.

Wales: Good reasons to be hopeful

Monday, June 13th, 2016

I met Sophie Howe – the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales – last week. Sophie started work at the helm of the newly minted Commission 4 months ago. I had been looking forward to our meeting for some time. The Act which created the Commission had been in gestation from the earliest days of the Task Force in 2011. Now the powers and responsibilities of the new Commissioner are wider and probably stronger than any of the small number of offices elsewhere in the world that are at all comparable.

Peter Davies previously held a much more limited role as the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures. He was a prime mover in the development of the legislation which created the Future Generations Commission and has been generous in his acknowledgement of the influence of the Early Action Task Force: “The work of the Early Action Task Force has been really influential in the development of the Well – being of Future Generations Act. The concept of early action should be at the heart of sustainable development. The Triple Dividend perfectly captured the essence of this approach and brought much needed focus on action that can take place now, preventing long term consequences and setting a pathway for a more sustainable future.”

Five “ways of working” were outlined in the act. Public bodies need to be demonstrating these in order to show that they applying the sustainable development principle. In essence it is the Commissioners job to ensure that they are and to help them do it well

These “ways of working” are intended to “help us work together better, avoid repeating past mistakes and tackle some of the long term challenges that we are facing”:

1) Long term: The importance of balancing short term needs with the need to safe guard the ability to also meet long term needs

2) Prevention: How acting to prevent problems occurring or getting worse may help public bodies to meet their objectives.

3) Integration: Considering how the public bodies well-being objectives may impact upon each of the well-being goals, on their objectives, or on the objectives of other public bodies.

4) Collaboration: Acting in collaboration with any other person (or different parts of the body itself) that could help the body to meet its well – being objectives.

5) Involvement: The importance of involving people with an interest in achieving the well-being goals and ensuring that those people reflect the diversity of the area which the body serves.”

It would be understandable if many of the leaders of those public bodies, and the list that are named in the act is very comprehensive, felt dispirited by a fresh set of demands on staff teams and departmental budgets that are, almost invariably, smaller now than they were when the Senedd first began to talk about the bill. However I spoke to a mainly public sector audience at the Equality and Human Rights Exchange Annual Conference in Mid Wales earlier in the day and, in the margins of my contribution, discovered that delegates were well informed about the purpose and the requirements of the act and almost unanimously enthusiastic. One told me that the act was “the most positive development in public services since devolution” and another that it was “the boldest thing that the Welsh government has ever done.” Ruth Marks CEO of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, who I met on Wednesday, had been similarly affirmative.

Of course at the moment everyone was talking about the potential. It will be at least two years before anyone can begin to consider consequences but appetites were keen

The government guidance note answers its own question “Why do we need this law?” with this statement:

“Wales faces a number of challenges now and in the future, such as climate change, poverty, health inequalities and jobs and growth. To tackle these we need to work together. To give our children and grandchildren a good quality of life we need to think about how the decisions we make now will impact them. This law will make sure that our public sector does this”.

It is an ambitious objective and I left Cardiff conscious of the burden of expectation now resting on the Commission but also, and most importantly, impressed by the level of commitment on all sides. There are good reasons to be hopeful.

Ethnic minority women failing to attend cancer screening appointments

Tuesday, 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: