Community Links

Community Links blog

Living our values in 2017

By David Robinson

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)

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