“Elastic Communities” – Stephen Woollett of Clarity CIC asks how reasonable is it to expect communities and volunteers to take on increasing amounts of responsibility to provide local services

Following blogs by Emma Beeston (of the Emma Beeston Consultancy) and Marsha Miles of the Marsha Miles Consultancy (MMC) last week, Stephen Woollett of Clarity CIC has kindly provided an article on the capacity of communities and volunteers to take on more responsibility following COVID and as the Cost-of-Living crisis begins to gather momentum:

“Elastic communities?”

“More and more demands and expectations are being placed on communities to do things that previously we might reasonably have expected the state or private business to provide or resource. For example, volunteer run community speed watch groups are being set up to help tackle speeding, and community shops and pubs are springing up all over the country (38 community shops in Devon alone) to keep open these important services which would otherwise disappear.

“Many local care and support groups, established as a temporary response to the COVID crisis, now find that there is an ongoing need for their services, especially amongst the vulnerable and isolated. Food banks and community kitchens now seem to be a permanent and essential part of the social support “infrastructure” – they were virtually unheard of 20 years ago. And in many rural areas the only public transport available is provided by volunteers driving community minibuses and their own vehicles through social car schemes.

“On top of all these “newer” community activities are the more traditional and established areas of voluntary effort –running village halls, playing fields, sports groups, youth clubs, PTAs, church and faith groups, local history societies, museums, arts events, environmental and conservation groups and so on.  And, of course many people are also involved in organising fundraising activities for national charities – “community fundraising” which is a major source of income for some organisations.

“But, there cannot be an infinite supply of voluntary capacity within our communities and surely a new and urgent demand, however worthy, must have some impact on existing organisations and groups. The thing is – I don’t think we really know and I don’t think those who are advocating and encouraging more “community-led” activity really think about the wider consequences. What’s going to be squeezed? What’s going to struggle to survive because our voluntary capacity is having to pivot and respond to something much more urgent. COVID showed that there was a huge commitment and willingness from people to volunteer to help tackle the pandemic and help support and protect the most vulnerable. There is no question that this contribution was and remains hugely important but we need to have a much better awareness and understanding of our collective capacity to volunteer, so that we don’t ‘run out’ of capacity and burn out those who are currently volunteering.”

Clarity CIC enables social purpose organisations, including community groups, charities and social enterprises to be effective, sustainable and well-run. It helps organisations solve everyday problems, build their own capability, think and act strategically and demonstrate the value of their work.