Staying Power

Sorry to read the Community Development Foundation (CDF) will close later in 2016. The news snuck out mid-December lost amidst a flurry of tinsel. It’s demise is a blow for the community sector.

The CDF has its roots in Harold Wilson’s  Community Development Projects (CDP) of the 60’s and 70’s. IMG_0134A government funded community programme, the CDP’s galvanised neighbourhoods, while it’s community workers went native, radically critiquing the state for allowing the collapse of industry and manufacturing. Something along the lines of “If people have their jobs taken, community work is no substitute for employment and justice!”

CDP’s became the ‘Community Projects Foundation’ and eventually the CDF – a public body, publicly funded.

The irony of a state funded organisation working to support independent grassroots community work was not lost on everyone. CDF had its critics, concerned ‘community development’ with all its potential for empowering radical grassroots change, was being commandeered and diluted by government. By the 90’s CDF operated alongside a bunch of alternative independent agencies, each active in supporting different aspects of community development and its paid and unpaid workers.

CDF’s closure follows Urban Forum and Community Development Exchange (CDX) – both supporting distinctive aspects of independent, grassroots community work. Each noted withdrawal of government funding as a factor in their demise.

Maybe in a world of community organising, social enterprise, competitive tendering and commissioning, CDF struggled to find its place. Yet CDF’s closure is a loss to the community sector.

Badly eroded from 2010, CDF had a unique connection to government and once, a seat at the table. This at least provided government with a formal mechanism to engage with and fund community development work. With its closure any trace of this is now lost with little opportunity for remaining national community organisations to fill the gap.

The context for national organisations (Locality, Community Matters etc) to nurture collaboration, assert the importance  of independent grassroots community work and lobby for funding is vanishing. The work is a huge challenge for a sector under siege, already diminished by an exit of government funding, independence eroded by the impact of new funding regimes and increased competition. And any place around the government table has gone.

Community organisation locally and nationally are overstretched and under resourced. The temptation to secure funding at any price is overwhelming – even if it means staying silent when the community you work in is being decimated by cuts, closures, welfare reform and low pay. ‘Take the money and deliver a service!’ Yet a few of these organisations buck the trend, continuing to secure funding, find new ways to operate effectively while amplifying the voices of those most marginalised.

The closure of CDF throws down the gauntlet to Locality, Community Matters and others to promote effective community development, working for social justice on the margins, and to work harder with policy makers and the state – not letting government off the hook!

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