Community Anchors: Regeneration Cause or Effect?

Community Anchors are independent, community-led organisations. They are at the heart of their communities, physically and psychologically.  They are able to respond in a holistic way to local problems and challenges, by giving local people support to act.

Community Anchors come in many different shapes, forms and structures but they all share this basic purpose of animating and co-ordinating progress.  You can read more about them here and here.

It seems that there is a high correlation between communities that experience successful regeneration and the development of effective Anchor Organisations.

This has led many regeneration funders to seek to establish Anchor Organisations in ‘failing’ communities in the belief that they can weave their magic and turn things around.  And perhaps they can.

But I have a slight concern.  I would hypothesise that Anchor Organisations emerge from communities that are already working actively at their own regeneration.  They are a natural evolution as independent people and community organisations begin to reach out to each other in the realisation that only through association can they become more effective in their work.

Their success depends to a very large extent on the timing being right and incumbent diverse and fragmented community groups recognising that the development of a successful Anchor Organisation is in their best interest.  This realisation and consensus can take many years to accrue.

If this hypothesis is correct then we should expect Anchor Organisations that have been artificially seeded by external funders to find it tough going.   The local incumbents may not yet have reached the limits of their own development.  They may not yet see the need for the anchor.  They may see it as yet another project foisted on them by funders by more money with sense.

Instead of acting as midwifes to the birth of a wonderful new baby, regeneration professionals then end up putting a premature and often unwanted delivery into some very expensive intensive care – if the baby gets born at all.

I have had the privilege of working with some highly successful Anchor Organisations – which emerged from local people and groups in response to local circumstances and opportunities.  I have also witnessed Anchor Organisations struggle to get off the ground – and most of these seem to have been primarily ‘funding’ and ‘policy’ driven, conceived by outsiders as an appropriate ‘strategic’ response to the needs of local communities.

If my hypothesis is right then Anchor Organisations are a naturally emergent property of communities that are already on the up.  They are an effect of regeneration rather than a cause.

And instead of trying to seed them in communities where they perceive there is a need, funders should focus on facilitating local groups until such time as they decide that the time is right for an Anchor Organisation to emerge.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists,

when his work is done,

his aim fulfilled,

they will say: we did it ourselves.

Lao Tzu

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Comments

  1. Spot on. The Guide Neighbourhoods programme was a good attempt to identify organisations that had become community anchors, and use their skills to mentor others. Naturally, the government decided this was something it wasn’t prepared to keep funding.

    You can read about them here: http://www.housingjustice.org.uk/hjregenerate/gn/guideneighbourhoods.htm

    • Interesting stuff. I think some believe they can mentor by simply ‘rolling out’ services. They encourage others to ‘be like us’ – instead of genuinely mentoring them on their own journey.

      The development process is both subtle and fragile, isn’t it?

      Lot’s of challenges around reflective practice and conscious competence….

      So you too are seeing problems with ‘funding led’ community anchor projects?

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