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Power and leadership

Community Foundations: the secret to empowered communities?

Fabian French highlights empowering ideas from Community Foundations across the country.

By Fabian French, chief executive, UK Community Foundation and Empowered Communities in the 2020s steering group member.

One of the things Brexit has highlighted is how many people in the UK feel disenfranchised and disillusioned. They feel that globalisation, whilst creating some pockets of wealth elsewhere, has not benefitted them. They feel let down by the ‘establishment’ and the status quo. The top down approach of recent governments has failed them.

Community Foundations, as community leaders and convenors, recognise that this is a major concern. We are convinced that strengthening communities from the bottom up is the only way to rebuild our fractured society. We are working to reengage those who feel disengaged and to show that by working within their communities they can take back some control over their lives.

I believe that the work being undertaken by the Empowered Communities in the 2020s research is critical to finding the best ways to bring communities together as forces for good.

Here’s some of what we’ve found is crucial to building empowered communities:

1. Growing local giving

In May, UK Community Foundations called on government to recognise the importance of small local charities and the impact they have on local communities. We argued in our manifesto that one of the best ways to strengthen and support communities is by encouraging philanthropic giving to local causes. We pointed out that the level of need in communities across the UK is growing whilst the level of giving remains pretty much static.

Our specific requests to the next government were to:

  • Strengthen local communities now and in the future by investing funds from dormant assets
  • Commit to growing the level of local giving especially in the areas of greatest need
  • Recognise that small, local charities rely on grants rather than social investment

2. Co-ordinating and directing funds locally

In the wake of appalling tragedy at Grenfell Tower, where the London Community Foundation raised almost £6 million to support those affected, we have been reflecting on the role of Community Foundations in the context of local disasters. I believe that Community Foundations and other local organisations are the bridges that people can depend upon for support. We help people to invest in local communities where it is most needed.

3. Committing for the long term

All Community Foundations have an in-depth understanding of their local area, what the priorities are and how best to address them. Our close connections with local charities and voluntary groups mean we are able to direct donations to where they will make the most difference locally. And that support is there not only in the immediate aftermath of a disaster but also for the long term: we help communities not only to recover but also to become more resilient for the future.

Local charities and community groups: the heart of our society

Community Foundations are often described as the UK’s best kept secret. We make a massive difference in communities, making grants of over £70 million each year. But we know that we are only a part of the solution. So I am delighted that the work of Empowered Communities is shining a light on the importance of communities as a force for good in society. And I am hopeful that the work will guide the voluntary sector to give more priority to the local community charities and voluntary groups that keep our society functioning. Surely that’s the aspiration of any civilised nation?

Click to explore the Empowered Communities area of our website.