Today I found my way to Community Links – meandering amongst the road works and reconstruction taking place in certain parts of the London Borough of Newham.
When I arrived at Community Links, I managed to catch the last of an open access advice session and I could see that this was a great way for people to seek help from very experienced members of staff.
I had a chat with David Robinson and Maeve McGoldrick and we covered some really important themes which included:
1. Contracting for public services
2. Public sector procurement and whether it is weighted against voluntary and community sector organisations.
3. Who assess the use of sub-contracts – for example in the Work Programme.
4. The changing language of public/private/voluntary sector partnerships.
5. The need to deconstruct current approaches to personalisation.
7. Prevention of social problems and the work of the Community Links task force
8. Early intervention childcare and youth work
9. The value of open access services.
We were then by joined by Geraldine Blake and the Chair of Trustees and we then covered another really interesting discussion which covered a number of topics including Community Hubs.
We concluded another discussion by concentrating on how their experience informs policy development and how they feed into policy discussions at a local and national level.
The changing economic climate and what the potential and limitations are of securing further funding from the private sector. We also examined the need for government to look more carefully at creating an infrastructure of support for community based organisations. There’s also the issue about how procurement and commissioning by local and central government needs to change to create more of a level playing field for the sector in bidding for contracts to deliver services. There is, for example, a need for government to engage suppliers in drawing up a community framework.
Overall I was hugely impressed and the range and scale of work being carried out by Community Links. Many services were open access and clearly addressed the need for local people to get advice and guidance to help them address the problems they were facing. But it went further than this. Staff seemed fully engaged in the process of not only helping people but giving them skills and knowledge to help themselves. They were also trying to develop skills to prevent problems arising in the first place.
Just as I was leaving David Robinson gave me reading material. I reflected positively on the fact that not only are they an active staff – developing and delivering important services – but they also write about their work and seek to influence policy discussions. I was just hugely impressed.