Capable Communities: empowering communities in Reading

by Nigel Smith (Community Journalist, Reading Voluntary Action)

‘A major effort to empower local communities and improve the sense of grassroots ownership of local projects.’ This is how Richard Corbett, Director of RVA, describes ‘Capable Communities’, which is a priority strand of Reading’s Vision for 2030, delivered by Reading Borough Council, in association with RVA and other cross sector partners.
Richard champions the initiative locally, which aims to build a greater sense of community throughout Reading and improve cohesion in the delivery of community projects and resources.

Richard explains: ‘Capable Communities will work by empowering communities to help themselves and by strengthening the collaboration between the private, public and voluntary sectors.’ He adds that it will provide people with ‘the resources and support to develop their ideas for community improvement themselves and get them and up and running under their own steam.’

Capable Communities is part of the wider Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) initiative, a partnership of local businesses, charities and public service providers, which is developing a strategy for improvement across all areas of society in Reading. In his role as key lead, Richard Corbett will be working closely with RBC, Thames Valley Police and other public bodies together with local businesses and voluntary groups.

Unlocking potential
According to Rachel Miller, Development Officer (Neighbourhoods and Community) at RVA, there are three broad aims of the initiative. The first is to strengthen local leadership and unlock the hidden potential for leadership within Reading’s communities.

A major resource in delivering this is the Reading Community Enterprise Programme. The scheme will provide training, mentoring and grants for leaders (existing and potential) who can demonstrate they have the vision to plan and execute worthwhile projects. Applications are now being invited so if you are interested in learning more, or know someone you think might be, click this link for further information:

Additionally, as part of a centrally-funded programme, Reading will, from April, have four paid community organisers on 1-year placements, with a possible extension.

These injections of funding and resources for community projects are expected to provide a real boost to the quality and volume of grassroots activity throughout the coming year and beyond.

Encouraging collaboration
A second important aspect of Capable Communities is improved networking and collaboration between existing community organisations. Rachel Miller explains that many groups are already delivering valuable benefit to their communities, but cohesion between these groups can be improved. Connecting groups more effectively will lead to better coordination and a more efficient approach to project delivery.

One example of this is the Community Buildings project being facilitated by RVA. This promotes collaboration between groups and provides a better platform for publicising the community spaces they manage. Another is a move to encourage wider awareness of the work of local groups, which will encourage greater participation and a sense of ownership by local people.

Capable Communities will also facilitate the use of private businesses which can provide specialist expertise and knowledge. By sharing resources and ideas, for example at quarterly ‘network lunches’, groups will be able to build on what is already there by disseminating information, advice and ‘best practice’ across the wider local community.

Improved online resources
A third facet of the initiative aims to strengthen the quality of resources available to community groups. This will be particularly relevant to those in community development roles. Rachel explains that, at this level, some very simple resources can make a big difference to the effectiveness and visibility of community projects.

Your community event advertised here? A new web page will show the whereabouts of over 40 noticeboards around Reading.

A range of new online resources will provide useful information for community organisations:
• An online register giving details of available sources of grant funding, for example Community First, and the application processes for such grants. This will provide clarity on what can sometimes seem a bewildering area.
• A register of community buildings and spaces available for hire and the relevant contact details.
• A simple mapping web page showing the whereabouts of community noticeboards. It will provide additional information, for example who administers the noticeboard and the process for getting notices displayed.

These resources will be available via the revamped RVA website, which is planned for delivery in April this year. To complement this, RVA will work to promote better ‘digital inclusion’ (IT and internet awareness) for all areas of society.
Rachel Miller believes these initiatives will enrich to the lives of Reading’s inhabitants, and will lead to an improved sense of community, cohesion and togetherness.
Capable Communities is just one strand currently being worked on by the LSP. Two other strands entitled ‘Cultural Life’ and ‘Breaking the Cycle of Poverty’ are also at the advanced planning stage. We will be bringing you news about these other strands in further articles in the near future.

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