Community groups are experts about their areas; trusted by locals and committed to the individuals they serve. Put simply, community groups make life better because they are bespoke to the communities who need them.
In light of the findings of our ‘Tailor-made’ research, we asked community groups to send in stories about how their activities are improving peoples’ lives, via call outs on social media and our monthly newsletter.
Here are four community groups that struck me as being fantastic examples of how local people are improving the lives of those on their doorsteps; I would go as far as to suggest many are unknowingly delivering informal services, relieving pressure on the over-stretched public sector.
Breathe Easy, Nottingham
Breathe Easy provides support to those living with a lung condition to help manage their condition by staying active. As well as weekly exercise classes, they hold monthly meetings where people can share their experiences of living with lung conditions, support and learn from each other.
The group has even made a music video starring volunteers and services users. They share quotes about the difference the group has made, including “I’ve got my life back” and “There’s no cure, but I’m getting better”.
Irwell Riverside Community First panel, Salford
The Irwell Riverside Community First panel shared all the ways community groups have made a difference in the area over the last few years. Community First was a four-year grant programme funded by Cabinet Office and administered by CDF, awarding grants of up to £2,500 to community groups. Panels were groups of volunteers that met to define their own local priorities in order to decide on groups for funding in the area.
They told us that community groups have made the area safer, promoted friendship and community cohesion as well as improving health locally.
They also told us that as a result of this community activity, some of the groups’ volunteers have been able to secure qualifications and others gone on into employment.
Doncaster Wheatley Hills Senior Citizen’s Association
The Doncaster Wheatley Hills Senior Citizen’s Association provides a vital service to older people in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. They offer a range of social activities including lunches and day trips.
Many of their members live alone, many do not drive so are reliant on lifts from fellow members, and a number are housebound but are visited by the more mobile members. This is a wonderful example of how resourceful community groups can be – they provide a service that is the perfect fit for the members of the community who need them most.
Health and Happiness For All, Waltham Forest, London
Health and Happiness For All provides a huge range of free healthcare activities for their local community and provides free volunteer training, to help volunteers work alongside healthcare professionals. Their programme of therapies includes relaxation, a Stress Free Club and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
While support is available through the NHS, this community group alleviates the problems of oversubscription and long waiting lists.
Some of their service users have now become the volunteers, helping to run and manage the sessions. Health and Happiness For All is a great example of how community groups adapt to the needs of the community and how volunteers can provide a lived insight into the problems they are helping to solve.
How do community groups make life better?
I firmly believe that community groups are uniquely able to improve health, empower residents to find training or employment and directly respond to the needs of the community. When working on ‘Tailor-made’, CDF’s Research team found this time and again – you can explore the findings on the report’s dedicated microsite or download the full report here.
Even though community groups are extremely good value for money, offering their services at very low cost or even for free, funding is still crucial to groups’ survival. ‘Tailor-made’ found that without small amounts of funding, much of this activity would never get off the ground. Small grants encourage local people to get involved, helping them turn an idea into an activity and pay for basic running costs, which can otherwise be a barrier to volunteering. That is why CDF is calling for the continuation of funding to small community groups, so that they can carry on providing this vital support.