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Community First – a time to reflect

As many of our supporters will know, the Community First programme will come to an end in March 2015. Since the programme began in 2011, we have awarded over 15,000 grants worth £23.8m to community projects across England. These small grants make an enormous difference to people’s lives, acting as a catalyst for even more volunteering and community activity. The people running these projects have raised a stunning £93.7min cash, volunteer hours and in kind contributions; we salute them!

The importance of small grants is something that CDF strongly values; our ground-breaking research, Tailor-made, launched in the last quarter of 2014 drew a picture of the economic and social contributions that 100,000 community groups make to society every day of every year. We hope these groups use this evidence to support their case locally; at CDF we’ve used it to call on all political parties to maintain funding to small community groups in their 2015 manifestos.

Taking online networks off-line

In April 2014, we launched Just Act, a website with resources, advice and an active forum for community projects. The content on the site has been growing steadily since launch and it now contains over 200 resources to help small groups get started and grow. This year we are very excited to be visiting community groups across the country to ensure the site’s content is targeted and relevant to their work on the ground.

Training other organisations

CDF has a long history of providing training and consultancy to encourage other organisations to practise excellence in their work with communities. These include working with government, the voluntary and community sector (VCS), independent bodies such as academic organisations and housing associations, and charitable trusts and foundations. 2014 allowed us, for example, to develop a bespoke training programme for West Sussex County Council to help teams from across the local authority to effectively work alongside communities.

They told us that the training we provided will allow them to improve their future outcomes: this is why we provide these services. With nearly 50 years’ experience, we use our knowledge and ability to bridge sectors to develop sector-specific support. Our purpose is to work with communities to ensure that local people remain at the centre of change. We look forward to increasing our training and consultancy work in 2015.

Celebrating others’ achievements

2014 was also when we announced our Love Your Community quality mark to recognise organisations which realise the advantages and importance of working alongside communities in their business activities We held a successful launch event in September and in 2015 we will begin to make our first awards to our cohort of pioneer organisations.

The quality mark is also attracting attention from public sector commissioners – who see this as a way to strengthen requirements for the Public Services (social value) Act – and large businesses who understand the value of demonstrating effective community development through their supply chains. We hope we can play a part in shifting organisations’ social responsibility aspirations to a new level – one which robustly reflects the needs and aspirations of the communities involved.

And also this year will see the launch of our new Community Justice delivery standard, to support small organisations to qualify their suitability to act as Transforming Rehabilitation delivery partners within the changed and challenging prime contractor delivery chain from 2015.

Final thoughts

2014 was an exciting, challenging, positive year, one where we laid the groundwork for a variety of projects that are coming to fruition in 2015. A year in which we will continue to campaign on behalf of the issues faced by communities, help give them a voice and continue to build networks between them and across sectors.

We will continue to focus on encouraging, advising and supporting other organisations to practise good community engagement and development, and to celebrate when this is achieved. I wish you all well for the coming year.

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