John Denham: Community and voluntary sectors vital to local areas

Published 3 April 2010

Communities Secretary John Denham today announced four new steps to strengthen voluntary, charity and community groups. The measures build on ten years of increased support for the voluntary sector which now sees 40 per cent of people volunteering in one way or another.

The four measures are:

  • New support to transfer publicly owned buildings to the ownership or control of local voluntary groups;
  • A series of new grants which will let local organisations become self-sufficient;
  • New guidance to local councils, telling them to make sure that third sector organisations must be given a fair chance to bid for local council contracts; and
  • New measures outlined in the Budget, to enable community groups to raise new finance and to play a bigger role in delivering cost-effective services which prevent, rather than treat, social problems.

The new announcement comes days after the new Civic Health guides were launched that show most people think community spirit in England is strong, people from different backgrounds get on well together and they have a strong sense of belonging. This also comes at the end of a month in which thousands of people were trained to be community champions working with the police and local councils to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Communities Secretary John Denham said:

"Local people often have the best ideas and solutions for their local communities. We want to help community groups access the resources they need to put their ideas into practice.

"I want to help more local people get their hands on local buildings so they can put them to work for the community. Today's announcement further develops our support and commitment to local organisations, from helping them take over the running of a disused building to create a social enterprise or community centre to winning council contracts for local public services.

"We know that services are best when delivered locally so they meet the needs and aspirations of the community - and it is often the voluntary or not-for-profit groups that are closest to that community. They have greater trust invested in them, and they can represent individuals and communities whose voices may not always be heard. They can also often take a more cross-cutting approach to delivering local services - and should be used to their full potential."

Today's package includes:

Recycling public buildings

Twenty more schemes have been successful in joining a Government programme which enables local people to take over local buildings for the benefit of their communities. Ownership of local public buildings typically involves community centres, former schools or old town halls. But it doesn't stop there - other projects being developed include derelict piers, disused railway stations and open markets. Examples include:

  • An old railway station in Bellingham, Northumberland has been handed over to become the town's Heritage Centre.
  • Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire have handed over Hebden Bridge Town Hall to the local community, who plan to bring new life to the heritage building,
  • Acacia Avenue Community Centre in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire has just reopened to provide a range of community facilities including being a base for community radio.

The Advancing Assets scheme, set up in 2007, provides advice and support to groups and local councils wanting to transfer assets, such as buildings that have already used by the community groups or surplus public or private buildings. Today's announcement is the fourth round of asset transfers bringing the total to more than 92 local authority areas that have benefited.

Making buildings work for the community

Nearly £15 million from a £70 million fund has today been awarded to help community groups extend their facilities so they can provide more services for local people including employment training, child care or fitness classes. This can include the refurbishment or purchase of local buildings. More than 170 projects including 12 named today, totaling more than £22m have now been helped by the Communitybuilders programme which provides local community and voluntary organisations with the financial security they need to make long term plans.

They include:

  • £1.03m will enable Islington based Mildmay Community Partnership to refurbish and extend its premises. The centre is already regularly used by 15 local community groups providing services such as housing advice, exercise classes and lunch clubs for the elderly. The works will allow extended usage of the centre by more than 12,000 people a year, space for hire by 46 community groups and increased opportunities for Mildmay to provide additional services for the local council.
  • 4C is a community centre for people in the Waterloo ward of Ashton-Under-Lyne and surrounding districts. It currently operates from a very limited space in an outdated extension to a local church. The investment of just under £1m will provide a new building in the church grounds to serve as a focal meeting point for the community. Over 25 new services will be provided, including parenting support, healthy living classes, a youth music group and employment advice. 2,500 local residents per year will benefit from these new and existing services in the heart of the community.
  • Barton Hill Settlement serves the communities of Barton Hill and surrounding area of East and Central Bristol, including family support, services for young people and over 50s, volunteering, community work, drug and alcohol services, community computing, and a variety of social events. The Settlement works closely with local residents to shape service delivery. More than £1m from the fund will help the refurbishment and further development of the facilities and allow them to expand new office and meeting space for rent.
  • Leasowe Development Trust, Merseyside. The trust will use the £103,000 investment to open and operate a general store which will employ, train and support local people. It will provide a vital facility, particularly for elderly residents and those restricted due to care issues, as the nearest alternative shop is a minimum 30 minute walk. It will become a focal point for local people to meet and gather in the views and needs of local residents. The shop will complement the existing services run by the trust which include a Library, Women's Centre, Wirral Metropolitan College, Action for Jobs and Local Solutions.

Helping local people run their own services

John Denham wants to make it easier for local voluntary groups to compete for council contracts. With the public sector facing a period of constrained expenditure he is clear that they should not squeezed out. Following roundtables convened by John Denham with voluntary groups and councils and the commissioners of public services he has written to councils setting out steps they can take to ensure the expertise of the third sector is not frozen out. The Government is clear that all public services should be ensuring the very best value for money - which means delivering those services that local communities want and need.

Third sector organisations, especially small to medium size ones, can be geared up to bid for contracts and deliver with quality but not necessarily for very large prime or multiple contracts. They are increasingly finding themselves excluded from the commissioning marketplace for local services, which means local innovation is lost. Local organisations can also be closer to their communities and employ local people.

The plans involve:

  • Providing leadership: promote Councillor Commissioning Champions, who are able to understand the complexities around third sector commissioning and willing to champion the third sector's contribution to the design and delivery of public sector services;
  • Tackling inflexibility and lack of proportionality: busting the myths around some of the legal/procurement assumptions commissioners make, and simplifying procedures such as accreditation and rules on consortium bidding, and building capacity on both sides of the relationship; and
  • Strengthening partnership working: promoting outcome-based, partnership commissioning.

Innovative funding for local organisations

The Government is making it easier for communities to get financial support. This includes helping charities and community enterprises to raise money from other sources as well as from government, so that they can survive and grow - even in difficult financial times. The Budget included the following measures:

  • Social Impact Bonds - an innovative approach to identifying how solutions such as increasing funding for prevention and early intervention around entrenched social problems can achieve better outcomes and save money - the interventions will be funded by social investors, and a percentage of these savings generated by the improved outcomes as a result of the interventions would be paid back to the investors. We are establishing a pilot in Leeds which focuses on a programme of interventions, which could include housing adaptations and other lifestyle support, for people over 69 years old, to generate savings in hospital and social care costs by reducing the number of people from the target group suffering second fractures due to falls.
  • Community Shares: Since the Government commenced its two-year action-research project in late 2008 there has been much wider awareness of the potential offered by community share issues, which has led to a sevenfold increase, with 28 enterprises launching community share offers during 2009, compared to an average of 4 per year over the period 2000-2005, and 11 in 2008. In addition to this, at least another 50 community enterprises are currently known to be exploring the option of community investment, with interests ranging from farming, football and pubs, to community retail stores and renewable energy. The Government has put in another £90,000 to accelerate the promotion of community shares through guidance on good practice and capacity building for social entrepreneurs. Current examples and early lessons are described in a publication launched by the Development Trusts Association, which charts a programme for further expansion.
  • Capital Clawback: We are changing the system so local authorities can use their judgement in applying the restrictions imposed on assets funded by past capital grants to charities and community organisations and where appropriate to waive the clawback - in the case of the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) programme this could enable third sector organisations to raise £300m in loan finance. The clawback conditions can hinder more effective community use of the assets because they mean funding may have to be handed back if the asset is sold or its purpose changed - the 'clawback' to central government. The changes being introduced mean that assets can be used more flexibility and the benefits
    reinvested locally.

Notes to editors

Asset Transfer

1. The Quirk Review report on community management and ownership of assets, Making Assets Work, was published in May 2007, and the Government's implementation plan, Opening the Transfer Window, in response a week later.

2. Communities and Local Government has since funded the Development Trusts Association, working with Community Matters, ACRE and the Local Government Association, to establish the Asset Transfer Unit and deliver the Advancing Assets demonstration programme. The programme has already provided support to partnerships in 72 local authority areas to show how asset transfer to communities can work in practice. In each case, the local authority has worked with community sector organisations both to develop a more strategic approach to asset transfer, and to take forward specific projects.

3. Today 20 new areas have been selected to join the programme for 2010/11 - they are:

  • Barrow-in-Furness BC
  • Blackburn with Darwen BC
  • Bolton Council
  • Broadland DC
  • Cambridge City Council
  • Cornwall Council
  • Croydon Council
  • Darlington BC
  • Dudley MBC
  • Durham County Council
  • Essex CC
  • Lincolnshire CC
  • Oldham MBC
  • Plymouth City Council
  • Redcar & Cleveland BC
  • Scarborough BC
  • Somerset CC
  • St. Edmundsbury Council
  • Warrington Borough Council
  • York City Council

4. For more information about the programme - contact Sarah Eustace, Asset Transfer Unit Officer Tel: 0207 3369463.

Community Builders

5. The Communitybuilders fund is delivered by a consortium led by ACF on behalf of CLG and the Office of the Third Sector. The 12 projects being announced today are listed below. For more information about the individual projects contact Karen Keany - communications manager, The Social Investment Business on 020 7842 7726.

North West

  • Ashton Under Lyne - 4C Community Centre - £968,000
    To build and develop a new community centre, which will provide recreational, education and social activities.
  • Leasowe, Wirral - Leasowe Development Trust - £103,000
    To establish a community shop to make the Millennium centre long-term sustainable, which is already a community hub, providing a wide range of community activities. The shop they're planning to use has been vacant for a while, and is the only one in the community.
  • Liverpool - The Neighbourhood Services Co ltd (Alt Valley Community Trust) - £828,000
    To buy and refurbish a disused convent which adjoins the Alt Valley Community College, owned and operated by AVCT. It will deliver vocational training focussing on business and enterprise, offer managed workspace and provide community meeting rooms.

South West

  • Bristol - Barton Hill Settlement - £1,118,000
    The Settlement provides varied community activities and services. They plan to redevelop a part of their site as community conference facilities.
  • High Bickington, Devon - High Bickington Community Centre Property Trust - £1,492,571
    Provide affordable housing, start-up work space, community and sports facilities. They plan to redevelop 5 acre site for the benefit of the community.


  • Camberwell, London - Cambridge House and Talbot - £2,003,000
    Expansion of services provided by Cambridge House through the building of a purpose built office and community space.
  • Bloomsbury, London - Mary Ward Centre - £2,000,000
    Purchase of a property to enable the centre to expand its services providing legal advice, community outreach, adult education etc
  • Islington, London - Mildmay Community Partnership - £1,029,000
    To refurbish community centre to increase income and make it cheaper to run.
  • Fulham, London - St.Andrews Fulham Fields C of E Parish - £1,035,000
    Currently running homelessness project, mum and toddlers group, fruit and vegetable co-op, lunch club for isolated older people and a general drop-in and counselling service. The purpose of investment is to expand their current building by another two large community rooms, refurbish the toilets and the kitchen.
  • Stepney Green, London - The Stifford Centre - £2,003,000
    To build a four storey building on their existing land creating a new community hub which will expand on the current community focused projects they currently offer

Yorkshire and Humber

  • Newlands Community Association, Bradford - £1,037,500
    Multi-purpose: Support community organisations, PCT services, playing fields, community transport, furniture project, provide small grants, NVQ training and assessment. Purpose of Investment is to build a new Enterprise Centre & managed workspaces for the community of Newlands.
  • Hull - Unity in Community - £1,250,000
    To build a new 'social enterprise park' on a derelict former school site on the edge of their neighbourhood.

6. More than 170 organisations have received funding. A regional breakdown is below - some organisations will have received funding in more than one phase.


Community finance

7. The Community Shares Programme: one year on, published by the Development Trusts Association and Co-operatives UK, describes the growth in interest in community shares and their potential for investment in community enterprise, and reports on the Government's action research programme and early lessons arising from it. It is available from www.communityshares.org.uk (external link).

8. More information on the budget is available at: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/ (external link)

9. More information on the civic health reports published on Wednesday, 31 March is available at: www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/1527354.

10. In November 2009 John Denham announced extra support for communities to tackle anti social behaviour including £10 million funding.

Among the measures are:

  • letting local residents know their rights and how to report anti-social behaviour through targeted leaflets to 10 million households;
  • training for frontline staff and residents to learn about the tool and powers available to tackle anti-social behaviour; and
  • extra funding for local work in 130 local areas to tackle anti-social behaviour such as environmental clean up campaigns, supporting community led projects to engage young people and creating more attractive public spaces.

More information: www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/1388243.


Keep up to date with the Department by following us on Twitter (external link).

Media enquiries

Visit our newsroom contacts page for media enquiry contact details.

My favourites