What the Government can do for London’s community organisations

It's the eve of the General Election and with it comes the possibility for a new approach to supporting Londoners. There will be strong opinions about which party is best for London’s diverse communities, but we’re interested to know what the victorious party will do to strengthen and support the charity sector. What benefits will there be for the small, local, specialist community organisations that The London Community Foundation champions week in week out?

In our last monthly newsletter – don't forget to subscribe if you don’t already - we asked for your opinions on what small charities and community groups most need from the next Government. You did not disappoint – with lots of great suggestions coming through. Thank you to all of you who took time to respond to our question. Here’s a summary of the key themes that came through in your responses:

I would like the Government to be more sympathetic to the important work charities do for their community and an awareness of how much these charities save the public purse...

There’s no surprise that one of the top themes was the need for more funding and grants. All small charities and community groups are feeling the pinch, with rising costs and falling incomes, so any additional access to funding is high on the list for everyone. But it goes further than that for smaller organisations. There’s a need for an acknowledgement of just how important these projects are and the value for money they can provide. At The London Community Foundation, we believe London’s communities can identify their responses to the challenges they face but often lack the resources, so we would endorse this call for greater awareness and acknowledgement.

Guidance offered at a project in central London (Photo: Colum O'Dwyer / The London Community Foundation)

Another theme shared was around the importance of policy and strategy involvement at a formative level. Small charities and organisations aren’t just best suited to deliver outcomes for marginalised communities. They are also capable of being part of the planning and strategies if only given the chance. Your responses to our question included a call for a commitment to make this easier and to help the small charity sector play its part in determining the solutions. True for all areas of society, it came across very clearly for Refugee Community Organisations and the role these Led By and For groups can play in social cohesion and integration for migrants and their families. Their input is needed in improving the asylum system and developing a national integration strategy.

(I would like) ...a commitment to enabling charities to play a formative role in the planning and provision of services to local people...

Strengthening small organisations to become more sustainable – especially in such an uncertain financial climate – was another shared theme. The need for simplifying the regulatory framework which can place such a heavy burden on small charities with either small or volunteer-led teams is vital. Clear guidance and greater support to complete these requirements are also needed and this extends to a need for more investment in capacity building and training too. Funders, like The London Community Foundation, are taking steps towards more opportunities for capacity building and development elements in our programmes but there’s only so much that can be done without investment from central government. Another similar need is the platform to facilitate networking and collaboration between community organisations – building strength and stability while minimising doubling-up of efforts.

The importance of volunteering featured in your responses too. With so many small community organisations run by, or at least underpinned by, passionate, committed volunteers, recognition is needed of the vital role in bringing about local change. Government initiatives that recognise and support the efforts of volunteers, such as tax incentives or public recognition programmes, can help attract and retain volunteers. One response identified a particular need around volunteering; to allow people to volunteer in different charity jobs without the threat of losing their benefits. Access to Work could be offered not only for paid work but also volunteer work. This will allow the charity sector to thrive and give disabled people a chance to volunteer with support.

Volunteers serving in a local project in Streatham. (Photo: Colum O-Dwyer / The London Community Foundation)

The final theme that came out was around maximising community engagement. Small community organisations are already the experts in community engagement and can reach people local authorities and bigger charities sometimes can’t. But with stretched capacities, there’s not always enough resources to be allocated for promotion of community engagement. Raising public awareness about the importance of small charities, community groups and organisations can increase local support and government campaigns and public endorsements can play a significant role in this area. The London Community Foundation will gladly support a call to change the national narrative around the role of local community groups and charities.

These measures would provide a solid foundation for small charities to thrive and continue their valuable work in supporting London's diverse communities.

Whoever is in power at the end of this week, we know that things won’t change overnight. With budgets tightening and difficult choices to make about what issues take priority, any government is only going to be able to do so much. However, what we can be certain of is that The London Community Foundation will continue to champion small charities and community groups across our city. We will continue to listen to the needs of organisations like yours and look for every way we can respond with funding and capacity building opportunities. We will continue to connect London’s community groups with donors and funders and help these groups to thrive.

To find out more about what The London Community Foundation do and how we help to strengthen local community organisations, take a look around our website or sign up to our monthly newsletter: