So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night…

As I was driving to an event the other day, I listened to a programme on Radio 4 all about the song ‘Favourite things’ from the Sound of Music. It transported me back to my childhood and I remembered, as did the contributors, the things that were happening back then and what the song meant to me. There are probably very few people my age in this country that won’t have seen this film, although they may be split on how much they like it!

Looking back you can see the messages that Rodgers and Hammerstein were trying to convey through their beautiful songs including ‘So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye’ and this one is particularly poignant for me at the moment as I am saying goodbye to Community Lincs after sixteen years.  I strongly believe that everything has time and a place and also an end and for me it is now time to leave Community Lincs.

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Virtuous Circles

You may have noticed from previous blog posts that we have a bit of liking for cake here at Community Lincs; and biscuits and ice creams. In fact we seem to enjoy doing plenty of things that aren’t necessarily good for us in large quantities.  Mostly I adhere to the theory that a little bit of what you fancy, does you good, but I might have to admit that a little bit is sometimes a big bit.

It doesn’t help that as office workers we have a very sedentary life and that is why we have decided to get together to undertake the world walking challenge. We reckon that in teams of seven, if we manage to do 10,000 steps a day we should be able to walk across a state in Australia in three months. That’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider how little exercise we currently do.

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Let me introduce you to my family – the ACRE Network

If you’re reading my blog you are probably familiar with Community Lincs and some of the work we do and you are also probably interested in things that have an impact on rural communities. What you might not be aware of is the fact that Community Lincs is part of a national network of charities that supports rural communities all over England. Our network is one of the few that still receives funding from a Government department – in our case Defra; and we like to think this is because they really value us and the work that we do for thousands of people living in rural locations.

There are 38 of us at a county level all supported by our national body ACRE and we provide a wide range of support, advice and direct help to 52,000 voluntary and community groups delivering important everyday services. Between us we have 800 staff and 340 committed trustees and our combined turnover is £33.4 million. That’s enough to do an awful lot of good in rural England. The ACRE annual review for 2015/16 highlights some of our work and achievements and provides a really good insight into the wide ranging expertise we have at our fingertips.

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Old dog, new tricks?

I’ve recently spent quite a bit of time driving around the country visiting our sister charities in the south west. Like us they are independent rural community development charities and part of the national ACRE Network but each one is subtly different from the others. Each charity was established by local people in response to local needs and demands and as a result they offer different services; and yet there is a common thread that links us all together. Over time these charities have come together to form our national network and this network is unique – 39 members covering the whole of England, dedicated to improving quality of life and life chances for rural people.

Our predecessors recognised the strength that came from working in partnership with others and strove to help local communities benefit form a national support system. Many good things have resulted from this including the development of shared projects and best practice, the creation of other charities such as the Community Foundations; and the provision of top class support for thousands of community owned assets. All of which has been underpinned by our network contract with Defra.

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How can we become more relevant?

2017 is going to be an interesting year for Community Lincs as we struggle with the questions what should we be doing and how are we going to pay for it. This is our 90th year and it feels as if our services and skills are going to be in more demand than ever before. Helping self-reliant and compassionate people to set up Good Neighbours Schemes, commissioning new services to reduce the isolation experienced by older people and working with communities to plan for their future economic and social needs are all massively relevant right now. Particularly in rural Lincolnshire where it’s so hard to access services and jobs; and now with the Brexit referendum having thrown so much up in the air I fear that the needs of rural communities will become even harder to see.

We recently surveyed our service users and beneficiaries to assess what they knew about us and how they valued us and I have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed by the response. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t appreciate and value what we do, it was more that so few people took the time to let us know what they thought. I have to consider whether this was because they really didn’t like what we were doing but were too polite to say or whether it was because we just don’t figure largely enough in their universe, when I really think that we should.

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