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.
With all things disparate, over time connections become weaker, sharing dwindles and the understanding of why we do the things we do becomes blurred in the mist of time. The proverbial old dog pretends that he cannot learn anything new and thinks nor would he want to, when in reality there is always the opportunity to learn and refresh what we are about.
So back to my recent road trip, I was tasked with two others to meet all 39 members of our network and root out their areas of excellence; to discuss the purpose and value of partnership working and how we could become better at it; and from this to draw up a list of recommendations that will help all of us to weather the current funding maelstrom that the poor state of our public finances has led to.
You would think that trying to tie together such a diverse range of charities would be an impossible task, but actually it was rather inspiring and rewarding. We share a common set of values and aims, a spirit of dogged determinism and entrepreneurial flair that quite took my breath away. Yes some of us are smaller than others but all of us are trying our very hardest to support those most vulnerable and marginalised in our rural communities. We encourage these communities to be ambitious and plan for brighter futures through neighbourhood planning, community led housing, community transport schemes, community owned pubs and groups that tackle social isolation. The commonality is to be found in the way that we value and encourage self-help, volunteering, determination.
I am really proud of our network and I am obviously particularly proud of Community Lincs. We may not be the biggest in our network but we certainly punch well above our weight and are prepared to learn from others. So this particular old dog is quite prepared to learn new tricks, especially if it means we can continue to support people in Lincolnshire for just a bit longer.
To find out exactly what we are doing at the moment I recommend that you have a look at our website www.communitylincs.com or follow us on Twitter @community_lincs. I bet there is something on there that would be of benefit to you and your family too, from saving money on your heating bills to finding out what’s on in your village hall. Then maybe you can get in touch to let us know how we are doing.