Community work needs right structure

Bankside Open Spaces Trust is a charity that has restored and now manages a number of well-used pocket parks adjacent to and in conjunction with largely flat-dwelling local communities in the London Borough of Southwark.

The trust is so good at what it does that just last October it was officially branded "outstanding" and given an award by the RHS's It's Your Neighbourhood scheme at a ceremony hosted by deputy mayor of London Richard Barnes. Receiving the award, the trust's director Helen Firminger paid tribute to the "hard work of many local people" in planting and improving the neighbourhood.

Community participation accounts for 40 per cent of the final score for the award - an irony that won't be lost on the scheme's supporters who are now facing its potential loss as Southwark council debates a 78 per cent cut to its funding, offering up instead the exhortation to schemes affected that the "community must now be encouraged to seek opportunities for widening this engagement".

What is happening in this particular corner of London - and, of course, at local authorities up and down the UK - is in many ways the perfect illustration of the fears that have been voiced nationwide this week over the potential for local authority cuts to actually damage community action rather than act as its spur, as so many making the cuts prefer to see it.

In the midst of this debate, Kids Company director and frequent spokesperson for the voluntary sector Camila Batmanghelidjh pointed out on Newsnight that what is needed is the infrastructure to support both the voluntary sector and the state.

Bankside Open Spaces Trust is the perfect example of the kind of infrastructure that is required, utilising its small council grant to raise many times the sum it receives from other bodies and then ploughing that money back into supporting the community's involvement in green space backed up by the necessary professional gardening skills. And its end result? Projects that are vital to local communities such as the tiny Little Dorrit Park, which keeps 100 garden-less children busy after school. It would be a tragedy if they were lost.


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