Comment: Let communities speak for themselves

Readers will be aware that I have used this column before to pick up on the agenda that was writ large across the Government's third sector review: the idea of the sector as a 'community voice'.

John Knight
John Knight

The principle seems to be to use the sector to bring the Government closer to local communities, and vice versa.

Much of the sector is deeply embedded within communities, specific client groups and localities. What is more, the relationship between charity and beneficiary is necessarily close, almost interdependent. Without their beneficiaries, charities would not exist.

Getting the 'community voice' approach to work means making sure we genuinely represent our beneficiaries and shout their concerns from the rooftops. More importantly, it also means helping people to speak for themselves rather than doing it on their behalf.

In this spirit, third sector minister Phil Hope recently met one of Leonard Cheshire Disability's campaign action groups. CAGs are groups of disabled people who campaign locally on any issue they choose. They receive support, if they want it, from the charity's local campaigning team, but tackle their own issues and run their own campaigns. This group's main campaign is focused on the state of the pavements in its area.

In discussions with CAG members, Hope repeatedly stressed the Government's enthusiasm for getting more people involved in campaigning on issues that matter to them. He gave them some tips on how to take their campaign forward, but was much more interested in hearing what the members had to say about how they got involved with campaigning and what the Government could do to enable them to be more effective.

This 'voice of the community' approach is one to which Hope seems genuinely committed. If this approach can help us make sure that the people we work with can be heard at the very highest level, particularly those who do not have a voice, then it will be a worthwhile initiative.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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