Kevin Curley: A trip to Clacton-on-Sea was extremely bracing

The strength of the local CVS and the thriving volunteer projects in the deprived community of Jaywick are encouraging, writes our columnist

Kevin Curley
Kevin Curley

I live in a Derbyshire village far from the coast, which makes the prospect of a trip to Clacton-on-Sea appealing.

So I was pleased last month to be invited to speak at Community Voluntary Services Tendring's community conference on "a strong tradition of making a difference". The hall was packed with more than 100 people from Tendring's voluntary sector. At the top table were the chair of Essex County Council, the chair of Tendring District Council and the chair of the CVS. For the first time in my life I could begin my speech with "chair, chair and chair".

The top table demonstrated the importance for any CVS of working well with the local political leadership. Sharon Alexander, CVS Tendring's chief executive, has established a reputation that gives her access to any senior politician or council officer. This is a crucial part of fulfilling the CVS representative role.

In recent weeks Sharon has negotiated a strategic agreement with Tendring Council that guarantees sector representation on the Health and Wellbeing Board and provision of the Big Society Fund, which provides grants to community groups and parish councils. This work isn't without controversy, though, and sometimes community activists will accuse a CVS of being too close to local government. Sharon walks this tightrope with skill; other local sector leaders could learn much from her.

My day in Clacton also gave me the chance to visit the unusual seaside community of Jaywick. In her book The Story of Jaywick Sands Estate, Mary Lyons describes how people bought plots of land in the 1930s from developer Frank Stedman for as little as £25. Lyons writes: "London's East Enders escaped the drudgery of city life and found at Jaywick a place where they were free to build their own homes with their own hands, unhindered by planners or building societies." But by 2010 poor house construction and poverty led to the labelling by the government of East Jaywick as the most deprived area in England.

Gill Elkins, secretary of Jaywick Community Forum, says "there is a strong sense of community here. Our biggest issue is youth unemployment." Councillor Dan Casey, who chairs the Golf Green Hall community centre, has focused his efforts on raising money for social housing. "We expect work to start on the first 20 houses before Christmas," he says. "The building work will train our youngsters and the houses will go to local people." He points to the volunteer-run library as a demonstration of the community's strengths: "When Essex County Council closed the library in Jaywick, 20 volunteers came forward to keep it open."

A day in Clacton gave me the chance to see a strong CVS at work and community leaders addressing some of Jaywick's problems. I came away encouraged.

Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser

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