The closure of the Community Development Foundation is a setback for the sector

Being ahead of the game and forging its own future always set CDF apart from many other organisations, writes its former chair of trustees

Tom Levitt
Tom Levitt

So the Community Development Foundation is to close. A proud half-century of history will come to an end in March 2016 as the organisation discharges its contractual obligations in a typically honourable fashion. CDF’s role has always been to investigate the issues that make communities sustainable and facilitate the achievement of that goal. Its initial focus on young people - when created under Harold Wilson’s government - evolved into a broad approach in which social progress, tackling racism and gang culture, economic sustainability and the engagement of business in communities all played their role. 

Partnership and collaboration were CDF’s bywords. Throughout its life its joined-up approach made it highly effective, bringing partners together from different sectors, generations and outlooks to concentrate on what really mattered to communities. It never sought the limelight for itself.

The warning signs were on the door in the lead up to and after 2010: up to then CDF exemplified its broad and inclusive approach in its status as both a NDPB (Non-Departmental Public Body) and a charity. Until then it was funded largely by government and chaired by a government nominee; in the period 2004-10 that was me, and what a privilege that was!

In 2005 CDF moved from the auspices of the Home Office’s Active Community Unit not, as others did, to the newly created Office of the Third Sector but to the new Department for Communities and Local Government. There it developed a high profile role in ensuring that ministers could relate directly to what was happening in the grass roots of the whole United Kingdom.

So when the Coalition government announced a ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’ in its first months of office CDF was a victim. Whilst its dual status and enterprising approach meant that it could transition easier than some into the charity sector its access to government, its place at the table, was diminished; it was wounded and had to make sacrifices, losing half its staff with the end of many national programmes.

That CDF has survived for five more years is a great tribute to its dynamic and inspiring Chief Executive, Alison Seabrooke, whom I helped to appoint ten years ago, supported by my successor (but one) as Chair of trustees Andrew Robinson, an ethical financier with a knack of getting to the bottom of issues and making sober and difficult decisions. Being ahead of the game and forging its own future has always set CDF apart from many other organisations.

The plan to transfer staff, projects, resources and intellectual property, wherever possible, to other (as yet unnamed) organisations in complementary fields is typical of the generosity of approach that has always been CDF’s hallmark. In the months that remain they will work to ensure that their values live on, not as a legacy but because they are the values which unite communities, activists and responsible people in government.

But a magnificent player in that team will have been lost; and the cause of community development will be set back as a result.

Tom Levitt is a former chair of trustees at the Community Development Foundation  and id the founder of Sector 4 Focus

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