The positive impact of Torbay’s small community groups

By Hayley Tranter, Associational Community Builder
I would like to explore an idea written about by Nicola Frost based at the Devon Community Foundation that looks at the idea of the ‘power of little’. The numbers of action led organisations, groups and charities are not completely known within the UK. The impact that they have is largely incalculable by quantitative measures but we should take a closer look at the invaluable work that they do and how they impact upon the individual. They help to increase the individual’s capacity to become empowered, they also have a positive effect on the reduced number of public sector services that are used and they have a positive effect upon an individual’s wellbeing.
Smaller groups are like the roots that hold our communities together. They are massively underrated and underutilised. More than half of UK charities have an income of less than £10,000 and are often referred to as ‘micro’, but the social significance of these charities is far from micro.
The benefits of being small means that they know their demographic, they know the issues that their local community face, from people living in severe poverty to unhealthy isolation. Smaller community organisations can get into the nooks and crannies of the community and have a real impact upon the individuals living there.
Some of our smaller community groups, charities and associations here in Torbay have a specialised set of expertise rooted within them but this can often be overlooked when they are seeking funding to enable their vital work to continue and often bids go to larger organisations as they can be seen as more effectual.
However, smaller groups are often less influenced by the outside world and can keep true to the people that they support and work with. Not that this is all about funding, indeed a lot of groups require no funding at all.
Grassroots groups are very effective at accomplishing their aims and objectives with little to no funding. After all, how much does it cost to meet up for a chat, which is where some of the genius ideas come from for these small groups. Many smaller groups tend to cover the costs themselves through individual donations, small grants from trusts and foundations and some activities may even generate an income whilst some will never be financially self-supporting and it is proven that more help becomes available to groups that collaborate.
Our smaller community groups bring people together. The impact that social isolation has on an individual’s health and wellbeing is increasingly being brought to our attention. As part of my role within Torbay Community Development Trust I help smaller community groups develop a stronger infrastructure, help them get off the ground and help to link them in to other community groups, this interaction builds social capital and social cohesion.
Smaller groups depend heavily upon volunteers and unpaid local energy. Smaller organisations have less emphasis on a formal volunteer role and in fact many times volunteers benefit greatly from the community action as much as the those that they work with. This brings us to Asset Based Community Development which begins with the recognition that individuals should have an active involvement in improving their lives and that we all have skills that others can benefit from. This helps bring people together for mutual benefit – a sense of individuals working as a collective for the community’s benefit.
Overall, the positive impact that our small local groups have from singing groups to knitting to hula hooping is endless but clear to see in the friendships that are formed, the isolation that is reduced and the increased sense of health and wellbeing so, let’s never underestimate the power of little.

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