I have received the following text from the Waterloo Community Regeneration Trust which they have asked me to post here:
A number of unwarranted assertions have been made about the Waterloo Community Regeneration Trust and I feel I must set the record straight. The Trust was established in 2001 to ensure that the community could benefit from the government funding made available as part of the Waterloo Project Single Regeneration Programme (SRB).† The Trust is governed by local residents 9 of whom are publicly elected and 8 nominated by a wide range of Waterloo based community organisations. The primary aim of the Trust is to redistribute the SRB funding to community led regeneration initiatives according to four general themes, to support local community and voluntary organisations, to invest in local community facilities, to tackle barriers to employment and to improve the local environment.
We have just been subject to a thorough independent†mid-term evaluation which has congratulated us on the way money has been spent in this area. In fact the evidence is there for all to see.† Thus far WCRT has funded over 100 projects in the Waterloo area that have been delivered for the benefit of local residents by 65 community based groups.
SRB funding is not an easy process and there are many rules attached to it. If WCRT did not conform to the rules - the money would be lost to the local community. †The application process may seem onerous, but, with the support of our able staff, all sorts of groups have been able to benefit from the available funding. Also through the SRB process groups have learnt to operate in a more business-like manner.
It is our intention over the remaining life of the project to target areas and groups which may so far have failed to benefit from this exceptional funding
I am glad to say that we have received numerous letters of appreciation for the way the Fund has been administered and the work that it has enabled
I deliberately haven't commented in this thread previously, because I have some experience of WCRT (in a professional capacity). I will refrain from offering my personal opinions on it, because I have no wish to cause Sarah any more difficulties or have James receive any further missives of this type.
I will say, however, that is exactly the sort of letter which (to my mind at least) confirms almost everything which has been said above about the attitude of this organisation towards those it is supposed to help and assist in gaining funding.
In particular, the emphasis on (self) congratulation over the way that money has been distributed - when Sarah has made it very clear that WCRT are not (as yet) providing her with any funding, and the implication that this treatment of Sarah and her colleagues is necessary to help her and them to become more "business-like" are difficult to square with the image which Mr Truss intends to project of a community minded organisation working to help local people and local projects.
I do not believe any commercial business would treat its business partners in this way, at least so long as it intended to remain in business.
Siduhe, you have highlighted a crucial point in this thread.
One of the key factors in providing SRB funding to community groups is the support and guidance that goes with it, which sadly doesn't seem to have happened in this case. Unfortunately this is not uncommon.
Groups must press for this support from the beginning and not be made to feel so eternally grateful and honoured to be receivng the funds that they are frightened to speak out!
Sarah, good luck for the future and with your mentoring.
If WCRT were a Council-delivered SRB programme, we would all be able to moan like mad. SBEG seem a lot more sensitive.
Because of the posting the meeting was cancelled. Instead it will take place later in the month without me there. Which in a way is full circle, as others on the Committee had originally wanted to meet without me being there as I was so upset. But WCRT had insisted that I had to be there.
Consequently I feel a lot happier. Whatever the rights and wrongs or SRB rules, it seems crazy that community members who want to contribute to their community have to accept the treatment I received. I was in a bad way, and the Forum was one of the few places I felt I could turn. Lots of you know how hard I have worked.
I also find it astonishing that local people can't have facilities within a park unless a small group of volunteers jump through some pretty odd hoops. My posting may now prevent the park from receiving the investment it ought to have. But somehow I am not ready to accept that the responsibility lies with me.
However more positively:
- we received £7,000 grant on Tuesday to conduct a feasibility study into converting one of the redundant park buildings into a supported employment cafe. Partners include the Camden Society, Lambeth Social Services, and Roots and Shoots - who have a training centre nearby. If the plan stacks up it will also help provide a presence in the park, a safe toilet and above all buns and cakes and stuff.
- on Wednesday the North Lambeth Area Committee confirmed a grant of £20,000 to go towards a trim trail (exercise equipment). This is also really exciting as Fairley House School, which is by the park, is a secondary school for kids with Dyslexia and Dyspraxia and they have a programme (adapted from the space programme) to combat these problems through exercise. They will be helping select the equipment so that it can both serve South Bank joggers, and be flexible enough to be used by the school. Further potential linkages are coming out of this, including a Roots and Shoots interest in using the equipment with their trainees
- today we submitted a £150,000 bid to Waterloo Project Board (who have always been fine with us, and helped finance our management plan) for play equipment in the park, including provision for 5-13 year olds (its all toddler stuff right now even though lots of schools use the park) and stuff for disabled kids. (Right opposite a new Children's Hospital.)
It is difficult for most volunteers to decide when is the right time to step down. I am probably long past my sell-by date, but it is exciting to finally see the rewards of some very hard work. (This is the first time I have ever done something like this - and the last. I have really done my bit.) The issue of what to do is a real one for me and I am grateful for the advice.
I also think it is healthy for a community website to engage in discussion about local issues such as the allocation of local regeneration funding. Many posts on the forum contain opposing views. I am sure that there are many people who disagree with me. But active discussion is surely one of the things that makes a community.
The real irony is that our group is probably one of the more, if not the most, overskilled group in the area. Our capacity constraint is time. (Should I admit that I even spent two years managing an SRB6 programme for a neighbouring borough.) What we really need is funding to help us buy in some of the work that is needed to make our (and local people's) vision a reality. Groups like ours should be able to determine how they run themselves. We have a good track record of delivering projects, and have accessed over a dozen funding streams. The WCRT committee view that they need to tell us how we should run our voluntary group, and what capacity we should commit, is odd.
Anyway thank you all again. Now off to spend my money........
Sarah, I am pleased that the independent status of this website means that we can provide an opportunity for people to question the regeneration process and admit that these processes aren't always happy or easy.
I think it's very important to discuss these things and I don't see that there are many other opportunities to do so.
(Of course, I'm equally happy to allow WCRT, SBEG et al their right of reply.)
We have discussed WCRT here because Sarah asked our advice, but there are many other regeneration bodies all over the country, including others covering SE1, which make a poor effort (and thats a charitable and polite expression of my view) at involving the local community. The targets, outputs and various bureaucratic juggernauts are largely government-imposed, but they are not the only problem. I could give you several examples of how regeneration (and other) money has been spent on furthering the objectives of the regeneration body itself, in direct contravention of the expressed wishes of the community about how it should be spent. One of the most worrying aspects is the setting up of groups which purport to represent locals but do not in fact do so. These groups which are often not elected, not open and in some cases pretty much completely secret, are then given huge sums of public money to spend 'to benefit the local community', but in fact the money gets spent on benefiting the targets and outputs of the regeneration body without any local open consultation (or if done it is sidelined).
Good community involvement is rarely seen. Its very easy for bodies to get away with a nominal 'consultation'. Even groups that have good intentions often fall down on consultation. I have long held the view that it is the professionals who need training and mentoring as much as the volunteers.
I would have genuinely like to have been involved with WCRT. I think the funding they have represents a brilliant opportunity for the area. However they meet in private and even when a group bids for money, you are not allowed to present your case. Hence it is very difficult to achieve a dialogue.
The only ocassion we as a group were invited to take part in WCRT was over a year ago when we were asked if we wanted to nominagte ourselves for the board. The trouble was that a long form had to be turned round in little over a week. It so happened that I had just started a new job, had my daughter's birthday party to organise, and we had our AGM. I genuinely could not find the time. (The mentor claims this was 'another mistake' but if you work and have a family there really are weeks when you can't find the time. )
I know that there are members of WCRT who would like to see us and our project succeed. I am aware that some had not meant that the mentoring should be so savage. But WCRT does not offer scope for a dialogue, and other than one meeting with a member of WCRT staff almost three years ago (where I was called on to explain our policy regarding large and unauthorised events in the park) the one-way 'mentoring' has been all that we have been offered.
WPB have set up a couple of meetings, as they generally seem more predisposed to working with the community - and members of the WPB board usefully supported us in our attempts to get a lease for the park. But WCRT don't seem to want to help.
The SRB I ran, held meetings in public. They also allowed people who had gone to the trouble of completing an appraisal (25 pages minimum) to present to the board making the decision. I genuinely wish that WCRT would reach out to us. I genuinely wish we could be involved in their work. Mums campaigning for a park in which their children can play is a pretty simple agenda.
But as others have observed, the WCRT expectation that groups should operate in a business-like manner is odd. Our group is working hard to meet the various requirements. We have a constitution, we have an elected Committee, we hold an annual AGM, we write newsletters, we do our best to involve as many people as possible. This is as businesslike as a small group can or should be. In the past it seems that WCRT has wanted us to set up as a Trust, or a Company limited by Guarantee. But we considered these options and had good reasons for not going down those paths. Without dialogue it has been impossible to explain why.
I recognise that a number of groups have received money from WCRT and are very hapy with WCRT performance. But most people don't belong to 'groups'. They simply want to see better facilities. Archbishops is the biggest park in the area. Most park users would welcome improvements funded by a fund ringfenced for the local community, whether or not people like me as 'more businesslike' or not. And in five years time I suspect WCRT achievements will be judged more on the real and accessible facilities they improved, than on the volume of capacity building or whatever they carried out.
But again I would really welcome the opportunity to talk to WCRT. But dialogue is not about WCRT shouting.