BIG promotes a positive approach to community building

The Big Lottery Fund is the largest single funder of the community and voluntary sector (more than £1.6 billion since 2004), providing over 9000 small grants last year through Awards for All alone. As it says in its strategic framework, it is also committed to being an intelligent funder not just a distributor of cash.

It is therefore significant that BIG is putting a lot of emphasis through its People Powered Change programme on what’s known as Asset Based Community Development. Put simply, this means looking for the skills, wisdom, creativity and enthusiasm of people in local communities rather than just starting with the problems, packaging up projects to meet the needs, and saying “give us the money”.

If Government were promoting the approach you might be suspicious that it’s all part of deficit-reduction and cuts … but coming from  BIG it is perhaps more credible, not least since they have a lot of successfully-funded projects to point to. In hard times we do have to do more with what we have – but that can be a good thing anyway.

Yesterday BIG hosted an event in London where we heard from international proponents of ABCD –  Jim Diers and Cormac Russell – and also from Anne-Marie Yiannis of Peckham Settlement. Jim writes here on the ppchange site, and Cormac has produced an excellent guide (download pdf) to the 12 domains of activity where people can change their lives and bring about solutions to their problems.

After the event I talked to Jim and Cormac – asking Jim how things had changed since we last met up just before the launch of the Big Society manifesto. You can see that 2010 interview here. Earlier in the event I interviewed Cormac while we were playing a game – actually a serious exercise devised by Tessy Britton and Cormac.

Over the past few months Tessy has taken the idea of ABCD on the road through Travelling pantry workshops, and made the ideas engaging and understandable through the stories in Hand Made Books. Do take a look here.

For yesterday’s exercise we cleared away the coffee cups on our tables and opened up some beautifully designed packs of cards that enabled us to lay out the 12 domains (like health and wellbeing, safety and security, the environment) down one side, and then across the top choices about things only we could do on our own, things only government could do, and things that needed citizen-government collaboration. We then had to sort lots of possible activities onto the grid.

The government-only areas were far more sparcely-filled.

You can read more about Cormac and Jim’s organisation Nurture Development UK here, and also join a European online community about ABCD here.

I believe that the cards exercise will be available for DIY use, and I’ll see if I can find out more about that and report back. I like the way that the exercise puts a framework for thinking about strengths-based community development on the table and provides some conversation starters.

You can see from blog posts here that Tessy’s repertoire of workshop props extends to Lego and beyond, so that talking moves toward creating together.

One thought that occurred to me yesterday: the next creative step for Big Lottery might be to think about ABCD at national level. We have an enormous wealth of creative talent among different organisations and individuals working with communities, but often we end up being protective of our skills and ideas in order to pitch yet another funding bid or tender at funding agencies. Groups outside London can feel disadvantaged in this process, and it is enormously frustrating and wasteful.

BIG is unusually well-placed to act as convenor and encourager of a more open approach – helping us figure out where we have to compete, where we might collaborate with each others, and how we might work more productively with agencies. That would be a good game.

Update: More videos from Guardian Voluntary Sector Network


  • Steve Dale
    June 21, 2011 - 5:34 pm | Permalink

    The card exercise looks very interesting – would like to know more. Will look out for future posts.



  • Lorna Prescott
    July 2, 2011 - 9:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this David (and Tessy in your post) – I find this really inspiring and potentially hugely relevant to work we’re developing in Dudley around Our Society (see http://www.our The most helpful thing to hear in your feedback is that the government-only areas were the most sparsely filled. I wondered if involving local government officers in an activity like this could help to change perceptions about their role and what is most important.

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