Review by Heather Maitland, freelance arts consultant and lecturer
(New Economics Foundation, 2001, ISBN 1 899407 36 7 £7.95 [£10.67 inc. p&p])*
There are between 600,000 and 900,000 small informal groups working to bring social or environmental benefits to communities in Britain. They are a highly effective way of tackling social inclusion but most try hard not to appear on the ?radar screen? of community activity ? they are low flying heroes.
This book explores how these organisations function and how they can best be supported. It is essential reading for arts organisations planning social inclusion and audience development projects as it gives important clues about how to locate these often hidden community partners, how to understand their needs, how they work and how best to work with them.
This research is important because it differentiates between the organisations that we are probably most familiar with - formal community action groups such as church groups and formal voluntary organisations like charity shops - and these informal but ?coherent teams of people with a great idea, boundless enthusiasm and the nous to make it happen?. They are ?can-doers? who want to change things but this means that they don?t fit into any accepted ideas about organisational structures and accountability and, above all, models of how they should grow and develop ? not all these tadpoles want to be frogs. Many resent the attitudes of professionals like us who tend to insist that they can?t do things properly without us.
The authors summarise recent research into community self-help groups, offer insights into the key ingredients for success and the basic types of organisation we might encounter and illustrate all this with a series of brief but fascinating case studies from Birmingham and Hastings.
Read these 84 pages and you?ll be inspired to look below the radar screen in your communities to find a wealth of activity you didn?t even know existed.
(*To order, see SAM?s Books in the ArtsDirectory, page 12)