I help local business owners and organisation leaders who are overwhelmed by how to consistently find new customers or members. I show them how to use community-based marketing methods both online and in-person to promote their business or cause and create a devoted following who keep coming for more.
I’ve been a community development worker for over 30 years on Tyneside, Teeside, in Sheffield and Rotherham ... and then eight years working nationally with Methodist Church, administering their mission and ministry grants with an annual budget of £1.5 million.
You know what? It sometimes feels like I’ve been wasting my time!
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had loads of successes. During the nineties I was an economic development worker in Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley. We set up Attercliffe and Darnell Community Enterprises and several community enterprises. I left a great team in place when I moved on in 1998 and they achieved a great deal over the following 5 or so years.
The problem was they were dependent on grants and eventually the money ran out. Yes, we worked with the private sector but never achieved integration of social enterprise with local business.
I went on to work with Rotherham Council, and worked in the community to write their first community plan. Out of that the Wesley Centre was built in Maltby and this time, it is a centre built to last, sourcing its main income from renting of office space. Here we have a successful and sustainable social enterprise integrating business with community development.
After that with the Methodist Church, I supported many local projects. I used to observe I only heard the bad news because problems were normally the reason projects would contact me ... and many of those problems were caused by grant money running out.
It seems to be really difficult making community projects sustainable. I've seen many other examples of large amounts of public money funding good work for a few short years. At the time it seemed significant. Return a few years after closure and it is as if nothing ever happened.
I was made redundant about four years ago and have embarked on a personal project to deliver community development online. I had no idea how it would work when I first started but I am enjoying working it out. I am seeking ways to find alternatives to grant funding. How do we help communities grow around a marketplace, where people can meet and interact. Can the marketplace help sustainable communities grow?
The work I do is at the intersection of three disciplines:
Web Design – as a part of my redundancy settlement I studied web design. My first plan was always to freelance as a development worker but with the additional attraction of using web design as one of the tools I offer to my clients. It is indeed a useful tool, valued by many potential clients. However it is only a tool, to be successful any organisation needs to understand why it is using that particular tool.
I soon learned that the purpose of any online activity is marketing. I started to study it and soon found a great deal of what I was learning was very familiar. I have been helping local groups promote their message for many years. It has been helpful to learn more about what I have been doing but I am forever returning to my first love ...
Community development is becoming more relevant where we want to build local marketplaces with a human heart. When we understand all transactions depend on trust, we can understand local transaction can benefit from personal relationships. This is not about creating special social enterprises so much as recognising the social dimension of local business and the economic contribution of community organisations.