This ongoing project brings together researchers from Cardiff University with workers from two community anchor organisations in South Wales: one based in the Riverside area of Cardiff, and one in Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil.
Our project was initiated in response to the Welsh Government’s decision to phase out the Communities First programme, after declaring in February 2017 that it had failed to meet its goals. Prominent statements from politicians and media outlets, about the programme’s failure, contrast strongly with the accounts of community workers on the ground, many of whom sense a profound local loss as community projects are demolished and the Communities First workforce is scattered.
Meanwhile, some longstanding community workers in South Wales are taking a more nuanced view, mourning the end of Communities First projects, whilst also criticising changes to the programme’s goals, power structures and evaluation processes over its eleven-year course.
When it comes to the end of Communities First, emotions are strong and opinions are split.
Whilst the end of Communities First is not the focus of this project per se, we believe that it marks a pertinent moment at which to reflect on the nature of work done by community anchor organisations. In particular, the starkly different views ‘from above’ and ‘from below’, regarding the success or otherwise of Communities First, would seem to suggest that the value of community anchor organisations remains somewhat hidden from policymakers.
We see an opportunity here for community workers and academics to work together to better understand, articulate and promote the value that community anchor organisations hold, and also to explore the challenges faced by community workers as they mediate between government agendas and the needs of their communities. As the organisations now enter a period of reflection and reconfiguration, such questions are at the forefront of people’s minds.
Through a combination of ethnography, interviews, collaborative meetings and artistic interventions, our project aims to articulate and shine a light on the work of community anchor organisations, gaining a better understanding of the nature of their relationship and responsibility to community members. Who do these organisations serve, what kinds of approaches and craft skills does community work demand, and what sorts of ethical and practical dilemmas arise when organisations work between government agendas and local needs?