Over the years I have set up and made sustainable a number of community hubs in a variety of conexts.
This blog post is for anyone who is interested in starting, developing or supporting a community hub.
Below is quite a lenththy introduction which explains what a community hub is. Following the introduction is my ten steps to setting up your community hub.
So you may be a local resident, a member of a community group or a charity, this bloog post provides you with the insights that will ensure your community hub will support and help your local community to thrive.
A well planned community hub provides a opportunity for alternative approaches to service delivery underpinned by the principles of community involvement and partnership
Community hubs facilitate community cohesion by providing a place where different local partners and groups can come together to address local issues and support local people. A good community hub therefore supports a community-focused approach.
A good community hub delivers a range of services that are evidenced and provide endless oppertunities for volunteering.
A hub can deliver services focused on a specific theme for example; a family focused hub, a elderly focused hub, a intergenerational focused hub, a military focused hub or a hub focused on alleviating loneliness and mental health issues.
Listening to the local community is very important to starting the process. Therefore a community survey to understand the needs of the local community is the first piece of work to deliver. A good community survey will also provide evidenece for funders to support your project.
See my blog post about carrying out a community survey https://imagineprojects.co.uk/community-survey-3/
A good community survey also highlights that you have consulted as widely as possible with local people.
Community hubs usually operate out of buildings, from which multi-purpose, community-led services are delivered. With partners providing access to public services. These co-location approaches are an efficient and effective use of resources and local assets.
Community hubs should always provide services ‘for the community by the community’. Local people are involved both in making decisions about how services are run, how buildings are managed, and also supporting delivery through volunteering this model will underpin an enterprising and resilient community organisation.
Typically, community hubs are run and managed by a dedicated community organisation, but in other instances they may be owned or managed by a public agency such as a housing association, or local authority but with substantial input and influence from the community.
Ideally community hubs are multi purpose, providing or hosting a range of activities and services used by lots of different people.
- Parent and toddler groups
- Health and wellbeing activities
- Employment support
- Library services
A good community hub will utalise local buildings and land to provide a base for activites and services. These can be assets acquied through a community asset transfer. Utalising an old school, town hall or sports ground.
Other hubs are created as the result of new development and the utalisation of a 106 agreement.
Community hubs need an income to be sustainable, and ensure they will be there in years to come. A range of income sources is usually required to cover all of the costs for looking after the building, running activities and paying staff. Funding streams can include, grants, donations, hiring out space, delivering contracts, a community cafe or some form of business with a social pupose.
Effective community hubs make use of good ideas and resources within the community and are able to adapt to changing circumstances.
Hubs can bring people together and help them form new relationships and support networks.
They often provide early intervention services, helping people to solve problems before they escalate into bigger problems
They can offer a safe place where people can come in for a coffee or a training course, and access additional services needed such as debt advice, mental health services or counselling without any stigma. In short hubs should be safe places for people of all ages.
Community hubs can provide a more holistic approach to helping people with their problems. They often have an ‘open door’ policy and are able to help people access a range of services under one roof.
Some of my community hubs have transformed under used buildings – mainly churches into thriving hubs of activity, making neighbourhoods more resilient
Community hubs provide a focus for community led regeneration
Community hubs often act as a catalyst to develop local projects, activities and businesses. They can also provide a base for local jobs and services, helping to keep economic activity local. Some hubs act as a location for local economic development.
I’m aware of hubs that have helped establish neighbourhood plans, others have been developed as a result of them
Some community hubs start life as a publicly owned building that are eventually transferred into community ownership when no longer required by the local authority. Old Schools, Town Halls, Libraries, Leisure Centres and Office buildings have all been re-purposed as community hubs.
The diversification of services
Some hubs begin life as a specialist building delivering a service, and diversify the range of activity they provide to become a community hub.
Here are my ‘Ten Steps to Delivering a Sutainable Community Hub
1: Understand local needs and demand
Every community hub is different, influenced by its founding members and the environment it exists within. Before a detailed plan for your hub can be established you need to identify and understand the issues which matter most to local people in your community.
See my blog post about carrying out a community survey https://imagineprojects.co.uk/community-survey-3/
Also consider these options.
A community hub must be grounded in a real understanding of local needs.
Have a look at statistics about your area to understand what the priorities and trends are locally.
Mapping existing community assests, their functions and characteristics in order to understand the local provision.
Developing a community engagement plan setting out how you will continue to involve others as your vision moves forward. A community engagement plan is an ongoing requirement for an effective community hub. The plan could include, knocking on doors, sending out informed surveys, use of social media and public meetings.
2: As part of your planning establish a clear vision and mission with your community
A clear vision and mission helps to provide a clear purpose to your hub, helping to articulate and communicate what you are seeking to achieve. This will help you to remain focussed, and engage with people more effectively.
Once a vision and mission have been shaped by them, a useful next step is to gather and consider ideas for activities and projects that will help you to achieve them.
3: Develop partnerships, and build relationships
The most effective hubs develop strong networks within their communities, and beyond, underpinned by shared values and buy-in to the vision. Useful activities to undertake include, stakeholder mapping, local community leaders, councillors, officers and public agencies about what you want to do
Where possible identify where you have common causes. Think ‘what are their priorities, what can we offer them, how does this help them with what they are trying to do?’
4: Develop your strategic objectives
Develop a set of clear objectives that set out what you will actually do in order to achieve your mission. Your objectives should reflect community needs, as well as local context, focussing on the areas that will make the most difference
The aim is to not develop a huge list of everything that you will do, but develop agreement of the key strategic priorities for the time being. Your specific objectives may be reviewed in time.
5: Develop a business model for your hub
Community Hubs can only be effective if they are sustainable and resilient. Whilst grant funding may be hugely important in helping hubs get going, over- reliance on grants will make your community hub vulnerable
Community hubs often have quite complex business models, relying on a range of income sources to cover their costs and make a profit
6: Secure support and resources to make it happen
Successful hubs need to secure support from a wide range of people and organisations to be successful. This may include, support from local authority officers and councillors, making informed effective proposals to funders
Securing support from the local community to volunteer.
7: Acquire any assets required
Community hubs may be acquired through asset transfer, purchased directly, or built from scratch. Sometimes a trial period provides an opportunity for community groups to test things out before taking on the full responsibility of owning or managing a building or piece of land.
8: Establish an appropriate governance structure
Before formally taking over the management of a building, employing any staff, or securing funding, an organisation will need to be formally set up
Community hubs should regularly undertake governance reviews to make sure that they are working effectively. Useful exercises to keep in good shape include, a review of your strategic plan and business plan at regular intervals.
Capture information and monitor the impact that your hub is making on people and your community.
Review your community engagement methods to keep them fresh and fit for purpose as local needs might change over time.
A very important aspect to consider is how your hub will manage the quality of its services
PQASSO is a example of a quality standard tailored to third sector organisations
Some hubs may be more suited to industry specific quality standards, depending on the focus of work such as the care Quality Commission standards, OFSTED or Matrix Standard
Understanding, and being able to prove the difference your hub makes to individuals, the wider community and other stakeholders will help you to maintain support, and secure funding and resources
9: Diversify your income to develop resilience
Over-reliance on one or two sources of income is a common cause of organisational failure. Seek to establish a range of income sources so that you are less vulnerable or dependent.
- Contracts and service delivery
- Trading income
- Asset based income.
- Don’t be ashamed of making money.
Whilst grants are not a sustainable source of ongoing income, they can be very helpful for start up projects, or piloting projects.
Talk to local agencies about opportunities to deliver services that are in line with your objectives as an organisation.
The bar is generally set higher for organisations wishing to secure and deliver public service contracts compared with grants, so it helps to invest some time in becoming contract ready if you are seeking to establish this as an income stream.
As community hubs often operate at a local level, they sometimes need to collaborate with others in order to compete to deliver service contracts .
Community hubs can often develop locally rooted social enterprises that support their aims, and help cover costs.
Trading income may come from selling services such as childcare, or gym membership, or, through the sale of products whether it is arts and crafts, locally made produce or a pint of ale!
In addition community run shops, pubs, markets, cafes and bakeries are all potential avenues to explore to generate income and provide vital services.
Asset based income
Community hubs often generate income from rent, room hire and license agreements.
This can work particularly well where the tenants complement the social objectives of the organisation.
For example, public agencies sometimes rent space in hubs so that they can provide services at a neighbourhood level such as housing advice surgeries, or health screening services.
10: Adapt to changing needs and environment
Sustainable community hubs remain alive to and responsive to the changing needs and demands within the community. It is good practice for all community organisations to undertake a regular review. This may involve looking at customer feedback, statistics and impacts to date.
It is also helpful to be keyed into local networks, e.g. Resident’s Associations or the local Council for Voluntary Services, in order to be up to date regarding new funding or learning opportunities locally.