The power of community led decision making

Councillor Ellie King is pictured, smiling, with Bristol's City Hall in the background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health and Labour Councillor for Hillfields ward.

Residents are at the heart of our communities. A big focus for us is to build the power of organisations and individuals in these communities and help them play a bigger role in making a difference and increasing resilience.

It’s for this reason that we wanted to involve our communities in the decision-making process for the allocation of the Community Resilience Fund. We wanted the community to be central to deciding which projects should be funded and are most vital for their part of the city.

The Community Resilience fund, launched in July 2022, is a one-off capital grant fund of £4 million to support community organisations and groups based in and working with the most deprived areas of the city. Some of the funding is also being allocated to city-wide groups supporting equalities communities.

Following the launch of the fund, last summer Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations in the eligible areas of the city, and across different equalities communities, led conversations in their neighbourhoods to identify potential projects.

The VCSE sector has been under a huge amount of pressure over the past few years, first with the COVID-19 pandemic and then the national cost of living crisis, with very little support provided by central government. The aim of this fund is to help these organisations and groups recover from the pandemic, increase their sustainability and help them continue the vital work they do for the long term. Grants are a minimum of £50,000 for community groups in the eligible areas of the city and £10,000 for equalities community groups. Grants could be used for projects such as improving access or community buildings, saving energy costs or upgrading digital infrastructure.

A group of people are pictured sat around a table, smiling, at Bristol City Council's Community Resilience Fund decision making event. There is art on a wall in the background.

The most important innovation of this fund was the process of community-led decision-making. This was co-designed with community and voluntary partners and councillors from across parties.

We wanted to involve people who know their neighbourhoods and communities best and use their life experience and local knowledge to help us make decisions that will really benefit local organisations and their communities.

We put out an invitation to find residents who wanted to take part in the decision-making. The fact that 230 residents from across the city apply goes to show the appetite from the community to be involved in projects like this.

In the end we recruited 100 residents to form 7 decision-making groups for the areas in which they lived. They were joined by 22 ward councillors and a number of community and voluntary groups. Together they agreed how the funding should be allocated.

The decision-making groups discussed each project proposal in detail. They were asked to consider key aspects of the proposals including:

  • how well the projects would build the resilience of the organisation
  • how communities experiencing inequality would benefit
  • whether the projects were deliverable and good value.
A person is pictured holding a piece of paper and speaking to a group. In the background a projector has a picture of a blue 3D square with text reading: Value for money.

The groups met between four and six times before making their final decisions about what to fund. I sat on one of the decision-making groups and found it inspiring to see so many people from different backgrounds coming together to consider some really strong projects that would help community organisations and groups continue their incredible work.

Now, the final part of the process is for the successful groups and organisations to develop and submit a full plan outlining how they will spend their money and carry out their project. Depending on the scale of the projects, and once their plan has been approved, it is expected we’ll be able to award grants towards the end of the year.

I would like to say a huge congratulations to the community organisations and groups who have been successful and thank everyone who took part in the decision-making process. Thanks also to those who took the time to apply. We appreciate the work that all of you do. You can find the successful groups here.

My hope is that we’ll be able to use community-led decision-making again on future projects, to keep building relationships with residents, and ensure they have a say in what they really need.

The Community Resilience Fund logo is pictured, different coloured blocks with cartoons on. Text at the top of the image reads: Community Resilience Fund, investing in Bristol's community organisations. Text at the bottom of the image reads: