As a wide-eyed trainee Probation Officer back in the mid-1980s, I undertook a three-month placement with Sunderland social services. One of my initial tasks was to map community resources in my ‘patch’, an area of multiple deprivation in inner city Sunderland.
There were several small grassroots organisations striving to deliver services. They lived a ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence in terms of funding, but what really struck me was the approach of the individuals involved – their enthusiasm, good humour, dedication, and general ‘can-do-ness’.
Fast forward 40 years (gulp) and my role in the VRU gives me the opportunity to visit some of the grassroots organisations we support through grant awards. The perennial struggle of funding endures, but the values and attitudes I experienced on Wearside continue to shine in individuals leading these South Yorkshire projects.
Whilst this provides a good counterbalance to these cynical times, a clear evidence base as to the impact and effectiveness of individuals in these community groups could be very powerful. South Yorkshire VRU’s evaluation work is likely to identify themes, but capturing the right evidence is likely to fall into the category of ‘more research needed’. However, personal experience would suggest that small actions and small groups of likeminded people working together make a difference.