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How do we support the next generation of community leaders?

At the moment, too much money goes to the bigger care providers. Ewan King argues we must be better at building local community-based care services.

We all know someone who is hard working, passionate about their local community, knows who to talk to, and, most importantly, how to get things done. Sometimes they manage a small community service, they're maybe an elected member, or they might be a volunteer. Mostly they don't have a formal title, but they are certainly community leaders. Whatever they are called, in an age when we need to be much better at building local community-based care services – using asset-based approaches to developing care and support – they are vital.

In a current local initiative that SCIE is evaluating, this person is called Pamela. She runs a local social prescribing scheme, among other things. She makes everything happen. She recruits and galvanises GPs, volunteers, community interest groups and neighbourhood groups. She builds relationships with local elected members. She knows where to go for little pots of money and gets things moving on a shoe string. She brings people together, she builds confidence, optimism and excitement. She is resilient, persistent and energetic. Every place needs a Pamela. 

But how do you find and nurture local community-based talent? 

Top down programmes like the Community Organisers Programme and the lottery-funded scheme Big Local certainly contribute but alone are not enough. And anyway, there is a danger that national schemes can sometimes miss the point: local leaders grow locally. They cannot be created from on high. 

What could help? Alex Fox, chair of sector Review by the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) and  a trustee at SCIE argues that local authorities and CCGs need to become much better at funding the local voluntary sector and ‘micro providers'. Investment here can help identify the best local leaders. 

He writes: ‘Through drawing on people power as well as money, VCSE organisations are often uniquely able to offer support which looks at the whole person and whole family, thinking preventatively and whole-lifetime.' Instead, too much money currently goes to the bigger, often national, providers, which, whatever their strengths, do not always have a feel for who can best lead initiatives locally. 

Wigan and North East Lincolnshire 

Wigan is a good example of a local area doing this. It has established a community investment fund – the Wigan Deal – which according to chief executive Donna Hall, ‘will support residents with innovative and bright ideas to help the council achieve its vision.' This is supporting community leadership in action.

In other places, it is the elected member who is crucial to finding and harnessing the potential of local community leaders. That is, people committed to making a difference. In North East Lincolnshire, for instance, local councillors have been instrumental in identifying and working alongside trusted volunteers to run local information and support services for vulnerable older people. 

Finally there is co-production. Co-production – the commitment to involve people as equal partners in designing, commissioning, delivering and evaluating services – can be a very effective route through which to identify the next generation of community leaders. Properly embraced, good co-production ensures the full engagement of local people in all decisions around the planning and provision of good care. And it is natural that good leaders often emerge from this process. SCIE's guide on co-production provides a template through which to make this happen locally. 

Faced with growing financial challenges, and fast-changing demographics, local authorities are struggling to find innovative ways to deliver care and support. We need more people like Pamela if we are to overcome these barriers. 

Ewan King is director of business development and delivery at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)

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