Defining Community

There is often confusion around what is meant when you are urged to ‘engage or work in partnership with communities’. Precisely what the ‘voluntary and community sector’ is, how it works and how it differs from community-based organisations and businesses remains a mystery to many.

Here is some insight into the different sorts of organisations operating within the community and the sort of roles they might play.

The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector is the term frequently used to describe this sector that includes many different types of organisation. The VCSE sector is changing as networks are coming together and organising to achieve more together, including through local consortia to bid for contracts, for example.

In the table below, there are different t types of organisation. We have purposely not focused on the legal form – such as whether the organisation is a charity, community interest company or has another underpinning legal form. This is because the legal form is far less important, from the perspective of how organisations might respond, than other factors such as the size, focus, geography, nature of the group and how well networked it is.

Type, features and ways of connecting with ‘community’

Type of community
organisation / VCSE

Typical features

Ways in which the NHS can connect

Individual person who
prefers autonomy

● Unique energy

● Passion

● Self-sufficient

● Offer to make use of what a person has to offer

Individual person who
wants to work with
others on something

● Unique energy

● Passion

● Sociable

● Specific skills or experience to draw on

● Help them connect to relevant people e.g. someone who shares their passion or who complements their skills and ambitions

● Support for specific projects such as health promotion activities
◦ while these are often organised by VCSE infrastructure organisations with local authorities, you could do this through a Local Area Coordinator, Community Navigator or Community Development Worker

Grass-roots community

● Special interest group; may be geographical or thematic focus

● Passionate people at the core

● Self-organisd

● Small infrastructure

● Can be well organised

● Often informally organised

● Flexible

Open to others joining – some may be small groups, while others may have a membership

  • ● Talk to group members
    • ◦ understand their special interest
    • ◦ find out about their ideas/vision

● Ask them how you can help them thrive

● Strategic-level connectors can develop services with them

Associations and

● Constituted groups more formal than grass-roots groups

● Often organised around a particular theme, such as residents associations or parent teacher associations

● Passionate and willing to provide feedback

● Often limited to small set of priorities and may be less engaged on wider areas

● Connect with them to explore their needs and priorities

● Share information and seek feedback

● Can be an excellent way to disseminate information

Centres and Hubs
including volunteer
centres, Children

● Led by members of the community, or with strong involvement of community members in structures

● Have use of local premises to meet

● Friendly, open to others ‘dropping in’

● Place to connect residents to services in an informal setting to break down barriers and problem-solving

● Access to a range of agencies/activities

● View them as service providers in own right

● Always well networked

● Talk & listen to group members

● Get to know them as people, be visible and visit often

● Ask about their ideas/vision

● Ask them how you can help them thrive

● Invest time in them, they are a hugely valuable resource

● Partner with them if they request this

● Run services from their premises – uptake will be high

Local community
(sometimes called
‘community anchors’)

● Some Community-led Centres/Hubs have become community infrastructure organisations through COVID-19

● Varying size from local authority level to constituency level

● Well networked to others

● Organising infrastructure

● Support them to organise community-led programmes across the whole community

● Are often available to, or already supporting, smaller community organisations e.g. through targeted training programmes

● Ask them to connect you to grass-roots community groups

● Invest in them

● Partner with them

Faith groups

● May be large and well-established e.g. church or mosque

● Can be small and informal groups e.g. prayer groups

● Strong links and trust in certain communities

● May have access to niche communities

● Have language skills to reach diverse community

● Passionate and dedicated

● Often have limited resources

● Reach out to faith leaders and find out local needs

● Attend partnership meetings

● Tap into services such as Ward Forums with Local Authorities, residents associations or food banks

● Can be an excellent way to disseminate information or to access complimentary support services

Housing providers –
Including registered
social landlords and

● Formally organised with clear structure

● Vary in size

● Often provide a support package or programme to tenants and sometimes other residents in locality

● May have a focused customer base, including older adults, those with mental health challenges or substance misuse

● Discuss needs of tenants

● Find out what gaps exist in the services

● Understand niche market

● Discuss options linked to specific health outcomes based on market, e.g. drug and alcohol programmes, as fit with tenant profile

Community Interest
Company / Social

● Trades to make a return

● Usually offers services that are useful to the community

● Reinvests the surplus into community benefit

● Predominantly employs people who are from the local community

● They can help to create wealth within your community

● Talk to them about the difference they make (1) to the people who use their services (2) to the people who work for the business

● Contract them e.g. to do catering, grounds maintenance etc

● May be run partly by service users as part of wider support programmes, e.g. mental health support, and can be a useful pathway to support patient recovery and progress

Timebanking UK
(TBUK) and its
national network of
time banks

TBUK is the national
providing guidance
for safeguarding as
well as being the
national voice to
influence policy

● Timebanking is a way to encourage people to help one another and differs from volunteering, its ethos is that for every hour of support you get, you give an hour to others

● Time banks are locally based and for a base where people can trade their time (no money changes hands)

● Time bank coordinators help people realise their strengths and value to the community

● People feel time rich even when they may be cash poor

● The Department of Work and Pensions support Timebanking. It recognised that it can improve confidence and skills for local people who get involved and it has approved timebanking hours as contributing towards job seeking hours

● Connect on a national level to Timebanking UK to help share the learning and benefits of timebanking

● Timebanking is a vehicle to support social prescribing and can be used within GP surgeries

● Support timebanking by helping to embed it into CCGs and other support services via TBUK

● Discover the evidence of health and wellbeing benefits when people realise their own value and self-worth

● Consider using timebanking to support your own staff and colleagues (you can use it as a time bank of purpose)

● See the value in linking community pharmacies, community groups, mutual aid groups and timebanking

Large national charity
e.g. Mind, Age UK

● Regional or national infrastructure

● They lead many programmes themselves

● Not necessarily well connected local organisations

● Sometimes funder or supporter of local services, e.g. through grant awards

● Often have smaller branches that meet more local needs through tailored services, often at local authority level

Private businesses –
CSR programmes

● Often highly skilled

● May bring professional skills such as legal or financial knowledge

● Short-term availability, often limited to a few days

● Many large private businesses offer employees volunteer days as part of CSR programmes and can give their time on a short-term basis to very specific projects, such as running focus groups or providing advice and/or consultancy matching their professional skills

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