Giving Week 2021: Celebrating our local community

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On 21-25 June 2021, BD Giving organised its second ever Giving Week. We joined forces with local organisations to deliver free training, exciting talks, opportunities to participate, and shared some funding news. In this blog, we look back at what Giving Week achieved, what we have learned, and what we will take forward for next year.

"Giving Week is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the best of how we are developing and nurturing ways to come together as a community and make long term change in Barking and Dagenham"

Sam Sawhney, Community Coordinator - Model City London (Barking Sports 4 Change)

What We learned

Despite limited attendance to some events, this was largely compensated by additional intimacy with small VCS leaders who shared their experience of successes and struggles – sometimes quite emotionally – through the pandemic. Some of these conversations were difficult, and conveyed an ongoing sense of grievance and distrust, particularly between small and large organisations, as well as organisations that are perceived to or are closer to the levers of power, compared to community groups who actively deliver on the ground. 

In a context where access to resources is becoming more competitive there is a feeling of a winners-take-all culture within the borough, that smaller groups are at best co-opted or more often just sidelined by larger organisations, and that funders do not value their work. This is a key challenge for funders, for the social infrastructure partnership (BD Giving, BD_Collective, BD CVS, and BEC), as well as for other large VCS organisations in the borough. This is a challenge that we ought to address if we are to succeed in our vision to build a strong and collaborative social sector in Barking and Dagenham. 

Whilst it is a good thing to increase the opportunities to get involved, this needs to be done meaningfully and mindfully. The important conversations around addressing power imbalances in the borough that have sprung up over the last couple of years need to be followed by actions that genuinely transfer control to smaller groups. As a local funder we will continue to put a diverse range of people in the lead and to support them to decide how our money should be spent in the borough. 

Equally, we need to recognise that the more we ask people to participate (in workshops, consultations, networks …), the more it risks taking time away from them to do what they love: supporting their community. With increasingly competing demands on people’s scarce time and resources, events like Giving Week can be seen as a ‘nice-to-have’ or in some cases feel like additional pressure for VCS groups to be involved. Some participants reported feeling ‘exhausted’. 

As social infrastructure organisations we need to be mindful of the requests we make of others. In future we’ll be as explicit as we can be about why we are running an event (or a series of events like Giving Week), and be more targeted in our offer, focusing on what participants will get out of it, and whether they will benefit from it personally or if it is something that will benefit the community. 

We also need to think about how we can better recognise the time and expertise participants invest – something we have already discussed in this blog and have started to implement in our participatory grantmaking process.

Lastly, we are all too aware of the incredible toll this year of successive lockdowns and social distancing measures has had on everyone’s mental health and the desire of many people (including us) to reconnect with each other. This Giving Week, we had placed high hopes on the possibility of organising face-to-face meetings and a social event, and enabling participants to simply be with each other, with no other agenda than bringing people together in the same space. The delay of the end of social distancing rules from 21 June to later in the summer shed doubts on the feasibility of going ahead with in-person events, and we made the decision to revert to mostly online meetings but we are genuinely excited at what Giving Week will look like in a post-pandemic world

Overall we are really proud of what we have achieved for Giving Week 2021 and we believe this format has the potential to become an important event for the social sector in Barking and Dagenham. But to succeed we will need to work towards building a local system that creates the opportunities and the spaces for everyone to come together in a way that works for them and, more importantly, in a way that leads to concrete actions led by grassroots groups and for the benefit of our community.

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