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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Focus on the strength of our communities

This opinion piece is almost 10 years old

Martin Johnstone, chief executive of Faith in Community Scotland, thinks the Big Lottery Fund should design processes to focus on the beauty of people and communities

Martin Johnstone, chief executive, Faith in Community Scotland
Martin Johnstone, chief executive, Faith in Community Scotland

For the last 14 years, I have been supporting the Church of Scotland’s work in its poorest 5% of neighbourhoods.

For the first few years, to be slightly politically incorrect, the job felt like being a compere at a reverse beauty contest – the uglier I could make a place sound, the more likely I was to attract funding.

I came to realise – probably not quickly enough – that this deficit model is a major part of the problem.

And so we, quite deliberately, started talking about the strengths of our communities and the amazing, creative people who live there.

If we tell people and communities they have problems then it drags everyone down.

When, instead, we focus on our strengths it gives us the energy to overcome the struggles that certainly do exist. It also changes the dynamic of how things happen.

It is no longer, necessarily, about running big projects to tackle vast social problems. But rather about nurturing the thousands of small acts of generosity that change communities.

I was recently down in Birmingham for a few days where I heard about how a community was running a community event celebrating good neighbours. I found myself reflecting on how such an event was probably having a greater impact on strengthening that neighbourhood than the building of a vast new community centre and the employment of staff who don’t live there.

Martin Johnstone is chief executive of Faith in Community Scotland.

This blog was originally posted as part of the Big Lottery Fund's Your Voice, Our Vision consultation process.