Wednesday, 12 December 2012

As people keep saying, Boston has just received the most amazing Christmas present in the form of a £1 million grant spread over the coming ten years – so why do we feel a little uneasy?
The award has been made by something called Big Local – which is to do with the National Lottery – and is “about bringing together all the local talent, ambitions, skills and energy from individuals, groups and organisations who want to make their area an even better place to live.”
We feel uneasy because of the constant emphasis that it will be entirely community led and controlled,  and that there will be no interference from any of the powers that be that usually crawl out of the woodwork when any free cash is on offer.
click to enlarge map
Announcing the grant on BBC Radio Lincolnshire on Monday was Mandy Exley, the South Lincolnshire Community Voluntary Service Community Development Officer.
The six most deprived wards in Boston are set to benefit – Staniland South, Pilgrim Ward, Skirbeck Ward, Boston Central, a small portion of Fenside,  and Witham Ward.
“There’s no government arm in Boston involved in any of this,” said Ms Exley. “It is totally community led. Myself and colleagues and partner agencies of the Lincolnshire Community Foundation –  the biggest grant making trust in Lincolnshire –  have a wealth of expertise in facilitating grant funding, and we’re all going to be working together to help the residents work very, very closely with the lottery so the residents are equipped to manage this funding. There will be extensive community consultation done right across Boston, so everybody will have a say.”
Ms Exley suggested that Boston had hit the ground running, via  the Placecheck scheme, which in recent years has managed five projects in conjunction with Boston Borough Council and the SLCVS.
Each area received £10,000 to spend, with an equal amount swallowed up by management and admin costs.
And amazingly – despite the fact that there were five quite disparate areas, the money went on very similar projects, many of which should already have been provided by the council  – such as litter collection, gardening projects for school kids, tarting up local community meeting places, bulb planting projects, sports equipment, and  more litter and dog waste bins.
Ms Exley continued: “We’ve now got five neighbourhood action groups  ... 75 community activists already in Boston, so in a way we’re ahead of the game. We’re already working at the grass roots level with some fantastic residents who have come forward who want to make a difference to their area and have made a difference, and the thing is this is just building on the success of Placecheck.
Forgive us if we feel that – whatever the residents wanted – there was a strong sense with Placecheck that the real hands on the tiller were those of the council and the SLCVS.
This week we have heard pledges such as “It’s down to the residents, and I can’t stress that enough. It is totally resident led and that’s the uniqueness of it…” and “This money will not be dictated by Boston Borough Council; it will not be dictated by our organisation, the CVS.  It will be total dictated by the local community. We are absolutely there to galvanise this community into action. It is their say where this money is spent …”
Such promises are all very fine, but it seems to us that the core administration of this lottery largesse is going to be through Placecheck members who were initially organised and to an extent led by Boston Borough Council and the SLCVS.
If this new project is truly to be run by residents, how will this be achieved?
It would be daft to think that a hard up borough council and a community organisation that is always begging for money – remember the £1,000 grant for chalking on the pavement? – will not be salivating at the thought of so much money sitting there waiting to be spent. And we are sure that Boston Business “Improvement” District would like to snaffle some of it as well.
You can almost hear the argument … what do those mere locals know about the needs of their wards when there are “professionals” out there to tell them?
We hope that it will be possible to deliver on the promise of independent, local people deciding what’s best to spend money on in the areas that they know better than anyone else.
But we can see a lot of obstacles in the path of such a goal.

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