“Community anchor” – big or small? What’s in this term for community food initiatives to think about?

“Community anchor” has become a bit of a cool term, to describe the stature and relevance of organisations within a community to funders and policy makers.  Alongside “anchor organisation” and “anchor institution” (see box insert) this jargon is doing the rounds, and though the language is not new[1], I wonder if we all mean the same thing or share similar expectations about the roles and responsibilities associated with the terms… well that’s what I’m going to explore.

As well as the large heavy object that keeps a ship from drifting away, “anchor” also refers to someone who provides strength or support. Thus a “community anchor” could be an organisation that supports others or acts as a stabilising force – OK so that would mean every community based organisation supporting others is an anchor….Is that all there is to it?  Well possibly not ….

In academic discourse[2] those who own or manage community assets, such as Development Trusts or Housing Associations, are often cited as “community anchors”.   The literature also explores the ways in which they are rooted or embedded in their communities and support or improve the resilience and wellbeing of their community.  Digging into what this really means, or looks like in practice, suggests that a “community anchor” would exhibit the following characteristics:

  • be locally controlled, this may mean having a community-led board or/and have embedded a community development approach in their work
  • is enterprising, some may be social enterprises, though normally they deliver services with, to or for the community
  • work across a range of issues of particular importance to the community, for example, food, housing, employability, physical activity, climate change, cultural and tackling health inequalities
  • partner with a wide range of statutory and community or voluntary sector organisations
  • support smaller community or voluntary organisations within their local area, for example through capacity building or networking activities
  • be involved in advocacy, campaigning or representation, working to develop policy or practice changes that benefit other community or voluntary agencies and community members.

So what?  Many community food initiatives, whether they own or manage community assets, will be able to demonstrate they match into one or more of the characteristics above, and call themselves a “community anchor”.

My question in seeing this language used more freely, (or perhaps better expressed as hesitation,) is could this create difficulties, misperceptions or unrealistic expectations further down the line?

 

An “Anchor organisation/institution” is normally Council, NHS or University, where the expectation[1] is that as employers, procurers and asset owners they can lever substantial social, economic and environmental benefits for the community around them. For example:

  • As employers they can offer secure, living wage jobs, & with links to schools, colleges and job centres provide job placements, apprenticeships or routes to employment.
  • Using procurement policies they can source more locally or encourage best employment/environmentally friendly practices in suppliers.
  • Sustainable travel policies, recycling practices or energy efficiency initiatives all benefit the climate.
  • While additional community benefits may come from use of facilities or land, ie partnering with gardening projects or offering meeting/office space to voluntary/community projects.

 

[1]  https://scottishcommunityalliance.org.uk/about/anchor-orgs/         https://www.schw.co.uk/Community-Anchors-Nov151.pdf

[2] http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1018.3954&rep=rep1&type=pdf      https://pureapps2.hw.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/14734940/cwilliams.PDF

[3] https://www.health.org.uk/publications/reports/building-healthier-communities-role-of-nhs-as-anchor-institution

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