Led from the margins: our membership and management structure
The Resource Centre prioritises work with groups from the most marginalised communities in our city: those in areas of social housing, those of black and minority ethnic people and of disabled people. All of our work is led by the groups we prioritise. The Centre’s membership is made up entirely of groups in marginalised communities and representatives of these groups elect our Management Committee from among themselves. Each person on our Management Committee is a volunteer activist in a small community group, based in a community which is excluded and marginalised in society.
Despite Brighton’s cosmopolitan and prosperous image, these groups are often unrepresented in the city and are locked out of the structures of power by a range of intersecting barriers:
- Local residents in areas of social housing – our membership list includes tenant and resident associations, school PTAs, sport and social groups based on estates, where people often feel forgotten and ignored by the key institutions of the city, and experience practical and financial barriers to equal participation in the city’s cultural and democratic life.
- Black and minority ethnic communities – both new and established BME communities in Brighton & Hove have developed self-organised groups as a key mechanism for supporting their members to deal with issues such as racism, language barriers, access to housing, maintenance of cultural heritage, fragmented communities and isolation.
- Disabled people – systems designed for non-disabled people often make everyday activities – such as travel, meeting others, attending events and getting a job – more difficult than they need to be, leaving many disabled people isolated and living on low incomes. Groups run by and for disabled people run activities that are accessible by design, and enable their members to find a sense of belonging and autonomy.
For all these groups, the issues faced by individuals in their communities make organising in community groups both more important and more difficult. Low incomes, precarious work patterns, geographical isolation, health inequalities and language and literacy barriers mean that organising a group is more challenging in the very communities where groups can make the most difference.
Their experience of working with these challenges and overcoming these barriers make activists from these groups particularly qualified to direct our support work with other small groups.
Because the Resource Centre is led by volunteer trustees drawn from communities that share this experience of exclusion and self-organisation, the work of the organisation as a whole is oriented towards practical action to help member groups counteract the imbalances they face. We do this by:
- Providing additional services for member groups, free of charge and at a time and place that suits the group volunteers involved. This contrasts with their experience of being excluded in practice – by lack of funds, distance to travel or inaccessible premises – from services that are nominally open to all.
- Responding to specific requests from member groups as they arise, rather than expecting groups to fit in with a schedule of training courses. This enables member groups to set their own priorities for the support they receive from staff, and respects that they are the experts regarding their own needs.
- Integrating member group services with our open-access front desk. This helps to make the Resource Centre a welcoming and diverse space, where member groups can feel confident about being treated respectfully.
- Putting the interests of our member groups at the heart of our evaluation and development process. This helps us to focus clearly on the benefits for groups of any potential change, and to concentrate our fundraising efforts on the priorities of our member groups, rather than those of funders.
- Learning directly from member groups about what works for them, and making these lessons available to the wider community through our online information service.
“The Resource Centre offers a way for small groups to collaborate and learn from each other, without compromising the independence and expertise which make them so effective. At its centre is an alliance of many of the most marginalised groups in the city who have created a structure that not only services their own needs but also provides a hub for hundreds of other small groups.” (Roy Crowhurst, Resource Centre Chair, 2017)