Essex Community Foundation

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Vital Signs Launched

1st October 2013

Geographical inequality - Identified as the biggest community concern in Essex

Inaugural Vital Signs report shows that overall Essex is doing well but where you live can have an adverse effect on many aspects of your life from transport to housing. 

Essex Community Foundation has found that where you live is one of the biggest issues facing the County while lack of skills, youth unemployment, and the economy are also of significant concern.

In a new report, published here,  that shines a light on community need, community members have articulated a range of issues that they feel are challenging the well-being of their area. The report focuses attention on what needs to be done and how it can be achieved.

Vital Signs, one of eight reports from participating community foundations across the UK launched today (1 October), provides a health check for the community across 10 social themes and a range of subjects. While there are significant areas of concern, it does also offer more encouraging news. Our quality of life and our overall health were identified by community members and independent research as areas of where we are doing well.

• People are concerned about the lack of affordable housing for young people and families and local spikes in homeless figures
• People are concerned that there is a growing disparity between the best and worst off, especially with the increasing use of foodbanks
• People genuinely feel safe in their communities and positively rate their quality of life
• People are concerned about what is happening in the economy and the demise of the high street
• People like the availability of free public spaces but are concerned about fly tipping and littering
• 16% of the population in Harlow have no qualifications compared to 4% in Brentwood. The national average is 11%

Encouragingly, the report recognises and celebrates the groups and activities already in operation which are responding to the demonstrable local need. However, greater funding is required to continue this valuable work and to support organisations such as:

• Essex Youth Build based in Chelmsford, which offers practical training activities in Construction and related topics to disadvantaged young people who are at risk of offending or re-offending and who find it difficult to obtain or sustain places at colleges or other training providers.

• AlcoHelp based in Braintree, which works in partnership with schools, local police, councils and youth groups to inform young people about how harmful alcohol is as a drug and the impact it can have on their emotions and behavior.
• Brentwood Community Print CIC which provides work experience and
training in a supported, safe environment to local people who are in various stages of recovery from mental health problems.

Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of Essex Community Foundation, comments: “The findings of the Vital Signs report provide pause for thought and offer a clear indication of the issues our community is facing. It shines a light on the concerns and fears that require attention and provides an impetus for action.

“While wonderful work by a host of community organisations is underway, there is a tremendous need in our area which we have only seen grow in recent years. Therefore, we want to engage the wider community – individuals and businesses - to work with us and be a part of the solution that answers the call in today’s Vital Signs report. Community philanthropy is important and can change our communities for the better.”

Vital Signs has been successfully run by the Community Foundations of Canada nationally since 2006 and has now been adapted for UK communities. It takes the pulse of communities and identifies the key challenges that civil society organisations, with the support of motivated philanthropists, can help redress.

The report is based on the realities and demands of the local area and draws on research, national data and first person accounts to identify, across a range of subject areas, the needs, concerns and aspirations of our community.

Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, said: “Vital Signs encourages giving and helps to ensure that donations target the most pressing issues a community is facing. I wish community foundations every success.”

The eight UK participants for 2013 are Northern Ireland, Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Lancashire, Merseyside, Milton Keynes and Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. Vital Signs is a major exercise for community foundations and UKCF and the intention is to grow the number of participating community foundations next year and the year after that.

Stephen Hammersley, CEO UK Community Foundations, said: “The Vital Signs initiative is long established in Canada and has clearly articulated the individual context and reality facing communities. We are pleased to have drawn on the Canadian example and for eight of our community foundations to today be launching their Vital Signs reports.

“The Vital Signs initiative develops and formalises our appreciation and knowledge of our local communities. The lack of detailed and considered understanding of these issues leads to clichéd responses and unhelpful stereotyping. Vital Signs shows us the reality and provides an impetus for action.  There is a tremendous need in the UK and in recent years we as an organisation have seen that need grow. We hope that Vital Signs increases awareness of how communities are faring and of how we can work together to find the solution to community problems.”