7: Challenges for practice

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Community development faces various intrinsic challenges for which there are no easy answers. Although individual workers may well find pragmatic solutions that reflect local conditions, personal preferences and political priorities, expediency sometimes wins out over principles. Practitioners experience tensions and dilemmas arising from their numerous roles and commitments. The situations they face are often characterised by dynamic uncertainty, conflicting loyalties and confusing ‘role strain’ (Hoggett et al, 2009).

Community development intervenes at different levels, from supporting standalone grassroots activities to campaigning locally for the aims of global social movements. Community organisers are located in a wide range of agencies, including trade unions, faith-based organisations, even some political parties. Where community-oriented posts still exist within local authorities, they may be found working in different departments with limited co-ordination. Years of falling budgets oblige specialist teams to cover several large areas, while their jobs are often located at the margins rather than the heart of the organisation. The purpose of community development is still contested in some quarters and it is frequently carried out through short-term micro-projects, fragmented funding and precarious job contracts, making it difficult to carve out a strategic and sustainable approach.

In the UK the loss of core funding for the major agencies promoting community development has led to a decline in resources and training, eroding its fundamental commitments and leaving a fractured and insecure occupation split across different programmes and models. Internationally, the position is often just as bleak (Clarke et al, 2021). The key national infrastructure and membership networks that in the past brought practitioners and activists together and acted as champions for community development have closed down.

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