person in red sweater holding babys hand
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

I am deeply passionate about the role of early help and intervention to support people out of crisis; manifested in profound life challenges from lack of the dignity of good housing and food, to domestic abuse and addiction.

The nature of early help though, and the way in which it should be delivered, is not straightforward. Often having been let down in multiple ways, many families suffer an enduring mistrust of public bodies, often having felt misunderstood, stigmatised, undermined or sometimes treated punitively. To build trust with people who need help the most, careful and respectful relationships are required, and it cannot happen overnight.

On a recent visit to the Big Venture Centre, a family hub in Wolverhampton, I was left truly inspired by the role of co-operative principles for being one of the key ingredients for successfully connecting with the community. In the wake of government-imposed austerity, a former youth club faced closure. Supported by the Council, something amazing happened – the community decided to take matters in to their own hands, and with support, took ownership of the centre through a community asset transfer into a new Community Benefit Society. With members of the community each having a share and role in the running and management of the centre, what was once a modestly used youth club, has become a thriving community headquarters.

In visiting, I was met with music, laughter and the sounds of families enjoying life; with tables set out of arts, activities and food. A food bank collection was being prepared by long standing volunteers, many of whom have their own stories of hardship to tell. Meanwhile a staff member who helps with the management and growth of the centre’s activities, explained to me the vital role in the centre for identifying and helping people with mental health, employment, support with disabilities and an endless avenue for accessing support for problems suffered by many.

The centre’s ambitions are far more positive and lofty than preventing crime, but the trust and atmosphere created by this hub, does inevitably help people get passed problems that can lead to offending: addictions, poverty, exploitation. By having shared ownership with the community, meaningful strides towards greater safety and reduced crime are being made.

The lesson then, one which is already fully engrained in what the Co-operative Party stands for, is that there is a special social capital to be gained through not only prioritising early help for families who are struggling, but by truly empowering them to own their destiny.