“People will take the chance every single time”: Connecting, organising and taking action in Hartlepool  

For over 20 years, the Wharton Trust has supported people in the Dyke House area of Hartlepool – one of the most deprived wards in the UK. From access to employment and training advice to youth engagement and skill development, the organisation is having a tangible impact on local challenges. At the core of its ethos is social action and community organising, providing people with the tools to change things for themselves.

Meet our campaign leader Sacha Bedding, chief executive of the Wharton Trust.

TRANSCRIPT: I’m Sacha Bedding, I work in the Dyke House area of Hartlepool for an organisation called the Wharton Trust. We basically work in our square mile to facilitate the community taking action on things they care about. So for the last 10 years, we’ve worked with our local community to try and create the conditions where they can take action and organise themselves in a way which means that things they want to change for the better, they’re able to do that.

There are loads of people who have benefited from the Wharton Trust, which is the Annexe, being in existence. But much of that has been about the connections we’ve made with people and for people, and connections amongst the community so that they’ve been able to work together to solve things. It isn’t about what we do, it’s about creating the opportunities which allow other people to do things that they want to do. And they will take the chance every single time. Community power exists, and our job is to release that.

Communities in the driving seat

Community power to me means the ability of people to facilitate the change – the change that they want to see and not something that’s imposed from above. Whether that is an improvement in a statutory service, or a piece of social action, or establishing a community business, it doesn’t really matter what that is, their ability to do that, at a pace and a time of their choosing, is hugely important. I think that’s what community power is to me.

A billion pounds a year spent is spent in Hartlepool, roughly, by our statutory sector. And that billion pounds in the last 10 years and more probably hasn’t made that big a difference. The big money has gone on things like buying an airport, and some really big infrastructure projects. I get that there is a need on the macro level to have some of that. But actually, that doesn’t touch our communities – that really doesn’t benefit them in any in any great way.

Local solutions to our biggest challenges

We’re in perma crisis, and the cost-of-living crisis is just the latest in the crises. What’s different about this one is the breadth of the impact across more people, and the sense of helplessness. The problems we have now aren’t problems around banking, these are real issues around, How do I afford to heat my home? How do I keep my grandma warm? How do I keep my children warm? How do I do that in a way which enables me to continue to live a fulfilling life when everything else is on hold?

I think community power would enable people to look at genuinely local solutions to some of this stuff. Whether it’s a community owned drying space, or a community owned oven, or a kitchen or a cafe, or something where the profits are kept within a place. I think it will mean being really in a place where we understand who are the hardest hit, and actually making local decisions about how we protect our absolutely most vulnerable people who may not have been the traditional vulnerable people we can categorise.

Community power would unlock the latent potential of those people – hyperlocal energy schemes, joint purchasing and things like that which, at the moment, are really difficult to do. Community power should enable us to facilitate that better.

Calling for a Community Power Act

The barriers are generally institutional barriers where, if a place isn’t a priority to the people who don’t live there, and they’re competing against loads of other priorities, of course, that’s a barrier. I want to see a Community Power Act, I want to see legislation which turns around and cements our rights to influence more greatly our places. To not be the recipients of power which they allow us to have, but to enable the power that we already have, and to use it in a way which best suits each local place.

I think politicians genuinely want to make things better. They don’t get elected to do things to harm people. But I think there needs to be recognition that the state isn’t always best placed at the hyperlocal level. It’s about giving people more control, more say, more opportunity to make things better for themselves. And to work alongside one another – the ability to cooperate at a local level is hugely important.

Politicians want to see that. They must want to see that. I think them joining in the campaign will make neighbourhoods which historically maybe haven’t been at the front of people’s imagination or haven’t benefited from investment, it gives them a fighting chance to actually get that this time.