Self-reliant groups: a fantastic opportunity for housing associations
Blog by Eleri Birkhead, WEvolution.
How do we continue to support communities in the best way possible despite diminishing resources? WEvolution believes that the answer to this real and present conundrum is found within communities themselves. They are filled with potential.
Since 2015, we’ve been working with groups of people in communities who meet regularly, save together and use that money to fulfil their potential through starting micro business projects. These groups are known as self-reliant groups (SRGs). Members of SRGs are producers, they contribute to society and support themselves and fellow group members through whatever challenges they face. WEvolution support is never far away, but the groups are unapologetically independent (or self-reliant!). This has become apparent and valuable during lockdown. Many SRG members have overcome adversity to get where they are, and lockdown (whilst being by no means easy), was another challenge they would face and overcome.
Whilst these anecdotes lead us to think of SRG members as exceptional people with remarkable strength, the truth is that each one of them arrived at their group with multiple difficulties, and were captivated by what society tells them they are: people in need. Many were receiving support from multiple agencies for whatever challenges they faced.
As group members save, develop their own skills and build a support network within their SRG, the need for extra support dwindles. In a recent survey of SRG members, 87% of respondents said that their confidence grew since joining an SRG. 85% reported having a better support network, and a remarkable 100% said that they felt more in control of their lives.
Amanda is part of an SRG called Wellbeing Wanders. She has fibromyalgia, as do the other members of the SRG. This does not define them, and each have started their own business project having saved together for a number of months. Through her SRG, Amanda started a business called the Butterfly Room, providing holistic therapy using the skills she has honed over the years. She rents her space from fellow SRG member Catherine, who has taken over the lease of a property in Paisley and is letting it out as a workshop or business space. They both achieve goals and live out their dreams of being business owners. The fact that they have fibromyalgia in common means that they are able to understand each other’s needs, and provide support with an understanding of what they are each facing.
SRGs don’t excel through their savings alone. Access to Trust Money, an initiative launched during lockdown, enables them to apply for up to £100 per member to use as a pot of money. Money is used to lend to each other on an informal basis, and they decide the terms for repayment. As the name suggests, it builds trust within the group, and ensures that the need to borrow money from high-interest lenders is diminished. There is also the possibility of spending money on things people might need for their small business project, perhaps some material or a sewing machine. It’s up to them how they might use the money.
SRGs are not the answer to everything, but they do give people the opportunity to achieve goals on their own terms, using their own finances. They are not reliant on external funders, and members become increasingly financially stable. There are challenges along the way, but the fulfilment and confidence gained through doing their own thing as part of a group is invaluable.
We want to see housing associations across Scotland integrating SRGs into their front line services. We are able to provide training to staff members, ensuring that they are equipped to nurture groups of unexpected entrepreneurs within their communities. We can run bespoke training which takes in to account your context. There is also the option of joining an online training event we hold once a month: DIY SRG walks you through the theory behind the model, and the practice behind nurturing groups.
Your SRGs would have access to Trust Money and the opportunity to link up with WEvolution SRGs, and those of our partners, throughout their journey. We are building a movement of SRGs in the UK, of which your SRGs would become valuable members. We would provide the support you need along the way, and would ensure that you feel equipped to start your SRG journey. We’re excited about the potential for vibrant and flourishing SRGs within Housing Associations in Scotland.
WEvolution talked about Nurturing Self-Reliant Groups in an SFHA Live! Webinar in September which SFHA members can watch a recording of here.