Community Savers is a network of women-led savings groups which engage in regular peer support: sharing ideas, experiences and strategies for reducing poverty in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities. They have been learning from the approaches of a women-led movement called Shack/Slum Dwellers International since 2016 and work in alliance with Community-Led Action and Savings Support (CLASS).
Women have always played a critical role in community action in the UK (and across the world). Since the onset of austerity policies in 2010 which has reduced spending on public services and social support, women have been at the forefront of the battle to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable in our society. And now COVID.
The gendered nature of community action usually goes unrecognised. It is almost always unpaid, and the cost of activities are frequently shouldered by communities themselves.
This presents the Community Savers-CLASS alliance with a significant challenge. The Community Savers approach amplifies and builds upon the expertise and resilience of grassroots women leaders to make change happen. But this creates additional demands on women who are already shouldering many of their own community, family and work pressures.
Yet, being in the network also builds resilience and enables effective strategies to spread. Throughout the pandemic, savings group leaders have been able to fall back on their network for moral support, ideas and information, or just to offload when things get tough. Crisis resources have been shared between groups. Before COVID, groups were travelling to learn from each other’s projects and approaches, where a savings group set up in one place, a food project would replicate in another.
Women in the lead
Building on 30 years of SDI’s learning by doing, the Community Savers-CLASS alliance are attempting to build a genuinely alternative form of community-professional partnership.
Their work together is led by, for, and with grassroots women but protecting that principle requires constant dialogue, reflection and renegotiation. Where to find the time and space to have these discussions without needing to rush to school pick up, hospital appointments, food collections, or tonight’s campaign meeting?
In September, Community Savers & CLASS will be going on a 2-day rural retreat. They would like to enable four amazing women from each of the affiliate groups to attend but need to raise an additional £1,000.