McCabe and Phillimore provide a welcome and insightful look at an often overlooked and underrepresented part of the voluntary sector. The book is based on primary research conducted by the authors and other contributors into the activities of informal and semi-formal community groups, referred to as ‘Below The Radar’ (BTR) groups. Insights from individuals engaged in research on specific sub-sectors of BTRs are also provided. It sets out some of the distinct characteristics of BTR groups identified through their research: a specific set of motivations; blurred boundaries between personal and civic lines; a willingness to take greater risks; embeddedness within communities and highly localized activities; more fluid, flexible and informal structures; and a tendency to ‘breed a culture of self-reliance and mutual support’ (p. 57). The examples and vignettes of BTR groups and the types of activities they carry out threaded throughout the book help us to understand how and where these characteristics are brought to bear in different contexts. The book highlights that when BTR groups and activities are taken into account, it provides a much more accurate picture of levels of social action within communities. For example, McCabe and Phillimore’s findings show that when you map out BTR groups and activities, it challenges the assumption that levels of social action and social capital are lower in poorer communities (p. 43). The book also highlights the importance of not viewing the BTR sector as one, homogenous whole, and emphasizes the need for a more in-depth look at the specific sub-sectors. The individual chapters exploring some of these sub-sectors highlight some of the nuances within them. For instance, a study on African migrant, asylum-seeker and refugee-led associations in Glasgow talks about how individuals within these groups will often have different immigration status, for example some documented, some undocumented, and that this can impact on the social bonds and bridges formed within these groups (p. 200). These chapters move away from the sole focus on BTR groups as they emphasize the need to strengthen our understanding of the different sub-sectors and the nuances within them before exploring the role of distinct voluntary sector groupings. ‘What can and cannot be included in the concept of the third sector has been the subject of extensive debate and the category BME (black and minority ethnic) is no different’ (p. 178). The book also offers some reflections on the impacts of austerity on BTR groups. McCabe and Phillimore highlight the fact that while BTR groups are less likely to have been in receipt of the income streams affected, such as public sector grants, they are impacted by the knock-on effects of these cuts. ‘People’s energy is going to go, for some it’s going to go more into trying to survive. Concerns about job security reduce the amount of time and resources they can spend on activities outside of work (pp. 118–119). BTR’s reliance upon access to affordable or free space in order to run activities and conduct meetings is also threatened, as public buildings and spaces increase rent or charge commercial rates for their use in order to generate an income for their own survival (p. 120). The authors highlight that the solutions applied to other parts of the voluntary sector in order to survive austerity and changing funding environments are often not suitable solutions for BTR groups. For example, the ‘scaling up’ of activities in order to compete for available, national funding pots tends to be most applicable to larger, formalised voluntary organisations (p. 122). Instead, McCabe and Phillimore remind us of the need to pay attention to and invest in the human, financial, cultural and environmental capital of BTR groups, ‘The ‘soft’ skills of being well connected, being able to negotiate and bring emotion and passion to a cause’ (p. 256). This, they suggest, requires supporting and creating spaces for community learning and the sharing of skills and resources (pp. 241–257). The book provides an insightful picture of BTR groups and social action in communities that is incredibly valuable to anyone wanting to understand more about this aspect of the UK voluntary sector. It also provides individuals with an interest in conducting their own research on social action in communities with an in-depth description of techniques for mapping BTR activities (p. 27). The book’s decision not to locate findings within the wider ecosystem of voluntary, public and private sector organisations means that the reader is left to make their own judgements about the importance and relevance of the distinctive nature of BTR groups in relation to a broader set of interventions. However, it provides us with a strong set of arguments to take away and make our own comparisons. At the time of reading this book, I was involved in research looking at the distinct role of small and medium charities in the UK. McCabe and Phillimore’s book helped me to think about the findings from this research in the context of the activities of BTR groups. © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2018 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Community Development Journal – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 28, 2018
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