Report exploring the developing roles of key community sector organisations known as community anchors. It draws from six exemplar anchor organisations to explore their roles in engaging with, leading and challenging public service reform; how public services and the state can better support community anchors and community sector development; and the potential roles of anchors in building local democracy, community resilience for sustainable development, and wider social change.

Download the publications: executive summary, policy and practice briefing and the full report


Word cloud illustrating the breadth of the the community anchor role including: • community planning; health and social care; self-directed support • local democracy; participative democracy; deliberative democracy; citizenship • community empowerment; asset transfer; land reform • housing; welfare and anti-poverty; income maximisation • inequalities – health, social, economic; discrimination; • social enterprise; social economy; cooperatives • third sector; civil society; social economy • public service coordination; public procurement; • local economic development; community-led regeneration; inclusive economy • community resilience; local sustainable development; community-led placemaking • sustainable place-making; spatial planning; place-based approaches • ecological sustainability; community renewables; local environment

Breadth of roles of community anchors

This research report explores the developing role of key independent community sector organisations known as community anchors  – community-led, multi-purpose organisations. It draws from six exemplar anchor organisations to explore:

  • their roles in engaging with, leading and challenging public service reform
  • how public services and the state can better support community anchors and community sector development
  • and the potential roles of anchors in building local democracy, community resilience for sustainable development, and wider social change.

It seeks to support and inform the developing discussions between the community sector, public services and policymakers regarding how they can work together.

The community sector includes a wide range of local not-for-profit organisations and groups – the local third sector. Community anchor organisations are of particular importance because they seek to be community-led, multi-purpose and responsive to local context. This enables them to lead and/or facilitate complex local activities focused on local community-led place-making, which includes:

  • local economic and social development e.g. community enterprise, local sustainable development (community resilience), asset ownership, building social capital
  • design, development and provision of local public and community services, and
  • developing community leadership and advocating for community interests – strengthening a community’s voice and power to create change.

At the heart of an effective community anchor is a community-led or -controlled governance that develops and sustains a community-led focus and vision, and the development of community ownership of assets as part of an enterprising approach which contributes to the organisation’s financial resilience. It is these strengths that support community anchors in leading and/or facilitating complex, multi-purpose activities relevant to the local context. Taken as a whole across Scotland, community anchors therefore provide crucial ingredients for any vision of change to public services and society.

The report uses the Christie Commission’s vision as the starting point and space for dialogue on Scottish public service reform – a ‘Scottish Approach’. The Commission puts particular emphasis on ‘local partnerships and participation, and local communities of place and interest’ and to the role of public service reform in creating a more equitable society.  The report considers the notion of community-led place-making and its wider implications, drawing on three particular recurring ‘Christie’ concerns:

  • renewing local democracy and the accountability of local public services
  • strengthening community resilience and local sustainability
  • social change – a fairer society and ‘balanced’ (inclusive) economy.

There are five sections in the report:

  1. Outlines the research process and methodology,  understanding of the community anchor model and key themes in public service reform in Scotland.
  2. Profiles of six exemplars of community anchor organisations from across Scotland to illustrate the ways that they are community-led/-controlled; their multi-purpose and holistic potential; and their development through, and responsiveness to, local context.
  3. What can be learned from these exemplars about the potential of community anchors to contribute in complex ways – engaging, leading, challenging – to public service reform and the Christie Commission agenda.
  4. How the research process supports a developing understanding of the types of ‘infrastructure’ that can support the development of the community anchor roles – policy, resources and culture change.
  5. Reflections on the potential of community anchors to support wider aspirations for local democracy, community resilience and wider social change, as part of the need for ongoing informed, reflective dialogue between the community sector and public services on policy and practice.

Download the publications

The report was launched at a What Works Scotland seminar which collated discussions about community anchors and their roles for a document to go to the Scottish Government Local Governance Review.

More details

Authors: James Henderson, (What Works Scotland) Philip Revell (Sustaining Dunbar), Oliver Escobar (What Works Scotland)

Publication date: May 2018

Type of publication: Research report

Related resources

The community sector and its relevance to public service reform

Community written in printed letters pinned on to a cork noticeboardThe community sector, including community anchors, can have a key role to play in the development of public service reform in Scotland.

In collaboration with people working in the community sector, What Works Scotland’s continuing inquiry into how the sector can support, lead and challenge public service reform includes a series of articles intended to help us to re-imagine how the community sector and state can work constructively together for a more equitable, sustainable future.

Initiated July 2017, and ongoing

Community AnchorsPublished 2015This think piece reflects on the potential of multi-purpose, independent community-led organisations, often called community anchors, to lead on ‘highly localised’ service design and delivery, and related local economic, social and democratic developments.