A Kent-based charity is to offer free consultancy to two communities wishing to start planning for their futures.

Action with Communities in Rural Kent (ACRK), which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, will be offering free help to two communities within the county to start making a neighbourhood plan. Neighbourhood plans have been promoted by the government as a way of giving influence to communities over what is built locally. ACRK will be charging a fee for such help later in 2013, but has been awarded funding to try out a support package in two places.

Chief Executive Keith Harrison says “for charities like us, charging communities for services can be quite controversial. We know that some are not in a position, yet, to pay for hands on help. However, we can no longer do everything for free – some of our local public-sector funding is based on budgets set in 1992! The funding we have won for this work means we can give some good quality help to a couple of communities and fine-tune a service that will be charged for from later this year.”

ACRK has helped over 130 communities in Kent prepare plans with a wide range of social, environmental and economic actions, and will be taking some aspects of its expertise in these fields into its new service. “Neighbourhood plans need good engagement – which is an area of expertise of ours – when being put together, to help get through a local referendum. Each referendum is paid for by local tax-payers, and nobody is interested in wasting public money.” ACRK will add in some new on-line tools that communities can be trained to use themselves, as well as dedicated officer time.

A call for interest to Parish Councils and Neighbourhood Forums will be made by ACRK during April.