This theme looks at how Big Local partnerships negotiate change in their areas, and indeed, change themselves as the ten years unfold. It aims to help build understanding about how Big Local partnerships operate and address internal and broader community tensions, how needs are identified and how responses to needs are decided upon and enacted.
All 15 case study areas are different and, although there are some similarities and common themes, there is no neat typology of the areas. However, there is at least one shared underlying narrative which is that they are areas where people feel they have been forgotten, even in those that have had previous regeneration/neighbourhood renewal programmes such as Single Regeneration Budget or European Social Fund. Several areas talk about being far away from the local authority’s radar. The following paragraphs explore how Big Local partnerships are negotiating ‘outward facing’ change in terms of a changing context, how they prioritise change, and how they negotiate ‘inward looking’ change i.e. internal partnership change and the risks associated with this.
‘Geographically it’s quite difficult because we have a main road running through two big social areas of housing and then at the southern end of it, we are in another almost into the city but it’s a different sort of community.’Partnership member
‘A changing community, with deprivation next door to affluence.’Partnership member
Thus, negotiating change, is complex, both in terms of who decides what change would make the area ‘an even better to place to live’ and how change might impact differently across an area, especially where the demographic profile is diverse or changing at a fast pace. In the Bountagu area for example, houses are being split into several tenancies and more single people are moving in, reducing the number of families living in the area:
‘When we first did our survey it had a very high percentage of young children, but they have moved on since then.’Partnership member
In Radstock the partnership is acutely aware that the building of 700 new homes will change the local demographic and put additional pressures on existing services and infrastructure; Revoe and Lawrence Weston are aware of newer, growing, Romanian and Polish communities respectively.
Table 6: Approaches to play and youth provision
|Barrowcliff||Community (including children) involvement in design and development of fixed equipment play area|
|Bountagu||Staff support for volunteer and sessional staff activity
Young people’s enterprise training sessions
|Growing Together||Commissions to specialist youth work providers e.g. film based education project, outdoor activities to build young people’s confidence and aspirations, centre based and detached youth work|
|Radstock||Developing a young people’s forum with a devolved budget to set priorities Improved/sage green spaces for unsupervised play|
|Three Parishes||Commissions to external providers and sessional youth work
‘Subsidises’ to enable children and young people to participate in existing group’s activities (e.g. trips/residentials)
Small grants to groups working with children and young people (e.g. Brownies, Rainbow etc.)
What is it that drives this difference? Across the 15 areas there is evidence that it can be due to:
There is no implied hierarchy here of one approach being better than another. In some Big Local areas, several of the above factors would apply. What these factors do indicate though, is that often the expression of a need is the driving force and the outcome is very broad based – wanting to do something for children and young people - rather than a nuanced understanding of the change that is sought. For example, in one area where activities for children and young people were prioritised, the response was to commission a youth service provider to put on an open access youth club with sports, arts and crafts facilities. There is little evidence that the partnership was clear about the purpose of the youth club (i.e. was it simply about providing an activity and getting young people off the streets or was it about helping young people connect and build relationships with each other?).
The youth club still runs but it has lower numbers than anticipated and the partnership does not have any measures to assess its value. This can be contrasted with a youth enterprise project where there are clear aims about building young people’s confidence and aspirations, giving them opportunities to think about how they might benefit themselves and the community now and when they leave school, and providing project and business planning knowledge and tools.
‘The knock-on effects were that we lost a lot of people who originally were very, very involved, and very enthusiastic.’
‘...they have grown together and less of ‘this isn’t benefiting my community’; recognise that [they are] working for the whole community.’
‘At first a lot of ‘we want’ – now there is more thoughtful discussion.’Partnership member
Many people who are active in Big Local partnerships have never been involved in anything like this before and they have had to learn how to be assertive and to negotiate with others. On the other hand, some partnerships are concerned that they have become too settled and too the same. They recognise that they would benefit from new members bringing new ideas but are also aware that ‘outsiders’ might feel this is a harmonious group of friends - this is despite the fact they did not necessarily know each other before Big Local.
Even in the ‘settled’ partnership scenario there is the potential for conflict however, particularly where people are wearing different hats and / or have vested interests (see Section 3):
‘The very fact that people sit on the partnership board means they have their own agendas so quite complicated.’Partnership member
Some LTOs have also expressed the difficulty of being open and transparent when they sit in partnership meetings:
‘Conflicting that [we] can apply for the money and manage it.’LTO
‘The great thing about this project is that it is for ten years, no other funding that I have ever come across has been longer than three! And that means that you can take not uneducated risks, or uncalculated risks, but you can try new things out and there is still room for learning...’Partnership member
There are those who are learning to live and work with certain levels of risk:
‘... we're not risk adverse, we're risk aware, we know what the risks are and sometimes we’ll get it wrong, you know, and we'll get it wrong for the right reasons, we won't get it wrong because we're incapable. We'll get it wrong because the reasoning was that that was a good idea, it didn't deliver and …. we had to self-evaluate.’Partnership member
Finally, there are some partnerships who try to ‘negotiate out’ any risk, which usually means agreeing to act on those things they feel they have control over and/ or using tried and tested organisations, but wary about handing responsibility to others who might have a good idea but no track record. Observations and interviews illustrate that sometimes people are more concerned about the risks involved in giving a grant of a few hundred pounds to a local individual or project than they are about the risk of taking on large assets or challenging power holders.
This issue is further addressed in Section 5 Balancing Acts.
It is important to look beyond Big Local processes and delivery mechanisms, in order to identify changes in the local area, and to assess the tangible and sometimes intangible ways in which the ‘presence’ of (and activity in) Big Local appears to mobilise other developments.
‘When you look at what we have achieved, we’ve got new groups setting up... We’ve got more respect from the community... We’ve got recognition from people. We’ve got people receiving what we are trying to do in a pretty positive way. We’ve got people working together like the [X] group, that was one of our finest hours getting them to actually talk to each other and play nicely. We’ve got different groups working together...Partnership member
This quote points to the way that some Big Local groups are measuring success – through implicit indicators of active community groups, positive responses in the community, groups and organisations working together. In other words, people know this sense of ‘success’ when they see it, and what they see is often the spin off from some more planned project or activity. A lot of groups talk about how difficult it is to ‘prove’ evidence of such change, maybe because there is a slow gradual progression towards change, or because they haven’t got there yet and there is nothing to see, but several areas talk of the ‘feel’ of the area being different, that there is a ‘buzz’. This can be because of the physical and visible presence of a Big Local. In Bountagu, for example, the location within the Big Local area of a very busy community hub has created a safer environment for residents and stopped the drug dealing and associated crime on their doorsteps. In Barrowcliff, the Big Local flagship project, the park, means that ‘you can’t help but sit in that park and talk to other people ….’ (Partnership member). Alternatively, it might be of a less tangible but significant, improved community ‘vibe’, as described in Whitley Bay Big Local (‘a mind change’), Birchfield and Ramsey Million:
‘Something that isn't really truly measurable is that I was talking with the community sergeant who was doing a surgery in the street and I said, how are you and he said do you know it's amazing, it's buzzing today, it was a Saturday morning, lots of people are out and about and he said the atmosphere in town was different... He noticed that the place had a bit more of a buzz around it and other people have said that too.’Partnership member
There has been a conscious effort in some areas to provide activities which aim to connect individuals and to network groups and organisations.
There is evidence of Big Local acting as a springboard for people and people’s lives changing dramatically as a result of opportunities provided through the programme e.g. increased confidence and skills built through involvement in a partnership or activity have led to employment. People have formed significant friendships with others they have met through Big Local and been opened up to opportunities that have led to further community activity:
‘Energy of people meeting together, leads on to other things.’Partnership member
‘I’ve got goals to look forward to now which I didn’t have before. It’s just given a brighter outlook on life for me and my family.’Local resident
A participant in a UnLtd funded project who started a community newspaper now mentors others in the wider area to set up their own publications and provides opportunities for people to develop their journalistic skills:
‘I’m just grateful that Ramsey Million was here because without it, and I’m telling you this now, without Ramsey Million this newspaper would never have happened...’
‘Wherever I can I’ll try and help them get work in other places because it’s the least I can do because they are helping me. This all stemmed from what I’ve been doing in this area...’UnLtd award winner who edits local newspaper
Snapshot 18: Kay and Susan’s Stories
CAS Training Services started out as a volunteer-led employment advice project which has grown, and attracted matched funding, with support from Nortfleet Big Local. Kay and Susan have been attending the service for almost a year and have both become volunteers with longer term plans to return to work. These are there stories which can also be viewed in the film on Northfleet Big Local: The projects we are involved with.
‘I had a bit of a breakdown after losing my parents, my job. I had to move out of my home. Chris and Sue and Ruby and Mark, they all picked me up and give me the confidence to get back on my feet, and to help others and to get them to come for help as well.
Now I do this volunteering, it makes such a difference cos you’re helping people. You recognise vulnerable people and you can give them guidance.
I wouldn’t have survived without... I was totally broken. If I didn’t have this, I wouldn’t be here now.’Kay
‘My friend, who also works in the area, said about Sue and Chris’ job club down the Hive, so I came down to it and I’ve been coming ever since.
The [shop I worked in] closed at Bluewater in 2007 and I became my parents’ full-time carer. Obviously my Dad went and my Mom went into the Home and I found it a bit difficult. I had to change my life around. Now both my parents aren’t here anymore...
I’m hoping to open my own business in the Northfleet area, looking after children.
I wouldn’t be where I am now without Sue and Chris and everyone that works for CAS Job Club.
It made a big difference cos they’ve helped me a lot with my confidence issues and other issues that I’ve had.
It’s been a huge change for me in these last three years and I’ve come out of it pretty good, I reckon.’Susan
Many Big Local areas have invested energy in bringing groups together with other groups, residents with agencies, agencies with agencies. In some cases this was a reasonably ‘common sense’ activity - not necessarily with a sense of a deliberate longer term strategy, but which, co-incidentally, has produced additional or unexpected outcomes. For example, an informal group meeting at a community centre on Lawrence Weston started to attract young Polish women. This in turn identified their needs for English Language support and resulted in the development of ESOL provision.
Growing Together Big Local used some of its funding to support local curling groups and a curling league:
‘...bring people from different estates together and meet each other. People bring food, different cultures and languages. ...Very diverse group of local people, and attracted new people e.g. some people from the Bangladeshi community.’
‘A big success has been people now travel to events. Previously the different estates were very insular.’Partnership members
In Big Local areas where there is not an obvious natural boundary or a history of connectedness, such as Three Parishes, Grassland Hasmoor and Growing Together Big Locals, small towns and villages have begun to connect with some sense of improving cohesion.
‘Big Local really shows the coming together of the two communities which, at the outset of the project, had little in common and no real network of communication.’Partnership members
Whitley Bay Big Local is trying to turn round the community’s relationship to the council, bring community voices to the council and influence change in the town through regular meetings with statutory agencies (See Snapshot 15). It sees part of its role as adding value through facilitating conversation and describes its statutory partner meetings as an open and honest forum, where the council and WBBL work seamlessly to promote positive regeneration of the town and a lasting legacy for future generations. This strategic way of working is about kick starting relationships that will have a long lasting impact:
‘It’s about everyone pushing together for the good of the area and not competing… we have to think strategically. Because when the million is used up what other money can we bring in to keep things going?’
‘We are trying to use it to our benefit really, we are trying to make sure that it allows us to open doors and create partnerships, so that we can make that money stretch a lot further’.Partnership members
There are also examples of where Big Local areas have been, or are likely to be, a catalyst for major physical or structural change – beyond how an area ‘feels’ and the level of community activity they have stimulated. In Lawrence Weston, Big Local appears to be a significant catalyst for the implementation of an existing neighbourhood development plan. A major opportunity is the redevelopment of an old college site and the partnership, with Ambition Lawrence Weston (LTO), is pushing for a supermarket, mixed housing and a community hub. Although taking longer than expected, ‘The supermarket is wanted by 86% of residents and when that comes it will demonstrate that resident involvement can change things’ (Paid worker). Lawrence Weston Big Local is also capitalising on current opportunities to enable future change through support for levering in additional investment. For example, it underwrote the cost of writing the bid for Coastal Communities Fund money, and is working with local energy providers to ensure an annual community fund. In Barrowcliff, partners can see how the structure set up for the purposes of Big Local could be exactly the right vehicle for securing and managing future funding programmes. In Growing Together, there is a synergy between the partnership and its LTO and between the Big Local partnership and its boundary with the Neighbourhood Forum and the Neighbourhood Plan boundary. This should ensure resident-led structures for the future, creating a critical mass of activity and intention.
Leadership in the Big Local context is very much about forming and articulating a collective view about the priorities of and future vision for each area, i.e. collective sense-making, and mobilising residents in how to get there.
The report has reflected on how partnerships are working in Section 3. As noted, there are different partnership approaches and in some areas leadership can be seen to be exercised within a formal traditional structure. Some of the areas studied only held ‘closed’ partnership meetings, in others all meetings were open, and in Northfleet they operate a ‘closed’ executive meeting, followed by a public meeting as information sharing. In Three Parishes, they found holding a lot of public meetings to be unwieldy and so held partner only meetings; this was questioned and now they are looking to hold at least one public meeting a year that anyone can attend. The reality for most Big Local partnerships is that they are open to ‘new’ people coming along – after all it is public money and many struggle to get enough people involved – but that unless people are already involved, they wouldn’t understand what the partnership is, never mind when and where it meets. In terms of meeting venues, this again varies. Some Big Local areas, such as Northfleet and Radstock, always meeting in the same place because it is thought to have a neutral air about it. Others such as Three Parishes and Growing Together which comprise distinct villages/neighbourhoods rotate their meetings around the whole area so as to be seen to be fair and accessible and bring together disparate communities. In the latter examples, this is part of the process of trying to operate with a vision for the area as a whole, despite otherwise obviously divided communities.
Nearly all the Big Local areas talk about a collective and consensual style of working. For example:
‘I think we have built a good relationship between ourselves in this period of time. Each person’s opinion is valued. OK, everyone has their little pet projects and hobby horses but we bow to the democratic decision.’Partnership members
Observations at partnership meetings illustrate that people try to find a way through that suits all interests but the extent to which everyone has a voice can be questioned in some partnerships. There are examples of paid workers and agencies dominating, with little input from residents, or just a few key individuals making the decisions with others deferring to them. In these areas, leadership appears to follow traditionally limited forms based on previous experiences of ‘how leadership works’ or deference to elected members or professionals. One resident partner commented:
‘They need to talk to more people, the Big Local…I feel as though the ones that are making the decisions are just the ones within the group... I class myself as talking to the real people and I think it’s a bit (of an) issue with the ones ...leading it, and not actually talking to the real people.’Partnership members
On the other hand, engaging a wide section of the community is not easy:
‘I think it’s very difficult to be truly representative of your society where you live because it doesn’t matter how much door knocking that you do. You can’t engage with every single person, and not every single person wants to engage with you, so I think you have to do the best with the responses that you get. And those residents who want to get involved can only use the results of the consultation. I personally found it quite difficult to be representative.’
'We’re a lot more knowledgeable now about how to do things. We’re still not there yet. We know a lot more about the community and how to do things. We know that things take a lot longer than we really want them to do, so it’s quite a difficult area of work’.Partnership members
Spreading involvement and decision making and mobilising residents across the Big Local area is something that Big Locals struggle with. Most areas talk about the challenges of engaging young people. Whilst they can get people to come to events, translating this into active involvement (e.g. through partnership membership or formal youth forums, proves difficult). What Big Local partnerships do not seem to question much though is the way they organise and the style of their meetings which tend to be of the traditional board type, with formal structures and processes and can be very long (3-4 hours in some cases). Although several partnership members have described the meetings as boring, nothing much changes to make them more lively and engaging, or indeed to find other ways of making decisions, at community events for example.
‘I’d like to see the community more involved. But here it takes all people’s energy just to survive, especially when they have young children.’Partnership member
Community leadership can be fostered in many ways. In Grassland Hasmoor Big Local, for example, the chair was selected from outside the area on the basis of skill, impartiality and community respect, reflecting and reinforcing an understanding that people can be involved in Big Local in different ways.
‘...because what we're interested in is not that one leader, it's the collective leadership across the community and actually what [*] does is allow that.’Partnership member
Thus, in the Grassland Hasmoor structure, working groups are in effect where a lot of the ‘action’ action takes place – they are made up of residents who are not necessarily on the Big Local partnership. In Whitley Bay, they are looking for ways to involve people who might not be part of any project; ‘[We] want individuals to feel part of the Big Local scheme’. These outward looking approaches are important if Big Local is to be meaningful as the area and not just the partnership. Whitley Bay Big Local has been careful to support local activity without trying to ‘own’ it all or claim credit for some of its sponsored activity and yet at the evaluation workshop in August 2016, around 30 people participated because they had an identity with Big Local.
Big Local partnerships are, to varying degrees, interested in influencing the local community, service providers and political structures. In this evaluation, we are particularly interested in the role of influence in relation to local services and institutional structures, and, in the current socio-economic context, whether Big Local investment complements existing public services, and the extent to which it acts as an attempted substitute for reduced public services.
Broadly, there are two key ways in which Big Locals have managed to exert some influence. The first is through being there and being active, and in these examples there is an importance to the money - the £1 million allocated to each Big Local area – it creates the sense that Big Local partnerships are ‘serious players’ and have a credibility within the community (for example in Northfleet and Lawrence Weston). The second way is where there has been a conscious effort to influence what happens in an area through an increased and collective understanding of how the local political and policy context works and using this knowledge to make change in the local area and / or lobby those seen to have power. Here, the money is largely irrelevant though there are examples where being seen as managing the money efficiently and effectively enhances their legitimacy with power holders.
‘Having Big Local money and a structure has provided a chance to meet local councillors and bridged the gap between the council and residents...Partnership member
The ‘million’ enables the Big Local partnerships to negotiate on a different footing to many other community groups who do not have such resources to bring to the table. Although, there are a few examples of councils not ‘playing ball’ in some Big Local areas, there are many illustrations of councils supporting Big Local initiatives. For example, in more than one area, local councils impressed by the work of the Big Locals’ contribution to improving park and play areas, have agreed to cover maintenance contracts for the play equipment in the coming years. A million pounds may be ‘small fry’ to a local authority or a private developer, but if targeted on an activity which helps them deliver something seen as perhaps not a priority but beneficial to the local community, then they are often willing to forge positive relationships:
‘I actually think it will become more influential over the next couple of years, once we have got some successes, but I do think it has had an influence. I think local councillors think that we are a lot more important than we actually [are]...Partnership member
On the other hand, in the context of austerity and deficit reduction measures, there are concerns that Big Local is picking up the pieces from the cuts in public services. Big Local works with the principle that the money should not be used to replace statutory services. Many of the cuts that people see at first hand, however, are not of services which are statutory duties. Most Big Locals have a priority around children and young people and are covering the costs of activities that had been funded from elsewhere ten years ago. Equally, some of the environmental improvements carried out by Big Local, particularly those which enhance the look of a place like planters, were previously provided by the council.
‘There is a bit of an issue about the Council dragging its heels because they think Big Local has the money – so for example all the planters in the centre of Northfleet were put in by Big Local. Big Local should not be a public service, but an augmentation.’Paid worker
In more general terms, this illustrates in practical and concrete terms the issue of additionality and the contested boundary between state services and community (or social) action.
This raises difficult conversations in many Big Local partnerships. In Ramsey, the partnership is keen that it is not there to plug gaps. The Big Local partnership had identified youth activities as a priority even while the council service was still running a youth service. The council’s youth service has now withdrawn activities. The Big Local youth project is run quite differently, and in their view, much better because it is integrated into a suite of children and young people’s activities, and they have used evidence of its success to attract funding from outside Big Local. In Growing Together, they accept that they have picked up a previously council funded service but are tapering their financial contribution so that they are supporting the transition from a council run service to one based on a different model.
As a funder, Big Locals are able to influence how services are provided as well as what is provided, in particular encouraging commissioned organisations to provide opportunities for resident involvement and personal development:
‘There are more volunteers now though as one of my strong things was if working with us then [the service providers] need to be working with volunteers – so have influenced them a bit. Using money in particular ways changing and shaping other organisations, not just using the money.’Partnership member
Big Local areas also bring resources other than money which suggests a growth in community influence - people who want to do something in their community - time and structure:
‘Compared to other groups, Big Local is as good as it gets.’Local Councillor
‘...a long period in which to do something substantial.’Paid worker
Lawrence Weston has taken a particularly strategic approach to influencing Bristol City Council and neighbouring authorities. It used its structure to develop a comprehensive Neighbourhood Development Plan before approaching Bristol City Council and neighbouring local authorities, and were able to demonstrate clearly what, and how, they could contribute to wider spatial planning.
Big Local does not work in a vacuum and the extent of influence that can be evidenced is affected by a number of factors. For example, those areas that had pre-existing effective structures and connections have started at a different point to those areas that have traditionally been more marginalised and isolated. In Hanwell, for instance, EASE (local youth agency and also the LTO) already had connections that have paved the way for the Big Local group:
‘With other organisations and with the council, I think [our influence] is more pronounced, again because of EASE, because EASE has got that track record and that history and that pre-existing connection so Hanwell Big Local is, in a way, an extension and an intensification of that, so I think there we are making more of a noise, more quickly.’LTO
In Lawrence Weston, the Big Local is in effect a delivery arm of Ambition Lawrence Weston, the LTO, which was on a strategic long term mission to change the area before Big Local came on the scene.
‘...there is a level of democracy in the area missing.’ (Partnership member) ‘I sometimes think that the county thinks of us as the back of beyond and they forget we exist.’LTO
This contrasts starkly with Revoe where the residents have felt very marginalised from decision making structures in the mainstream. In some of the more rural areas such as Three Parishes and Ramsey, the county council feels somewhat remote and there are several levels of local democracy in between. As noted, a shared narrative is that Big Local areas have been ‘forgotten’. Big Locals are therefore proactively establishing communication mechanisms in many areas. Ramsey Million used its Market Place funding to set up the Working Together Group which brings together all the key organisations in the town, including the Town Council. In Lawrence Weston the partnership recognises the importance of agencies working together and pooling skills and resources wherever possible – or at least not running things ‘in competition’.
Whitley Bay Big Local has been on a mission to build bridges with the local authority. There is a regular meeting with a range of service providers which is leading to some influence and to increasing synergy between the aims of Whitley bay Big Local and the council. For example, some of the Whitley Bay Big Local community profile and plan is now also contained within the council’s development plan, as the landscape architect who carried out the plan consultation explains here. Influence can however, be particularly hard to attribute to Big Local where the partnership sees its role in supporting existing and new groups develop but consciously takes a back seat in claiming achievement. Whitley Bay Big Local might want to claim credit for some things, but it is also keen to ensure that community groups ‘own’ success. Big Local has provided the support, often small scale, and the groups then get on with meeting their objectives and rightly take the credit. For instance, support for the Friends of Whitley Park (including the optimism generated in the town through positive Big Local messages) has strengthened the group to the extent that it was able to persuade the council to see the park as an asset not a liability, and then to redraw the seafront regeneration boundary on a map. This means the park is now perceived as an attraction worthy of further investment.
There are a variety of, sometimes conflicting, sets of expectations of both the scale and timescale of ambition and achievement. Partnership members feel a responsibility to Local Trust to deliver the programme well and to make a noticeable difference in their areas. They also feel accountable to residents in the area about how they manage and use the million to make the area a better place to live as well as to their active colleagues in terms of not letting people down which can put a strain on overcommitted individuals. Sometimes the expectations that people put on themselves can be quite overwhelming, especially when they have lots going on in their personal lives:
‘It’s determination to make a difference, that’s what keeps me going. I mean I’ll be honest, I am tired. Really tired at the moment, but I think that’s because I’m juggling three or four different things at once at the minute...’Partnership member
Residents who are employed to work with Big Local also feel the pressure:
‘As a local resident there are advantages that local people know me and can make connections. I think people are more comfortable with a local resident as the worker. I’m a local resident so not coming in from the outside and I’m well connected. The downside is if a project fails, that’s egg on the face and I’d not want to be connected with that. I’d really feel it.’Paid worker
Some residents have expressed concerns about the level of expectation from the programme – what it means to be a partnership member and the responsibility that that entails. They talk about people coming in off the street and having to get grips with complex processes when they have never been to a meeting before in their lives. Although many acknowledge that they have learnt a lot and now feel comfortable with the Big Local process, they are worried about new people getting involved:
‘...new people, we try and absorb them but it’s working out how to get them in because if you tell them too much at once they are swamped and then they – instead of actually taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Just hang on a minute, I haven’t quite got that first bit,’ ... they’ll just disappear. ...There are some people that slot in and there are others that you really do have to hand-hold all the way through and do you tell them a lot in the beginning or do you not tell them a lot? Because when you tell them you want them to sign the confidentiality agreement and the code of conduct because... is that going to put them off or is it not? Do they understand why they are signing it?’Partnership member
Despite efforts to make the programme light touch, and to provide a range of support structures, the threshold for active involvement can still seem insurmountably high for many and runs at odds with the desire for an inclusive resident-led process. Many of the most active residents interviewed have stressed the steep learning curve they have been through, mostly learning by doing. In North Northfleet, residents talk about the process of working their way through the planning system and understanding the planning documents from the Paramount and Garden City developers. In Westfield (see Snapshot 7), the partnership has had a similar experience to other Big Locals in working through council planning and legal structures to arrange an asset transfer. They describe the process as hardnosed bargaining through which they had to battle on ceaselessly. In the meantime, they had to be seen to be doing something by residents not directly involved in Big Local in order to meet their expectations of something happening in the area. And there is always ‘a risk of putting effort into things that then don’t happen.’ (Partnership member)
There is a clear connection here to time, on the one hand people have learnt that everything seems to take longer than they expected, and on the other, people less involved want to see things happening now. As discussed in Section 2, Big Local makes claims about the area becoming ‘an even better place to live’ and people are all too ready to criticise if this doesn’t appear to be the case. This is particularly true in the areas that have previously experienced initiatives and where a perceived failure to deliver in the past undermines credibility now and expectations are low:
‘Might it tarnish Big Local work now? Lottery money in 2000s with the [x Trust] developing plans for a community hub (i.e. been here before?). Barnardo’s/Drug Project/Credit Union squeezed into one maisonette. Promise of … money for hub, but fell through as one shop keeper blocked planning permissions and Council withdrew. …. Money used on legal fees and delays meant an additional cost of £1m therefore scheme collapsed. Project ended in 2012 with withdrawal of funding.’Paid worker
Others talk about the expectations associated with the allocation of £1 million – ‘a lot of money to people on this estate’ and ambitions to ‘change the world,’ whilst others counter that a million pounds won’t engineer a different community and the jam is being spread too thinly across too many projects and too much for residents to manage. Although some partnerships delegate responsibility for managing projects and activities to their paid staff or the LTO, many partnership members feel a lot of responsibility for project success and place high expectations to deliver this on themselves. Observations of partnership meetings highlight very different approaches to managing the money and different understanding of the ethos of Big Local, with some exuding confidence and ensuring their meetings are ‘to the point’ whilst others deliberate over minute detail:
‘Confident that things will happen as there is a momentum around development - community hub/new housing/supermarket up and running in 2-3 years’ time – big plans for the future – Using Localism Act to develop freedoms on planning/land use.’ (Paid worker)Paid worker
‘I am not saying it is not difficult, but I think we have got quite clear objectives, so we know what we are going to do and what we want. And we are not trying to change the whole world, we are focusing on small, quite small but big impact projects. So I think we can do it, I think we can.’Partnership member
Being a partnership member in your own community is not an easy position to hold (Very difficult to meet people’s expectations of me as a volunteer board member) and it can be made much more difficult by the expectations of local stakeholders. As mentioned above, some feel a pressure to pick up council services:
‘The context is so different now than it was at the start of BL – will have no credibility with local people if don’t provide some of these services.’Partnership member
Sometimes this pressure comes from the council itself – and even where it doesn’t expect Big Local to pick up the pieces, there are perceptions that resources are not going into some Big Local areas because, as in Birchfield, they ‘think we have a million pounds and are sorted.’ (Partnership member)
In the second year of the evaluation, we have begun to explore how changes arising through Big Local – including structures, activities, ethos and outcomes - endure and why. It is too early to draw firm conclusions yet and so we have also looked at the extent to which longer-term thinking influences decisions and processes now.
The way in which Big Locals use their resources is for the most part determined by a conscious effort to leave something behind, yet the reasoning behind their decision-making varies enormously. Many areas have used their money to create physical assets for the community e.g. buildings, parks and play areas:
‘Over the next three or four years I’d like to see us find somewhere that we could convert into a community centre. Because I’d like some sort of legacy and I’ve got a feeling that if we go on spending money, and we’re spending 60% of it on this core of workers and renting offices, there’ll be nothing left at the end of it, there’ll be no legacy, and I’d like to see some sort of legacy left for the community.’Partnership member
Some other areas have taken an opposite stance, focusing on their legacy through paid staff employed to develop community skills and confidence:
‘I think we have all picked up a little bit when we have gone to Big Local events, where people have said oh you have got a fantastic this or that, and we are sitting there feeling quite envious thinking that would be terrific, but then you sort of think well how do they follow that up? How do you? …. Is everyone just going to have a great time and then go away? It is to try and share our skills, get more people skilled up, more confident, more happy to lead projects.’Partnership member
There are a minority of residents who do not think the issue of sustainability or legacy is that important. They believe they have been deprived of resources and positive outcomes for too long and should use the money as they want now. Alternatively, the ebb and flow of Big Locals will mean that some things survive and, inevitably, others do not:
‘It’s a bit like being on a surfboard, riding a surfwave – you don’t know where the wave’s going to go. So you ride it, and if it fades out, you pick up the next one and go along with that. Some things haven’t worked but others will work – that’s the way things seem to me.’Partnership member
There are a range of approaches to sustainability and legacy of Big Local across the case studies. Examples are given below, though each area might be taking more than one approach:
In addition, Growing Together and Ramsey are anticipating that their respective LTOs will continue the Big Local way of working and become the Big Local legacy body:
‘[Chair of LTO] and I have the same vision – want to see RNT and RM join together. A larger body of the admin/engine room function and a group doing community consultation and events is the way to go.’LTO
‘...the legacy will be less tangible – building people’s relationships, capacity and influence over their own lives.’LTO
‘[An] open and honest forum, where the council and WBBL work seamlessly to promote positive regeneration of the town and a lasting legacy for future generations.’Whitley Bay workshop
‘Grassland Hasmoor has a 50/50 use of money i.e. 50% goes on infrastructure... we are determined to grow our millions in our local plan... into at least £2 [for every £1 spent]... So, every project is meant to have a level of match funding attached to it... the delivery out is bringing a lot more in the other way, ...a £10,000 down payment on the skate park is going to bring a skate park worth £70,000 in, that's a huge amount of matching.’Leeds workshop
‘Lawrence Weston have good relationships with large companies particularly with renewable energy companies. Got some of the profit back from one, thought done well, then formed relationship with Bristol energy co-op who put in a planning application to develop a solar farm. Big Local offered its support if it could have a cut of the profit. ...And now already had an upfront payment of £155k and will get a payment every year for next 25 years ...Always looking at economic sustainability...’Birchfield workshop
The individual rationales behind these different approaches rests on a number of factors: the local socio-economic context; history of community activity and support pre-Big Local; previous/existing experience of enterprise; individuals’ knowledge and drive; working relationships with the LTO; extent of partnership working with other agencies. Thus, the current operating models vary. For example, Catton Grove Big Local pays agencies to deliver services from its hub whilst others make a charge for use in order to cover operating costs. Growing Together provides grants for agencies to deliver services but on a tapering scale to give them a ‘kick start’ and encourage them to be more resourceful so that they continue after the Big Local money has run its course. This may help counter the problem of:
‘...everything is going to external organisations... the big contracts have all been commissioned out to external organisations... They are here because it’s 100% funded work for them. The money is not theirs; they are not going to be here... I’m worried that they will deliver but as soon as the money is not there then they won’t be there either.’Paid worker
There is a balance to be struck for most areas, covering costs through income generation but also subsidising activities to ensure access to locally based provision (‘People round here struggle to pay the 50p for the film club’: Partnership member). There is a sense for some that there are conflicting priorities stemming from Local Trust – on the one hand local people are supposed to be working towards community based outcomes (e.g. healthy eating and gardening projects). On the other hand, they are expected to be also generating income which changes the project into a profit making market garden project:
‘Want to keep going. Scary to think of some of the vulnerable people that come along – where will they be without this? The openness of this all is great – very inclusive.’Paid worker
‘Just because it’s a building suddenly it’s a social investment project. No, the building is the means to the end of delivering the outcomes that they want to achieve.’Paid worker
In some areas, a lot of current time and money is being invested in training local people e.g. in youth work or mentoring skills, so that they will be able to continue providing once the money has gone. But, there will always be some activities that bear a cost e.g. retaining a volunteer base to keep costs down has itself a support cost.
‘Well, we want the volunteers to come along and when we talk about it and come up with ideas, we want them to then pick it up and run with it. But they haven’t got the training to do it. They haven’t got the expertise.’Paid worker
Sustainability and legacy are concerns for many Big Local partnership members. Perhaps it is helpful to understand sustainability as ensuring a service or building continues to operate, and legacy as leaving behind a model or culture of working practice:
‘The key is building buy in, self-help and the confidence to achieve. Some things though cost money and may not go ahead in the same way.’Partnership members
As noted at the start of this section, there is no neat, single, typology of the Big Local areas studied. Areas are neither wholly one ‘thing’ or another. Rather they operate across multiple dimensions and on a spectrum or continuum and their position against any one dimension may change over time. Spending priorities, and how spend is allocated may change (from small grants to a more commissioning based model). Governance can shift from very open models to more proscribed structures – and back again as partnerships try and refresh their membership. Some, such as Barrowcliff, have moved from predominantly capital spend to revenue expenditure, whilst others currently spending on projects are beginning to think of substantial capital investment in a community hub or asset.
The following table is not ‘exhaustive’ but aims to give a ‘flavour’ of the different dimensions Big Local partnerships operate across, with differing points on that spectrum or continuum.
Table 7: Different continuums of partnership working
|‘Open’ membership/governance||↔||Closed’ membership/governance|
|Responding to immediate needs||↔||Aspirations focused /strategic vision|
|Small grants||↔||Commissioning/contracting of substantial activity|
|Inward facing||↔||Outward looking|
|Capital spend||↔||Revenue spend|
|Risk averse||↔||Risk taking|
|Investment focused||↔||Spend focused|
|Community development focused||↔||Project focused|
|Protecting what already exists||↔||Change agent|
The framework above could be a way to explore the differing rationale and models behind how Big Locals are operating, what this looks like in practice and how the approach is supporting progress towards Big Local outcomes.