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Full chapter:

Working towards Big Local outcomes

Introduction

Big Local was initially set up with four well publicised outcomes, which expressed the aspirations for the programme as a whole. Initially they were intended to articulate the underlying ethos of Big Local in that it is resident led – with local residents both identifying needs and then designing community plans that tailor responses to specific communities. This contrasted with many previous community change and regeneration initiatives where solutions being ‘imposed’ from the outside against pre-determined policy objectives and targets.

Initially, these look straightforward, simply expressed, and relatively discreet as four outcomes. Big Local areas have, however, often struggled to articulate these outcomes for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of clarity
    Several areas have found the initial outcomes too wordy and hard to promote to others in a meaningful way. Many tend to opt for just the ‘even better to place to live’ outcome. In particular, people do not necessarily see the difference between the first two outcomes around being better able to identify local needs and taking action, and have increased skills and confidence so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future. Exercises around the outcomes with case study partnerships illustrate that some members are not familiar with them at all and/or they use them interchangeably. They therefore record the same achievements across several outcomes which raises questions about whether, for example, the objectives of making a difference and a better place to live fundamentally different.
  • Measurement of outcomes
    Crucially, whilst the outcomes statements are perhaps deliberately broad, Big Local areas have also felt the challenge of measuring progress from needs analysis to delivering against the stated outcomes. Areas have also struggled with what constitutes sufficiently robust evidence of progress against, or achievement of, outcomes. Is anecdotal evidence of a better place to live sufficient or are some ‘harder’ outcome measures required (e.g. numbers gaining employment, reduction in crime rates etc.) as proxy measures which ‘evidence’ improvements in local circumstances? In a ‘light touch’ programme this is clearly a challenge – identified by one partnership chair, who stated that:

    ‘[Starting delivery] has made me aware that we have to put things in place at the start of a project so that we have a baseline to look back to... Unfortunately it creates more work for over stretched volunteers unless paid workers are going to deal with the process.’

    Partnership member
  • The points above have implications for the way that Big Local partnerships express how they expect to meet outcomes, both in original plans, and in actual delivery. Developing skills and knowledge of individual residents and in local community groups, in some instances, is expressed simply as that – whereas for others, as noted, this outcome is subsumed into, and evidenced as, the overarching outcome of an even better place to live.

    The following findings are, therefore, offered with the caveat that, rather than being distinct and discreet outcomes, there are substantial overlaps between each of the four Big Local aspirations and in how respondents talk about them.

Communities will be better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them

Approaches towards meeting this outcome

In the initial ‘getting started’ phase of the Big Local programme, the 15 areas involved in the evaluation took a range of approaches to identifying local needs. In the case of Lawrence Weston, for example, this process built on a pre-existing community plan. In Whitley Bay the partnership commissioned its own consultation, engaging over 1,000 people, which then fed into the council’s own planning process and the town’s masterplan (see also Section 4.3: leadership and influence). In other areas, intelligence about local needs was based primarily on existing data and surveys – supplemented by consultation exercises. This, in itself, proved a challenging exercise as many Big Local areas are not coterminous with ward or constituency boundaries and the local population profile can, therefore, differ substantially from those of Office of National Statistics data sets. The work of the School for Public Health Research (SPHR), with Local Trust, to develop detailed population profiles which are Big Local area/boundary specific has, therefore, been a welcome development for some areas (e.g. Birchfield, who use this information on a regular basis).

18 population profiles which are Big Local area/boundary specific has, therefore, been a welcome development for some areas (e.g. Birchfield, who use this information on a regular basis). Most areas have, however, adopted a consultative approach, with extensive community consultations (supplemented by socio-economic data) informing initial needs assessments, followed by further consultations at the plan development stage. The tactics adopted have varied from area to area. In some cases, consultations took the form of large scale open meetings (e.g. Hanwell). In others, the approach was more targeted – using consultations with specific groups such as children and young people, older residents and local businesses (for example in Blackpool Revoe).

What emerges from the initial needs assessment work is that:

  • The extent of engagement activities to ‘reach’ into communities at the stages of local profiling and plan development varied substantially. Areas that have robust statistics of ‘reach’ range from between 10% and the 50% as indicated in the NCVO Community Engagement Report (2016) pdf=595kb. The NCVO Early Years evaluation pdf=2.76mb in 2015 concluded that, overall: ‘Steering groups and partnerships feel strongly that the process of research, consultation and engagement undertaken to get things started in their area has left them with a rich source of information on local needs from the perspective of people locally. The level of detail and evidence in profiles and plans is one of the strongest tangible indicators that areas have (or have developed) the ability to identify local needs.’ (p93).
  • In terms of the current evaluation, the priorities identified by the participating areas, are broadly reflective of those in the wider programme – including the environment, community cohesion, jobs and economy, youth and health and wellbeing (as the top five priorities).

With the exception of Blackpool Revoe (see Blackpool Revoe final plan consultation meeting film), all the areas involved had completed their initial community profiles and plan consultations in advance of the current evaluation. What residents and partners were therefore asked to do as part of the data collection was to reflect back on their learning from those initial consultations and, where applicable, how these had informed activities around refreshing their delivery plans. In Grassland Hasmoor for example, they felt that the community profile identified the main areas of need. Since then, the partnership has frequently used community engagement questionnaires at activities and events, asking residents what they think is and is not working well or what is missing. They also encouraged the formation of working groups around themes in the plan run by residents not necessarily on the partnership, to identify and help to fill ‘gaps’. In Westfield Big Local, action groups such as gardening, craft, bake and taste groups are an easy source of ongoing consultation. The key has been to make best use of them and to ensure that those not attending activities

There is some early learning around approaches to engaging the wider community in identifying needs and taking action:

  • Publicity surrounding the allocation of £1million to each area had not always been seen as helpful and had raised expectations of immediate spend on some areas. One chair noted that ‘people did not understand that this was resident led and that it takes time to find out what residents’ real needs are.’ Indeed, in a number of areas, including Blackpool Revoe, the assumption amongst the broader community was that the partnership was ‘sitting on’ £1 million.
  • Some active residents perceived a lack of guidance in the early stages from Local Trust – though the learning from the first round of Big Local areas had informed the development of subsequent guidance which Big Locals in later rounds felt had been helpful and eased the planning process.
  • Moving from community profiling to plan development and delivery had been slower than anticipated. In some cases this meant that early enthusiasm and momentum for the programme had been dissipated.
  • The difficulty of communicating to residents what ‘resident led’ meant. In areas such as Lawrence Weston where there had been experience of previous regeneration programmes there was a reported community scepticism (based on that prior experience) about Big Local ‘being different’ and actually being resident led. This is picked up later in Section 4, Expectations.
  • Making the engagement meaningful has been a challenge in some areas. There are examples of where residents have asked people to choose the things they think are most important in the area from a list of themes, only to find that everyone ticks everything and they are still no nearer to identifying what to offer and how. As one resident said:

    ‘(It’s) quite difficult when you say to somebody, out of the blue, any of us, me included, well what do you want? You think well I don’t know, and then if [we] say you get a few options, do you think so and so might work? And then they might go oh yes, that would be good, yes I would quite like that, so sometimes if you just leave it as an open thing, people really don’t know where to start thinking about it.’

    Partnership member
    Others talked of the danger of people focusing on the negatives in their communities rather than the positives and the strengths.
  • Promoting community wide ownership of Big Local has been a challenge. The NCVO Early Years report noted the tension between Big Local being seen as ‘about the whole community’ rather being, simply, the partnership, and seen as ‘an organisation with funding’ All the partnerships in this study commented on this, as one person stated:

    ’My main priority is that power sits with the community and that the needs and ideas are generated from the community as a whole and not just our board but I find it hard with all of the strong voices and strong ideas we have on the board.’

    Partnership member
    Across the 15 areas, partnership members questioned (and at times agonised over) whether they had reached beyond those residents and groups with the loudest voices: ‘It’s harder to engage those who are hard to reach, or vulnerable and find out what can really make a difference in their lives’ (Partnership member). A more detailed discussion of this issue, and how it may be resolved, is available in the film of the networking and learning event in Ramsey.
  • Linked to the point above, was the prioritising process when negotiating the content of the plan:

    ‘Locally, there were some people who had pet projects, however there were a lot of community members who got involved who wanted to work together as a whole community to make sure that no one is left behind or doesn’t feel welcome and that inspired me to stay involved.’

    Partnership member
    In the same vein, one partnership member talked about how the partnership was seen to have a ‘big wedge’ of cash which should fill the big holes on other organisations finances. At a second level, early consultations revealed, for example in Three Parishes, Whitley Bay and Hanwell, that, unexpectedly, a lot of activity was already happening locally ‘below the radar’:

    ‘In our area, because of what has gone before, there’s a huge administrative task just to find out what’s already provided … bringing people and groups together... to meet the needs of residents as opposed to passively taking what other organisations and their funders want to offer... Not very exciting... doesn’t make interesting publicity... but it is essential.’

    Paid worker
    This raised the challenge of developing plans which did not duplicate (or compete with) existing groups/activities, supported the development of those activities whilst not excluding new initiatives and, at the operational stage, co-ordinating activities so that the whole was greater than the parts. Ramsey Million is an example of where they have incentivised local groups to collaborate and add value to the whole through a Ramsey wide heritage project. Indeed co-ordination of activities and the promotion of inter-agency working became key themes of each of the networking and learning events in Ramsey, Birchfield, Hanwell and Leeds.

Progress towards meeting this outcome

So, are communities better able to identify needs and take action? Many started with some fairly straightforward understanding of needs, and responses e.g. litter picking activities as a result of people complaining about the environment, provision of activities to bring people together who said there was nothing to do. However, the learning from early plan consultations and subsequent development has informed further needs assessment work and in some areas the thinking has become more sophisticated:

  • Intelligence from new and emerging projects has informed their needs analysis. In Northfleet, for example, ‘We identified that about 60% of people using the Foodbank have mental health problems so that is something we want to do something about’. (Delivery Partner)
  • Workplans have been refined where needs identified in the initial plan, from experience, had not actually materialised. For example, in Hanwell, older people identified accessible local transport as a key issue, yet the subsequent Ring and Ride initiative was substantially under-used. What emerged at this stage was that what older people wanted was access to affordable transport for day trips and social activities rather than the individualised service initially identified. Similarly, Ramsey Million realised that its Wheels to Work scheme was not a ‘goer’ in their area, partly because local roads were unsafe for motorcycles. However, by promoting the scheme in Cambridgeshire, other areas have picked up the project.
  • Open events, especially ‘piggy backing’ on other local organisations events (such as local carnivals etc.), have been used more frequently as a means of both reaching out – but also making Big Local more visible – and not expecting people to simply come to more formal meetings. In some instances, therefore, needs analysis has become a more informal process – possibly less systematic but with greater reach than in the initial phases.
  • The way that plans are expressed has changed in some areas – with the use of much simpler language in public facing plans:

    ‘Needs may not have changed. Not really...but the way that we express those needs and aspirations has changed... Basically four years ago (in the original plan) the language was too business like, too academic so has changed. So we cut it down in terms that are a bit more accessible and understandable’.

    Partnership member

Learning in relation to this outcome

There is a growing learning within partnerships of the challenges in matching needs assessment, priority setting and delivery. Awareness and reflection of the dilemmas partnerships face in identifying needs has included the fear of ‘over-consultation’ (so called ‘consultation fatigue’) where what people actually want to see is delivery on the ground) on the one hand, with awareness of the risks of not being seen to consult and involve on the other:

‘Well we haven’t done consultation with the wider community for a while…. we do have a newsletter, asking people to respond to certain things, but we haven’t done that wide consultation we did when we first started.’

Partnership member

For others, ongoing consultation is an essential part of the Big Local process – where ‘communication is the key. Big Local needs to reach out to people and keep in touch when they click into Big Local so that people feel a part of [it].’ (Partnership member)

In many cases, initial plans and subsequent plan revisions have identified the opportunities to realise long hoped for developments (e.g. the Play Park in Barrowcfiff had been ‘on the cards’ for 10 years – or the skate park in Grassland Hasmoor – on the agenda for 10 years plus) or ‘quick wins’ around environmental improvements. However, what happens when there is agreement about the issues that need to be addressed as an urgent priority – but no agreement between residents as to what the solution is? Blackpool Revoe, for example, has identified drug and alcohol misuse as a visible and underlying problem in the area – but then the community is deeply divided between those that ‘want the druggies out’ and those for whom what is required is access to support, earlier interventions and treatment options (see Snapshot 1). As noted, the identification of (a common) need does not always translate smoothly into an agreed workplan.

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Snapshot 1: Blackpool Revoe -Tackling the ‘hard’ issues.

Blackpool Revoe (The Revoelution) is amongst the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England (along with four other wards in Blackpool). On the one hand it has a stable population – with two or three generations of families reported as living locally. On the other hand, it is a community undergoing change. There is a growing Polish and Romanian community, for example, and an increasing number of properties in multiple occupation with transient tenants. In both the Revoe Community Profile in early 2014 and the subsequent Community Plan (December 2015) there was a consensus amongst residents that the key issue in the neighbourhood was the misuse of illegal drugs. There has been, however, no agreement on the solution to this issue. For some, including the partnership, those using illegal substances needed earlier interventions and support – particularly given lengthy waiting times for treatment. For others, who reported feeling unsafe on the streets (particularly at night) the answer was ‘getting rid of the druggies.’ The tensions around this issue were evident at the Revoelution’s final plan consultation meeting in December 2015. After extensive consultations and negotiations, they adopted a twin approach. The Revoelution is supporting a range of community safety measures – including CCTV and improving shop front security, and is supporting the Hepititis C local drop in sessions and has commissioned drug support and life coaching services. ‘Some people in this area have given

‘Some people in this area have given up and can’t see any way out of anything. A revo(e)lution is about change and we’d like them to have that hope – to be able to change.’

Partnership member
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Then, there is the issue of not only continuing to engage with, or reach out to ‘the quieter voices’ within established communities, but how to involve newly arrived groups: for example the Romanian community in Blackpool and emerging Polish groups in Lawrence Weston. For some rural Big Locals the profile of new arrivals is rather different: housing developments in, for example, Ramsey, Radstock and the Three Parishes, are attracting more affluent residents who are (or are likely to be) out-commuters to neighbouring, larger, centres of employment. Identifying and responding to needs in communities will be an ongoing challenge for partnerships. However, in the plan refresh process, there has been a feeling that, whatever the change in local populations, the underlying needs of access to employment, promoting health and wellbeing and a clean and green environment will remain the same.

Learning around this outcome is summed by:

‘If I could go back to the beginning with the knowledge and experience I have now I would do things differently. I recognise that you cannot expect already overworked volunteers from deprived areas to find the time to give it the best start... Resident led is a great idea but it needs to start with every individual being completely informed and given the opportunity to engage and participate.’

Partnership member

People have increased skills and confidence, so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future

Approaches to meeting this outcome

‘I would love BL to be about realising that everyone’s skills and experience is valuable and not just those skills that may be valued in the workplace but also the skills that are harder to measure but are integral to building a strong community the greatest of which I believe are diversity and equality.’

Partnership member

Whilst there are a number of residents who have long histories of community activism or paid employment in voluntary organisations, there is also a consistent story, for newer members, of the transformational experience of becoming involved in Big Local partnerships or sub-groups.

Residents talk about ‘never having done anything like this before’ – from simply attending meetings through to taking decisions on spend, acting as secretary to the partnership or leading a working group on a local issue they feel passionate about. One person talked about being ‘a bit like a rabbit in the headlights’ with little idea of what was going on, ‘I thought what am I supposed to be doing, what is this all about, what is my role? So I’m listening.’ (Partnership member)

‘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. The small grants have given us a lot of insight into what’s going on in the area, because we didn’t know there were all different sorts of groups. So I personally think we’ve learned a lot through that. The whole thing is a learning curve. Experience. We’re growing all the time in what we can help, how we can help and the more people that find out about us, the more we can help.’

Partnership member

Many of the 15 partnerships have learnt a lot about community priorities and different ways of responding to identified needs through running small grants programmes, as in the quote above. They are building their skills and confidence through ‘trying things out’ and reflecting on what works without apportioning blame. In Grassland Hasmoor they are developing new processes such as participatory budgeting and building their confidence to do this well through looking at what has worked well, and less well, elsewhere. In Barrowcliff the Monday morning breakfast meetings and the coffee morning ‘drop-ins’ in Lawrence Weston have proven a reliable way of bring new people and new ideas to the table, thus enabling a continuous route to making needs known and generating solutions. In most Big Locals studied,

  • Barrowcliff Big Local for example, is open about the fact that some of their previous approaches e.g. the Opportunities Day, was not what people wanted, as evidenced by the fact that not many people turned up (though it was a useful networking opportunity for agencies). Reflecting on the best bits, the hard bits and doing the things others can not do, the vice chair of Barrowcliff Big Local suggested that, rather than a ‘scattergun’ approach, what they needed was a more targeted ‘sniper rifle’ approach.
  • Lawrence Weston developed an Employment Hub to promote local residents’ access to employment in the Avonmouth docks. Initial take up was slow – in part due to falling unemployment rates in the area. The project was redesigned to work with those furthest from the labour market, identifying barriers to work and is establishing a more individually tailored mentoring scheme.
  • The Bountagu partnership has similar reflections, stressing that Big Local is not an exact science and everyone has learnt by doing:

    ‘...tried different things, and things that we thought were going to be flag waving things have really ditched and dived. And some things that we didn’t expect, have worked really really well.’

    Paid worker

Progress towards meeting this outcome

Skills and confidence are developing:

  • within partnerships, at a collective and individual level
  • in the projects and community groups supported by Big Local.

Within partnerships

Confidence and skills level have increased within the Big Local partnerships as they have developed and resident partners have become more experienced:

‘Having been involved from the start, yes it’s a big ask. But for some it has been a lovely process. When you came to our meeting and [partnership member] said yes I’ll do [that], he never ever would have done that… so to see that confidence grow. Most of the people on the partnership have never been to a meeting never mind being involved in something like Big Local with £1m and it’s a big ask to get them to think about how they spend that. Once they got their heads round that, when the grants of more than £20k/£30k are more than their annual pay, then, two or three years in, they could do it – yes, £30k that sounds reasonable.’

Partnership member

A key dimension to this has been residents feeling that, perhaps for the first time, their views are taken seriously and not dismissed ‘out of hand’. This has provided them with a confidence that they can ‘grow’ their projects and manage Big Local resources:

‘Partnership board membership has empowered residents to increase a) personal confidence, b) articulate ‘needs’ of their community.’

Paid worker

Two Big Local partnerships have identified a growth in confidence through the practice of evaluating project proposals

Partnership members have greater confidence in what we do... Partnership has learnt the value of assessing bids – increased their own ability.’

‘We did have projects that came to the table, and we didn’t just accept those projects for what they were, and between all of us we questioned the projects, we questioned value for money, we questioned whether they were actually delivering to our areas. We offered our services as somebody who had knowledge and expertise, so I think for me that responsibility for that money was well and truly shared, … and that was all for the benefit of the residents. ….given us far more confidence now to actually make decisions.’

Partnership members)

The actions of partnerships may be collective but the experience is very much at an individual level. For some residents, especially where there is a consciously supportive culture in the partnership, the involvement has been a transformative experience (see Snapshot 2) in terms of their confidence and the skills they have built.

As noted earlier in the report, some partnership members have gone on to become paid workers for Big Local or in one their supported projects. These people are now using the skills they learned as volunteer partnership members to continue to identify and respond to local needs in their paid work.

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Snapshot 2: A Partnership member’s experience – Jodie Montgomery, Ramsey Million

‘As the consultation and the last events came to an end, the steering group were then putting together the plan on what the Partnership was going to entail, who could apply etc. and they had an event that I went to find out about what being a Partnership member entailed, what we needed to do… I went along and I noticed that... I was one of the youngest in the room and there wasn’t that many people on the families and children side.
...so I felt that I needed to stay involved to make sure that families and children were represented.
...It’s been a huge learning curve, it really has. People have got so many different personalities. Learning when to say something and when not to say something, and sometimes just saying something even though you know that you’re going to get a bad response from someone. But you just say it anyway because if you do not say it then you do not get your point across. I still struggle with words and how to say it to make sure that they understand how it’s coming out of my brain. But I get there in the end. But, no, it’s been good.
...We have a discussion over what we feel, so if we’ve got any questions we want to raise on the understanding of things, whether the project involves the training, if we’re coming together as a collaboration with another group, who is providing what, any questions anyone has got, they ask. And when nobody else has got anything else to ask and we all feel that we understand it enough we then vote. … I’ve got a better understanding of how things work. They will do what they need to do to make sure that you can be involved.’

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Across the community

There is also some evidence across Big Locals that that skills and confidence are being built at a broader level than the partnership and its members. Ramsey Million is becoming seen as the ‘go to’ body by other community groups and agencies. It has advised others on how to identify needs, carried out work to further identify what is needed and passed this on and has tried to ensure that local people involved in projects build their skills too. Firstly, for example, it commissioned a piece of work to look at the town’s community spaces with a view to identifying the space available with what was required. It funded others to do this work so that it was seen as having some independence from the Big Local partnership and thus enabling different groups in the town to be involved in the decision making process. Secondly, young people who joined the Ramsey youth project, Crunch, have been supported to become volunteers and participated in training sessions to become youth workers - they are now ‘giving back’ and planning sessions and relevant activities.

Several Big Locals believe that their grants process has taught groups how to make better funding bids, therefore raising their ability to increase income. In some areas, this has been a conscious activity (e.g. Grassland Hasmoor Big local has stipulated match funding for all its activity, thus pushing groups to identify additional funding sources). Similarly in the commissioning and contracting arrangements in Blackpool Revoe and Hanwell, those bidding are required to demonstrate the ‘added value’ they bring to Big Local. In Growing Together Big Local, they have tapered their large grant funding to encourage organisations to build their skills, be more resourceful and, hopefully, sustainable beyond Big Local.

In the Three Parishes, the flexibilities afforded by Big Local funding mechanisms has enabled the partnership to redesign the Credit Union workplan to address the slow start to the initiative and address financial literacy with children and young people (see Snapshot 3).

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Snapshot 3: Three Parishes - Identifying and responding to emerging needs

The Three Parishes Big Local identified the difficulties some residents were having in accessing mainstream banking and affordable financial services in a deep rural area. As a result some were turning to high interest/pay day loan companies or even loan sharks (because they were more anonymous).

In response, Three Parishes Big Local worked with FAIRshare Credit Union in Shrewsbury and Telford to offer services for two hours each week in Gobowen, Western Rhyn and St. Martins. Take up was, however, slow. One of the reasons given for this included difficulty in educating people about the benefits of credit union membership and the stigma that could be associated with being seen to use a Credit Union point in a rural community.

The partnership reviewed the approach being taken with FAIRshare and revised the workplan. This now means no weekly one to one sessions, greater marketing focus promoting FAIRshare’s development of an online membership application, allowing members to apply at a time that suits them and less publicly. There is less direct service delivery time (one hour per week in each area), but greater outreach to encourage take-up and the development of credit union services on line.

In addition, a children’s savings club has been successfully established in one of the local primary schools. This last development was seen, not only as a way to encourage a culture of saving at an early age, but also as a way to reach out to parents and encourage them to join and save, without the issue of stigma. The early results of this change of course approach have been promising – particularly with the savings club where children have been recruited to take on a range of banking roles and this has been built into the school day curriculum. The other two primary schools in the area have expressed an interest in extending this scheme. For more information see the Three Parishes ‘Using Small Grants’ video.

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Learning in relation to this outcome

This increased confidence in decision making and the skills to take decisions on complex issues, is not a simple process. In terms of awarding contracts under a commissioning process, for example, the chair of one Big Local noted:

‘[The organisations] all gave great presentations and had much to offer us but only one can be chosen. This is hard when as part of a small community you know these people and their work. It should feel like you have power and influence but it feels like a responsibility that your decision could come back and bite you if we get it wrong and I don't like upsetting people. Let's hope we didn't.’

Partnership members)

However, the long term time frame of Big Local has meant that resident partners have been able to learn and develop at their own pace – rather than against pre-determined deadlines. They feel they have the permission to withdraw for periods if there are difficulties in their personal lives or are simply too busy – and then return. Indeed, as noted, for a number of residents initial activity with the partnership has resulted in becoming employed – either as development workers or administrators within their Big Local. Partners attending Local Trust Spring Events, chairs meetings and learning workshops particularly valued these opportunities for peer learning. This applied not simply to gaining technical knowledge (for example sessions on measuring impact), but the chance to share challenges, explore solutions and, where a Big Local area faces particularly difficult issues (either in the way a partnership is working or problems with plan delivery) building a sense that ‘we are not alone’ in this.

‘...but we proved ourselves wrong, that we can do it! And as you say, ruddy hard work but we got there in the end!’

Partnership members

The community is making a difference to the needs it prioritises

Approaches to meeting this outcome

Big Local areas have adopted a range of strategies to make a difference in their area. These include:

  • A community development approach aimed at creating more ‘neighbourliness’, pride in the community and stimulating small scale community activities led by residents (e.g. Bountagu)
  • The use of small grants to stimulate or extend community based activity (e.g. Radstock, Whitley Bay and Three Parishes)
  • Project/service delivery funding through larger/established voluntary organisations –through grants and commissioning (e.g. Blackpool Revoe, Catton Grove, Growing Together) and Service Level Agreements (e.g. Hanwell) with a system of payment in-arrears against outcomes
  • Brokerage – improving the co-ordination of existing local groups and services (e.g. Whitley Bay, Ramsey)
  • Acting as strategic change agents – through aiming to attract substantial inward investment and radical physical change within the area (see Snapshot 17: Lawrence Weston)
  • A combination of all, or some, of the above.

Progress towards meeting this outcome

Big Local actions can be clustered around five key themes: environmental improvements; promoting health and wellbeing; strengthening and celebrating a sense of community; stimulating new activities which meet local needs and work with children and young people.

Making a physical and environmental difference is a theme that runs throughout all 15 Our Bigger Story areas. Examples include:

  • The development of static play equipment areas. These vary in scale from the creation of an entire play park in Barrowcliff through to the proposed skate-park in Grassland Hasmoor and smaller scale developments in Lawrence Weston, North Northfleet and the Growing Together area
  • Improvements to green and open spaces and improved paths and walkways e.g. Grassland Hasmoor Big local
  • Allotment developments aimed at encouraging young people to become involved in growing vegetables (Radstock) or as a space to enable people to come together in a safe space (e.g. Catton Grove, adults with mental health problems in Birchfield)
  • Providing hanging baskets and street planters in local shopping areas – for example in Whitley Bay.

A slightly different approach to the environment has been developed around local heritage. In Birchfield this has involved creating heritage walks which raise residents’ awareness of local history through to, at a larger scale, substantial investment in enhancing local heritage sites in Ramsey as a means of attracting tourism and supporting the local economy (see also Snapshot 4). Similarly, Radstock Big Local has been working with the Town Centre Team to ‘make Radstock a place where people want to stop – and shop - rather than just drive through.’ (Paid worker)

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Snapshot 4: Ramsey Heritage Project

In April 2015 Ramsey Million Partnership commissioned Cambridgeshire ACRE to run a project to raise the profile of Ramsey Parish. Ramsey has many historical and natural attractions as well as a wide selection of independent retailers. This project aims to inject some vitality into the town, bring visitors into the area, increase footfall in the town and spending in local shops, as well as encouraging local people to have pride in their town and the surrounding villages and Fen landscape.

With its own branding, Discover Ramsey has organised a number of events over the last two years, brought the different heritage groups together, and created a dedicated website to profile the history and help people get the most out of visiting Ramsey.

In 2016, two events held in September helped put Discover Ramsey on the map:

The first was free entry to seven heritage venues with a vintage bus taking people round all the sites. Visitors records at all the heritage sites were more than ever before and at one site, visitor numbers were up by two thirds on the previous year.

At the second event - Craft Saturday – there were more than 30 stalls, people brand new to trading, interspersed with more experienced traders, were busy all day as were the local shops who posted on Facebook that this was their busiest ever; ‘Brought a buzz to the town.’

And this is not just about visitors, the Big Local’s money and expertise is investing in encouraging more residents to come out of their houses, and they see this as opening up local volunteering opportunities.

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The second common theme relates to activities which aim to make a difference to the health and wellbeing of individual local residents through activities such as:

  • fitness classes (Barrowcliff’s Biggest Loser – see also Snapshot 5)
  • social groups which aim to overcome social isolation – particularly amongst older people: for example ‘Men in Sheds’ in Three Parishes and Grassland Hasmoor, the many coffee morning/afternoon tea type drop ins at Bountagu, Growing Together’s older people’s clubs
  • those using alcohol and illegal drugs in Blackpool Revoe.
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Snapshot 5: Barrowcliff - The biggest loser and a winning community

Barrowcliff Big Local funded Scarborough fitness centre, Compass Gym, to run an innovative weight-loss project, The Biggest Loser, in the heart of the community. 40 plus local residents embraced the challenge to get active and transform their lives. This directly resulted in:

  • a collective total weight loss of 138.9lbs - one pound short of 10 stones
  • 924 centimetres lost.

But the story goes further than this:

  • community links: Barrowcliff Big Local is concerned about the extent of loneliness in the area and aware that people will cross the road rather than speak to each other. The project has brought people together, they walk home from the sessions together; and to inject a bit of motivation the project participants were split into two teams which meant they supported each other to lose weight and become the winning team
  • individual benefit: one young person, on a ‘Uniformed Services’ college course, wanted to join the armed services but was overweight and therefore did not meet the criteria. Motivated by the Biggest Loser project, he lost 2 stones in weight and started a new job in the army.

What next? Barrowcliff Big Local will run the project again, and already has 30 people signed up. It recognises though that they need to reach out beyond the ‘same’ people – they could have 20 people who are healthy and fit but want to reach the other 1,200 people on the estate. This is their biggest challenge.

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In many ways these are small scale initiatives – certainly in terms of financial support – but can have a substantial impact on the lives of local residents:

‘Finding this community group has genuinely been a life changer for me. The music and social aspect of this group has made a very significant contribution to my physical and mental health whilst renewing my interest in my community.’

Loacl resident

‘It’s not just a health and wellbeing group… it spun out into a reading group and we’ll support that. The gardens and allotment group…it’s not just about growing things. It’s a space for people without gardens or people who have mental health problems who just want somewhere peaceful to sit.’

Partnership member

The third common theme is celebration and community events. Initiatives include:

  • Carnivals and fun-days (Bountagu, Hanwell, Westfield, Whitley Bay)
  • Farmer’s and craft markets (North Northfleet, Ramsey Million, Whitley Bay)
  • Christmas celebrations. By sponsoring the Christmas lights in Hanwell, the Big Local partnership reported that the area no longer felt ‘the poor relation’ to neighbouring parts of Ealing:

    ‘The idea of soft outcomes is very important, because I mean that event that we had down the local shops which is a result of sponsoring a trading association, it really gives the immediate area around it a lift.’

    Partnership member

Such events are increasingly being used not simply as events ‘in their own right’ but as a means of promoting community cohesion, bringing together diverse communities (or estates where there has been a history of tension) and ‘part of the agenda here was making people feel better about, and take pride, in the area they lived in,’ (Partnership member). Further, they are also a forum for community consultation e.g. Barrowcliff Big Local combined its annual general meeting with a family fun day, and, as in Ramsey, they raise the profile of Big Local in their own areas as well as helping improve perceptions of the area to outsiders.

This sense of using events as a means of creating, or recreating, community spirit is closely linked to the development of community hubs: spaces which bring together communities and services. There are, already, successful examples – for example in Bountagu (where the hub has been described as ‘like a home from home’, see Snapshot 6), and in Blackpool Revoe (where services are beginning to be delivered in a co-ordinated way) as well as in Catton Grove, Westfield and the Growing Together Big Local areas.

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Snapshot 6: Bountagu Community Hub

‘Bountagu is a diverse community and the focus is on integration, building community spirit and a sustainable future.’ (Bountagu strapline).

The community hub is a physical space, housed in an old betting shop in a parade of shops, but in fact has generated a community spirit which extends much more widely.

For a small space, a lot goes on. Mondays it’s information and advice and help with form filling, an afternoon tea, and an over 50s lunch. Tuesday offers conversational English, IT skills and ‘Hang Out’ youth club; Wednesday brings a job club, coffee morning, Wi-Fi support, enterprise and business advice and a young people’s enterprise club. Thursdays include a drop-in, ‘Hang Out’ youth club, youth forum and on Fridays there is a coffee morning, a befriending programme and keep fit.

A key outcome is in the connections people make- finding out what they need, and then finding ways to help. ‘So it is kind of making them personally happier, more contented, and it is also about making them proud to live here again, because for the last 30 years or so, people have felt ashamed to live here, rather than proud to live here. So it is about the whole community, and it is also about individuals. …It makes them feel important as well.’ (Partnership member)

Residents note that people in the area seem more relaxed, friendly and smile more. ‘We see that people stop out here, they look in the window yes, but they are actually now talking to each other, so it is a kind of talking point, even if they don’t come in. And they bring stuff in, ...give it to us to give to the community.’ The flowerbeds outside have also made a difference – residents are encouraged to plant them or bring plant donations into the shop: ‘people care about the area, confidence, sense of pride and belonging. The flowers have had a major effect on people’s emotional kind of ...wellbeing, I know it sounds like a bit over the top, but ...they get a sense of it as theirs.’ (Partnership member)

There were five deaths in the community last year. The 50+ groups and buddying service helped families and friends deal with the grief by coming together in the community – across all ethnicities and faiths with the community attending funerals from all religions. Bountagu helped with the funerals when there was no one else. ‘So for the last two years, those people have had community, they have had friends, they have had things to do, they have had people to look out for them. …Bountagu residents have been their family.’ (Partnership member)

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Some areas, desperate for a community space, have expended substantial energies on trying to identify, or negotiate management of, potential community hubs, (see Westfield Snapshot 7), some are in the process of creating the legal structures for doing so, but some have to date made little or no progress. This issue is addressed further in the final section of the current report.

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Snapshot 7: Westfield Big Local gets a community space

‘And it’s a big thing, because it’s the only thing this community’s got. We haven’t got a doctors, we haven’t got a library, we haven’t got a church, we’ve got nothing.’

Partnership member

Westfield is an outer estate, 8 miles from the centre of Sheffield. There are few facilities on the estate. In the last year the doctors’ surgery has closed for the second time. The only community facility, the Com.Unity Centre, is a community centre based in an old pub building, run for many years by the local authority. Primarily used as a youth centre, it was only open at limited times each week, and despite banks of computers, a gym, a café and meeting space, was underused by the local community.

You know, before Big Local, the council had got this as a centre. I didn’t even know anything about it and I’ve lived on this estate for 40 year.’

Partnership member

Westfield Big Local has prioritised taking on the management of the Com.Unity Centre. It is now open every day – but it has been a turbulent journey. It has taken two and a half years of ‘hard nosed bargaining,’ a lot of this time taken up with toing and froing with the legal department in the council. Negotiations with the council have been protracted – resisting the rent payments originally specified, alongside restrictions to its use. The residents were supported through a pro bono solicitor and a surveyor from Sheffield Hallam University. This meant they were able to present a lot of documentation about the condition of the building. The partnership feels that presenting this level of technical information surprised the council and went way beyond the information the council had itself, ‘Sheffield Council realised that they’d got a battle on their hands.’ (Partnership member)

The group also benefited from the advice of a Social Investment Rep who helped with understanding building regulations. The partnership’s advice to any other groups attempting something similar would be to get specialists involved (in Westfield’s case this was all free support) as this made a big difference, and to minute every meeting with written and signed decisions.

‘I think that we went in there with these blinkers. We thought it would be over and done with in a month, to be honest.’

Partnership member
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There are different approaches though to asset transfer and management. In Hanwell, rather than the Big Local taking on the asset of the community centre from the local authority, the partnership is supporting a consortium of local agencies to take on a management role – though asset transfer negotiations have been protracted (see Snapshot 8). Three Parishes has used its role as a broker, not to fund the transition of a local library into a community resource, but to bring agencies together to support and manage this process.

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Snapshot 8: Hanwell Big Local - Collaborating around community space

Hanwell Community Centre is a large Victorian building and historic landmark which was originally an orphanage in the 19th Century. The Centre is currently run by Ealing Council and houses a range of activities: from sports and fitness groups, a nursery, arts and crafts groups as well as meeting rooms, office space for local projects a large sports hall suitable for events and a recently opened café.

The Centre, however, has had to be subsidised in recent years and the Council has decided to tender out the management arrangements. Rather than bidding, Hanwell Big Local has supported the development of a consortium of local organisations to become constituted and submit a tender (Hanwell Community Centre Consortium). A final decision has yet to be reached on awarding the contract (this is now expected in March/April 2017) – though the Consortium developed a business case and successfully negotiated the initial expression

This approach has not only enabled a range of local groups to spread the financial risk of taking on the Centre but also offers the opportunity for the Consortium to bid for additional resources to improve the fabric of the building and its facilities. As the Centre is a building of historic importance, this includes potential Heritage Lottery funds.

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In terms of making a difference, small grants and project funding are stimulating both new and greater levels of activity (see Snapshot 9). For example, in North Northfleet, for example, CAS Training Solutions started out as a volunteer led ‘job club’. Funding from Big Local enabled the project to expand the number of initial days it opened and, subsequently, enabled them to attract additional matched funding and begin to deliver training, advice guidance and counselling for Job Centre Plus. As noted, CAS has been particularly successful in getting local residents into employment, and this is picked up in the difference that Big Local is making to individuals.

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Snapshot 9: Making a difference for projects – A community allotment in Birchfield

‘The community allotment actually got going and was very successful. We pick up people who’ve got learning difficulties from local hostels and we take them along to the allotment, and we’ve now got a manager of the allotment who works 16 hours and we show them how to grow food, how to cook it when it’s grown, on wet days we do art groups with them, you know, we get them involved with the earth and with all that that means to them, but one of the offshoots of that was we decided to take part in Britain in Bloom, It’s Your Neighbourhood. That’s had a really, really big impact...

We were getting little bits of grants from all over the place, so the manager was spending a lot of his time continually applying for bits of grants to keep it going. But, when Big Local started, we actually got a grant from them which meant he knew that he had an income for two years, he didn’t have to spend all his time applying for bits of grants all over the place, and we could get on with actually doing stuff in the community. So we expanded the allotment project, we started to do a lunch club where people in the local community could drop in, get some food that we’d grown on the allotment, and meet other people in the community.

Because we’d got so many people involved coming along, we had four or five open days where people could come along and make hanging baskets, plant pots up, and we gave them all material and showed them how to do it, and we actually involved about 500 people. And it’s quite a small area, Birchfield, so that’s a lot of people to involve from a small area.’ (Partnership member)

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It is one thing to stimulate activity, and another to help it become a sustainable activity built upon robust evidence of need and use. The two examples below, illustrate how Big Local has helped to start something that has developed a life of its own:

  • The commission by Growing Together to Free2talk for youth work services has given this relatively new youth work Community Interest Company (CIC) a track record which it can use to help secure other contracts. As a small and very new organisation it was difficult to attract funding but the Growing Together work has enabled Free2talk to better understand how it needs to reflect on, and evaluate, its work. Free2talk has been able to use this evidence about the youth work process and its relevance to the Growing Together area. This has helped it to contribute to a partnership bid for a large contract and cite Growing Together as making ‘a real difference to our organisation’.
  • Scarborough and Ryedale Community Cycling Community Interest Company (CIC) was a small, non-profit making, organisation which provides cycling opportunities for everyone, including those with limited mobility. Its first event was at Gallows Close Community Centre in December 2014, funded through Barrowcliff Big Local, as an activity for older people in the area. This brought the CIC to the attention of a national cycling charity and it has since been able to expand its services; building and providing more accessible bikes and trikes, and running cycle hire schemes, still in Barrowcliff but also now beyond the county boundaries.

In a number of instances, the success of a project supported by Big Local has also given groups the confidence to move on and try new approaches and develop new projects. In Radstock and Westfield, for example, Swallows ran successful Zumba classes with adults with a learning disability. A second small grant has allowed them to expand their current community café into producing preserves as part of a sustainable social enterprise.

For some, early spend has been a useful way of promoting the Big Local concept of resident led change, publicising Big Local, and addressing initial resident scepticism about the programme: ‘When we started there was a lot of apathy but that has change because things have started happening.’ (Partnership member). Further, the flexibilities and lack of bureaucracy attached to the small grants scheme (run in Radstock as a Dragon’s Den event rather than through a detailed application process, and in Whitley Bay as very small ‘Small Sparks’ grants to individuals) has meant that ‘We can just get on and do things without jumping through hoops.’ (Small grant recipient). For other areas, the focus has been on ‘soft outcomes’ sought through community development activities, as in the Bountagu snapshot (8), and in Birchfield, the recruitment of a volunteer co-ordinator has facilitated the development of a range of volunteer led initiatives, including English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) support, an older people’s social club and the Stepping Forward employment and training advice service. These initiatives aim to make a difference by addressing the social isolation felt by older residents and those whose first language is not English.

Making a difference to children and young people is common throughout the Big Local plan priorities, and there are examples of initiatives aimed at addressing this in every Big Local area. Several areas offer a range of provision (illustrated in Snapshot 10), to ensure they meet the needs of different age groups, but also to provide a range of ‘ways in’ for young people

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Snapshot 10: Growing Together Big Local - Youth work

Creating new opportunities for young people has become the principal focus of the Growing Together programme. In part, this is due to a widespread belief among partnership members and in the wider community that improving the life-chances of the youngest members of the community is probably the most effective way to bring about lasting improvements to the estates. There is also an awareness that the other side of investing in young people is reducing anti-social behaviour. Growing Together has:

  • paid for four new play areas and bought two youth shelters, each with its own exercise equipment
  • funded youth clubs run by Free 2 Talk, paid for adventurous outdoor activity youth programmes run by Change of Scene, contributed to Reelscape’s film based youth programmes and covered the cost of Impact Now’s education support youth work on three estates, as well as given a grant to the Scouts.
  • Made 29 small grants to organisations working with children or teenagers

In total there were 3,568 young people reported as using Growing Together funded children’s and youth activities. This number reflects the fact that some young people almost certainly benefitted several times. However additional children and young people were involved in other Big Local funded activities, including use of the new play and teen facilities, which have not been quantified. Assuming maximum overlap a minimum of 950 (out of 2500 in the area) individual children and teenagers have benefitted and it is probably much higher.

Play areas
The very large majority of the play facilities originally installed on the estates have been removed or taken out of use long ago. Restoration of public play equipment availability was the single most frequently mentioned suggested use of the £1m during the initial consultations. The partnership therefore set a target of creating a new play facility on each of the five estates.

‘We wanted a park over here for a long time - the others are too far away to go to very often. We come here three or four times a week, usually when we’re playing football. It’s much easier.’

Group of 14 year olds

‘The play areas are absolutely great. They’re the right things in the right places. They’re well used and the locals seem very happy with them. Rillwood Court’s given something to the older kids that they didn’t have before and the Bird’s Hill Road one is especially well used from 2 to 4 in the afternoons, after school. No one’s complained to me or said they’re a waste of money.’

Council Neighbourhood Warden

Youth work
Free 2 Talk have run two Growing Together funded youth clubs in the area with associated detached activity through-out the period. The two clubs, run on a drop-in basis, have been for 8 to 11 year olds and 12+ year olds. Free 2 Talk have also run a number of other projects, supported by Small Grants Fund grants and have played a key role in the development and design of the two youth shelters, ensuring that local young people were involved in the creation of a facility that would be their own space on the estates. A recent case study shows the impact engagement with Free 2 Talk can have. A group of eight young people had stopped coming to the club and had started to become isolated from other young people. The majority were out of school/employment and they had come to recognise that they needed help. Their initial behaviour on returning was challenging and attention seeking and youth workers had to help them to resolve some issues without resorting to fighting. Through the use of music and internet based sharing activities with others, they are becoming re-integrated socially into the wider group and better able to manage themselves appropriately.

‘If we hadn’t had the money, then the situation now would be very different. The play areas and youth shelters wouldn’t be there and the Junior Wardens programme might not be running. There would have been no Free 2 Talk activity on Blackthorn … We wouldn’t be where we are now and I think the challenges would be greater. I’ve got nothing but good to say of how the money’s been used.’

Delivery Partner
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Many of the examples provided in this section of the report are at the level of intention, process and activity, rather than evidence of real community change. At this stage in the programme, that is perhaps understandable. However valuable these activities may be as a mechanism for stimulating grass roots activity, the question remains (and is commented upon further in the concluding sections of this report) as to the extent to which these approaches (or indeed project/service funding) can address the structural causes of poverty and inequality which characterise most of the Big Local communities.

Some Big Local partnerships are doing their best to remedy the social inequality they have identified. It is a regular conversation in Westfield where they try to ensure that all their, and other organisations’, activities are open to all, and provide a combination of a savings scheme and bursaries to make that happen. Grassland Hasmoor Big Local has focused a lot of its planned activity on alleviating poverty in one way or another, for example, the Holiday Hunger Project, welfare rights advice and the Pit Stop Diner (see Snapshot 11).

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Snapshot 11: Grassland Hasmoor Big Local - Pit Stop Diner

This initiative is delivered by volunteers and was originally set up by Grassland Hasmoor Big Local (GHBL) working with Public Health Adult Care. The Pit Stop Diner is open on the first Saturday of every month at Grassmoor Community Centre. A team of around 15 volunteers deliver the project with support from GHBL and Public Health. The team receive the delivery on a Tuesday ready for creating the menu and putting on Facebook to publicise. On the Friday volunteers pick up excess surplus food from Tesco. The event takes place on the Saturday - this is when volunteers are at full capacity.

The event strives to bring residents of different backgrounds to come along, enjoy a meal and socialise with other members of their community. The dedicated volunteers at the diner are a mix of young people looking to gain experience and who can learn new skills from the more experienced volunteers.

The original idea was to provide a meal and help to alleviate poverty in the area. However, the Pit Stop Diner is open to all and was not set up solely for poverty-related issues, it is also the social enrichment aspect that is highly valued and key to many residents that attend. The Pit Stop Diner now strives to cultivate community cohesion and improve health and well-being for the local communities - creating lasting change and developing community spirit. David Maric, board member at Big Local, said: ‘It is about getting that pride back in the village... It is not just for the elderly, it is for the young people as well. It is about getting them together, getting them talking and giving them a good, nutritious meal.’

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This leads to an exploration of the extent to which Big Local is making a difference to individuals. The Big Local outcomes are primarily focussed on the whole community. However, it is individuals that make up communities. The here is evidence that opportunities provided by Big Local partnerships to develop skills and knowledge has built confidence and assisted people into jobs, self-employment and (with UnLtd support) into social enterprise development:

‘I’m proud to get involved and promote the area... [When I moved here] no-one spoke. Now everyone talks and says hello as they know me from [Big Local] events and the newsletter... Mentally [by being on the Board] I’m in a better place and it distracts me from my health issues... Learning presentation skills was a step forward and brought back things I’d done in the past.’

Partnership member

These themes are reflected in Snapshots 12 and 13 about residents in two Big Local areas, Cheryl and Jake.

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Snapshot 12: Change for individual residents - Cheryl’s story

‘Two years ago I had two small children, five and four. I started going to the children’s centre to interact more with other mums. We’re on benefits ‘cause I’ve given up work to have my children. which wasn’t a very good lifestyle. Now I’ve been given the funding [Cheryl is an UnLtd Star Person] it’s just changed my life and given me the opportunity to go self employed and build my own business and provide a better life for me and my family.

The idea behind my star people’s was just to get other mums in the community who were like me, who didn’t really interact in the community. ...out of the houses and interacting with each other. I’m a lot more confident now. 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.

There’s been a lot of difficulties, it took quite a while for my funding to come through... but... I knew it’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something in Barrowcliff that would make Barowcliff better so I wasn’t going to give up on that. (My children) wanting to get involved and do stuff now as well... It’s brought them more out their shells as well so which is really good.’ A film of the full interview with Cheryl is available here. Cheryl has since moved off the estate to find a larger home – but retains her connections with Barrowcliff, and has established her own business.

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Cheryl’s story may not be representative of the journeys of all residents who become involved in Big Local partnerships and other local voluntary action – but it is not atypical (see also Jake’s story in Snapshot 13).

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Snapshot 13: Moving to self employment– Jake’s story.

Jake is a white man in his 40s. He and his family have lived in the neighbourhood all their lives. Jake has a background in information technology. He became disillusioned working for a large corporation and subsequently spent several years either unemployed or working on short term contracts.

Jake has been involved with his Big Local for just over a year, having engaged with Board members and the Big Local worker at a public event. Jake described the impact that involvement has had on his life:

‘I used to be a computer trainer and felt knocked about. I was festering. Now I’m more involved and have a better quality of life. It’s given me a fresh outlook on life and brought me out of a pit…. I never used to be a community type person. Now I’m getting involved and it’s improved my life.’

Big Local also encouraged Jake to develop his ideas for self-employment:

‘I came up with the idea of this computer business [recycling and repairs] and they said we’ll help you if you can help us. They offered me a space, a platform to advertise to the local community at events.’

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In Bountagu, a number of residents have used their experience of volunteering with Big Local to move into jobs or further training (See Snapshot 14), whilst in North Northfleet, CAS Training Solutions (see also Snapshot 18) reported that it had worked with almost 700 local residents in its first two years and that 29% of these had moved into some form of employment.

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Snapshot 14: Bountagu - From volunteering to paid employment

Bountagu Big Local has used volunteering opportunities as a way of getting local residents ‘job ready’ and into work. For example:

  • T gained a job in Community Development at the Council after being involved in the Parents Engagement Partnership and Bountagu Partnership
  • L volunteered with the Bountagu Hang Out after school club and gained work in a school
  • M gained work doing transport and decorating services after doing odd volunteer jobs at the Hub
  • B gained work as an outreach worker with the Youth Engagement Project (police) after being involved with Bountagu community development projects
  • W gained work at Bountagu as a cleaner.
  • Others have moved into work with children and young people, in support work with older people or setting up their own catering businesses.
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Examples from other areas that have prioritised routes into employment include:

  • Lawrence Weston offers, in partnership with Bristol Energy Co-operative, paid internships – developing the website for local green and energy efficiency projects
  • Barrowcliff has supported three Site Safety Certificate courses for almost 100 residents. All have gained the qualification and it was reported that a number had moved into work in the construction industry
  • Hanwell is developing a horticultural apprenticeship scheme with a view to supporting apprentices into longer term employment in this field
  • Whitley Bay, where Jam Jar Cinema has worked with the local high school to pilot Arts Awards for young people which can contribute up to 35 UCAS points towards University entry.
  • Birchfield and North Northfleet, working with UnLtd, have focused on developing social enterprises, led by local people and responding to local needs – including training for the long term unemployed and ex-offenders through to play and support services for isolated families with disabled children

Learning in relation to this outcome

The key learning is that making a difference for individuals, groups and communities takes time. This is not a new, or revelatory, finding. It is, however, one that is worth re-stating at a time where the policy emphasis (for example in mental health and access to employment interventions) is on time-limited, brief, interventions. Each snapshot illustrates how the individuals and groups involved valued:

  • the more open ended commitment of Big Local and delivery partners
  • tailored support rather than ‘one size fits all’
  • being respected and not being judged.

Further, whilst as noted, partnership members often struggled to articulate the different Big Local outcomes as discreet entities, where areas have talked about making a difference, this has often been grounded in responding to real, rather than assumed, identified needs in the community. Grassland Hasmoor Big Local illustrated this and the time it had taken to reach their ‘most fruitful year’ at a partnership discussion in 2016. It has also applied to outcomes where areas have some control over the desired outcomes – rather than control being located elsewhere. This has applied, in particular, to planning permissions or substantial external developments (e.g. Ebbsfleet Garden City) over which a Big Local may have no influence.

People feel that their area is a better place to live

Approaches to meeting this outcome

Big Local partnerships are acutely aware of their role in bringing about positive change in their communities. There is evidence (as above) that illustrate some differences beginning to be made. The extent to which this creates an ‘even better place to live’ in the longer term remains the subject of the longitudinal evaluation. However, there are immediate proxy indicators that illustrate that many of the 15 Big Local areas are on their way to achieving this outcome, with the proviso that perceptions of a better place to live are based on complex factors; the personal lives and wellbeing of individuals, people’s relatively high or low expectations (see Section 4.4) as well as the broader socio-economic context of the various communities.

With ongoing austerity measures, part of their role has, in some ways, become one of ensuring things, at least, do not get worse. A key area here has been play and youth provision which, nationally, has been cut across the board (see National Youth Agency’s cuts monitor). Big Local areas have, often in the face of pressure from within the community (or simply a feeling within the partnership that something needs to be done), picked up and funded play schemes and out of school provision. In other words, some Big Local activities have been more about trying to stop things getting worse, rather than making the place ‘even better’.

In addition, in Birchfield there have been concerns that, as the area is seen as receiving Big Local funding, the local authority is withdrawing some services to concentrate on other areas of deprivation. Indeed, Birchfield is one example of where there are ‘hard negotiations’ between Big Local and the authority around responsibilities. To address this, the Big Local is an active member of the inter-agency environment group – and constantly arguing that, whilst local residents may organise local litter picks and improve the environment through garden improvements and entering Britain in Bloom competitions – the local authority retains a statutory responsibility for tackling fly tipping.

The above points highlight the difficult economic climate Big Local as an initiative has evolved in – with ongoing austerity measures. Within that context, the following paragraphs (and Section 5) summarise the progress made in the 15 Our Bigger Story areas, in making their communities a better place to live – and the challenges they face.

Progress towards this outcome

An even better place to live is a particularly ambitious outcome. It is one that can be difficult to prove a causal link between Big Local activities and broader change in the community. What is being built in areas is a collective narrative of how the community is changing – either in terms of the soft outcomes of people’s perceptions of their community – or in the ‘hard’ evidence of environmental and related physical improvements.

In terms of the former, one vulnerable resident commented on the presence of a community hub, ‘This place has changed my life’. In Whitley Bay, people talk about how they are ‘starting to see change happen’, and how Big Local can be a seed that has lasting impact, that Big Local can impact on the atmosphere and the economy. Put simply – people see things happening. This is down to new activities supported by Big Local but also due to the role it has played in linking people into existing local projects and its mediation and co-ordination role across agencies. Reflecting on comments that the Big Local partnership could be seen as just another funding organisation (and in rural communities such as Radstock and Three Parishes a substantial one at that), there is evidence to counter this. Even where the Big Local has ‘recreated’ a funding stream previously supported by the local authority such as small grants programmes, or picked up a gap in a local service (e.g. Ramsey Million youth provision) the way in which these activities are determined, and the way they are delivered, differs. For example, whereas local authorities used to distribute community chest style small grants, the process in Three Parishes and Radstock is now linked to development support for grass roots groups. In Ramsey, Big Local has ensured a range of follow on activities from toddler age to late teens that are run and supported by residents so that there is greater ownership of the activities and more resident direction in the way the projects are managed. Parents and children alike are proud of Ramsey Million’s children and youth projects: Toddler Time, Crunch, BOSH. At its best, the local roots of Big local mean that areas can have, or aspire to have, specifically relevant and appropriate projects which are tailored to the needs of the local community:

‘It’s about working with people and their ideas and having a go and not worrying about it….(Big Local) enables people to have their dreams and getting them going.’

Partnership member

For many Big Local partnerships, this may still be more an aspiration than a reality, but it is a goal they strive for. As noted, distinguishing between the four Big Local outcomes has been problematic with activities seen to relate to at least one outcome. For many Big Local partnerships, this last outcome is the culmination of achieving against the first three.

In this section, we have largely focussed on activities and projects, and highlighted where progress is being made. The evaluation also identified where a community development approach has been adopted to help build connections within and across communities – the ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ of social capital theory. Some Big Local areas such as Whitley Bay, have also focussed on the third ‘linking’ dimension of social capital through ‘turning round the communities relationship with the Council’ (Partnership member). The evidence that this is happening was the Our Bigger Story thematic workshop in Whitley Bay in August 2016 where council staff listened and participated alongside residents, and spoke of the change they were seeing. Snapshot 15 provides a perspective on how Whitley Bay is supporting the creation of social capital.

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Snapshot 15: A catalyst for connections and community activity in Whitley Bay

Through Big Local, people in Whitley Bay are better connected and taking part in activities together. People with different interests have connected through Big Local, sometimes catalysed by Big Local funding which has helped to make things happen, but also just by being there; ‘we wouldn’t have had the conversations if Big Local hadn’t been here’. People who got involved in one thing, have made connections with others – Big Local has enabled people to make more of what they have got, helping each other to unlock resources.

Residents and agencies say people are talking together in a much more constructive way. This includes turning round the community’s relationship with the council; ‘Big Local gives residents a voice’, and communication at strategic level is greatly improved. The effect Big Local can have is summed up in Debbie’s story.

‘I have lived in Whitley Bay for 22 years ….My only connection to the local community in those early years was when my children were at school...

Though living in Whitley Bay, I worked in the city of Newcastle. Whilst volunteering...two years ago, randomly, I was put in a small group with another local Whitley Bay resident …. She told me about a local community ukulele group in Whitley Bay [this group got going with Big Local support]. It took another year for me to free up the time and gain the confidence to attend my first Bay Uke session in September last year. I have been attending weekly sessions ever since and have played with the group at the Big Local, the Whitley Bay Carnival, Rosemount Residential Home and most recently at the Greenbean Market. Finding this community group has genuinely been a life changer for me! The music and social aspect of this group has made a very significant and positive contribution to my physical and mental health whilst also renewing my interest in my local community.’

I believe that the Big Local to a very large extent, has been a significant catalyst for change in Whitley Bay and has sown a large number of seeds. Quite literally. Until playing at the Greenbean Market, I had no idea that there was such a magnificent garden at the station. I had heard of the station masters garden but had no idea how established and delightful it was. I am so looking forward to retiring and spending some volunteer time in this garden and having the time to be an advocate for the benefits of taking part and connecting to community activities.’

Resident
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Learning in relation to this outcome

All 15 areas involved with Our Bigger Story are at different stages in their Big Local journey. Barrowcliff and Growing Together have spent over half their ‘million’ whilst Blackpool Revoe, on the other hand, only started to deliver services against its plan (agreed in December 2015) over the summer of 2016.

As stated, achieving outcomes for some is a long term goal rather than a series of ‘quick fixes’. In addition, measuring progress towards outcomes is difficult, and something that Big Local areas themselves struggle to evidence. Some changes are seen by Big Local as particularly difficult to quantify;

‘You can’t measure those things, but a lot of those things are happening or, you know, it’s something as simple as somebody’ll see you somewhere else and they’ll smile and you didn’t used to get that before, you can feel physically the difference.’

Partnership member

As Big Local partnerships start to see their budget coming to end however, partnership members are more keen to know how well they have performed so far. The Growing Together partnership is a case in point. It has produced a short report on its progress to date, including a commentary on the challenges of measuring and attributing impact (see Snapshot 16):

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Snapshot 16; Growing Together: The challenges of measuring impact
From: Growing Together: Programme Impact Assessment; August 2013 to March 2016

Based on extensive consultation (approximately 600 interviewees) and conducted between November 2012 and April 2013, the Growing Together Community Partnership set the following very broad priorities:

  • making the place feel safer, especially by tackling anti-social behaviour and criminal damage to cars, houses and the environment
  • providing more opportunities and things for children and teenagers, so that they can make the best of themselves
  • improving the local environment and encouraging local people to look after it
  • adding to the quality of life for the older members of our communities.

The deliberate intention was to ensure that the largest possible number of people living on our five estates would feel at least some benefit. This wide spread has, of course, meant a thinner layer of jam. It should be noted that in a major community consultation exercise during the summer of 2015, all but two of 164 interviewees thought we’d got these priorities right...

Outputs achieved

Measured purely by its total outputs, the cumulative impact of the Growing Together programme over the period under consideration was impressive.

Output Total achieved
People involved (NB users of more than one project counted for each project separately) 4,553
Hours of community activity 1,600
Physical and community enhancements 35
Organisations and community groups supported 28

All this, of course, begs the question, “so what?” What real difference to the communities of the five estates, and individuals in those communities, did all this activity actually make? The rest of this report is an attempt to answer that question...

Outcomes

The summary of projects and outputs in the previous sections paints a picture of considerable activity linked to the agreed priorities. But what difference has it actually made to people’s lives in the area?

Sometimes it is possible to measure outcomes in a precise and quantifiable way. An employment training programme might measure the numbers of people completing its course that then go on to secure a job for which the training now qualifies them. A crime prevention programme might measure the fall in crimes of a specific category, or the fall in re-offending levels.

Very few of Growing Together’s activities lend themselves to this sort of quantitative outcome measurement. End results will often only be seen in many years’ time. Even when outcomes can be measured there are often a host of other factors in play. Could a fall in anti-social behaviour rates, for instance, be attributable to the activities of a youth programme when work by schools, policing methods and alternative activities elsewhere might all have an influence. This report, therefore, makes considerable use of the professional opinions of people working in the area and of case studies to build up a picture of the impact achieved.

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As this section demonstrates, Big Local areas (even those in the relatively early stages of evolution), are making some progress against the four Big Local outcomes. As areas develop a track record of delivery, the significance of a vision becomes more apparent in knowing what will indicate success in the long term. This is helped, particularly, in those areas where current plans and activities are clearly related to a longer term vision for the community (e.g. Lawrence Weston - see Snapshot 17).

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Snapshot 17: An even better place to live: a long-term strategic vision

Since the plan for Lawrence Weston was agreed in January 2014, Lawrence Weston Big Local, working closely with its Locally Trusted Organisation (Ambition Lawrence Weston) has delivered a range of, often relatively small scale, improvements on the estate. These have included improving static play equipment areas, supporting the community café at the local Baptist Church (Café on the Cross), developing employment support and opening a community shop where residents sell arts, crafts and other goods.

This, however, is only part of their longer term, strategic vision, for making Lawrence Weston and even better place to live. That strategic vision has two key elements Lawrence Weston as a greener place to live: with the Big Local investing, with Bristol Energy Co-operative in:

  • energy audits on the estate with a view to encouraging residents to take energy efficiency measures
  • wind turbines and, more recently, a solar farm (built on a brownfield site between Lawrence Weston and the M5 motorway). This, it is anticipated will deliver not only greener energy for the estate but also bring a £25,000 return on that investment for the benefit of Lawrence Weston

New mixed development: using the large area of derelict land in the middle of the estate (left by the demolition of the further education college) there are plans for a new supermarket, new homes (including some community led housing) and a community hub which would also accommodate the GP surgery and other local services.

Towards these goals, Lawrence Weston has worked closely not only with Bristol City Council but the neighbouring authorities of South Gloucestershire and North Somerset to successfully attract Coastal Communities Fund monies and stimulate other, private, investment in the area (such as the supermarket).

The progress made in Lawrence Weston can be viewed in two films made in 2015 and ‘Projects for Change’ in late 2016.

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That progress is, however, uneven. The pace of change (as has been noted across all 15 areas) is often slower than anticipated or hoped for. Some areas, after initial development, have slowed down – or been slowed down (for example with difficulties in planning processes) or are struggling to influence events and situations which they feel are beyond their direct control. The learning from the progress made to date and the challenges faced by Big Local areas in realising their plans and visions, are addressed in Section 4.



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