4

Overview:

Big Local as a lasting change agent

Overview

This section examines;

  • how Big Local partnerships negotiate change
  • Big Locals as a catalyst for change
  • leadership and influencing others, in particular local authorities
  • the expectations of, and on, Big Local partnerships
  • the Big Local legacy.

Summary

This section addresses the five themes identified through the research with Big Local areas in 2015. In particular it examines the extent to which Big Local is a change mechanism both internally and externally, partnership approaches to developing community leadership and building influence, the expectations placed on partnerships, the influence they have locally and the concepts of sustainability and legacy.

The Big Local approach is underpinned by the concept that resident led action is a catalyst for change as well as a mechanism for managing that change. As with progress against outcomes, the picture across the 15 areas is mixed, from the physical evidence of the difference Big Local can make, to long term plans for the physical transformation of parts of an estate. Partnerships also talk of the soft changes that are taking place: around how people feel and think about their community, and in areas predominantly using small grants, change is identified at a micro-level for individuals and small scale community activity. The extent to which Big Local partnerships act as a change agent may depend on a strong strategic vision with pertinent activities, large or small, along the way. Big Local areas are, themselves, changing. In urban areas, new communities have continued to arrive since the inception of the programme. In rural areas, new housing development have resulted in in-comers who are then also out-commuters. Partnerships are aware of these changes, though often unsure of how to respond to them. Those which have been through a plan refresh exercise have tended not to radically alter their original plan on the assumption that it is still relatively early days and activities against plans need time to ‘bed in’.

Big Local partnerships see the principle of resident led community development as important and talk of developing a collective leadership in terms of decision making. The realities are more complex. Residents constitute the majority on the partnerships in all 15 areas involved in the evaluation. However, they also wear other, sometimes multiple, hats: they both live and work as professional in the neighbourhood, some are also elected members or local authority officers as well as residents. In terms of decision making there is also a complex interaction between residents and workers/reps – with instances where resident partners defer to the professionals in the room. A common narrative from partnerships is that their community is a forgotten area. Some, have, however, been strategic in gaining influence by using Big Local money either for financial leverage and/or as a way to be taken seriously by the local authority and other external agencies. Some, particularly rural, Big Locals feel they are too far away from where decisions really get made – or, the scale of other developments are on a level which makes it hard for them to influence.

Big Local partnerships express different views on the expectations placed on them and what they can reasonably achieve. For example, some partners are aware that ‘£1 million is a lot of money in a community like this’ whilst others comment that Big Local money amounted to ‘£10 for each resident a year – or £100 over the 10 years’ and caution against unrealistic expectations of what might be achieved in the current climate of austerity.

All the areas involved in Our Bigger Story are less than half way through their Big Local Journey. Issues of legacy and sustainability are, nonetheless, high on their agenda. Different strategies are being adopted. Some areas are exploring incorporation as a way of attracting future funds and managing community assets in the hope of becoming a sustainable organisation. For others, the legacy is physical and environmental improvements. Still others see their legacy as cultural: more people in the community having the confidence and skills to take action long into the future. Which approach leads to a lasting legacy – or a sustainable organisation (something not originally envisaged of the programme), will require careful evaluation in the coming years.

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