How Big Local works


This section offers:

  • An overview of the aims of the Big Local programme.
  • A summary of the Big Local ‘light touch’ approach.
  • Who is involved in Big Local at the community level.
  • How Big Local areas are delivering in their communities.


This section, and the accompanying Diary Lines film, describes the Big Local approach and how this is working. The challenges of that approach, and the learning involved are addressed in Sections 4 and 5 of this report. All 15 areas involved in Our Bigger Story are at different stages of development. This ranges from those who became operational in 2016 through to those that have been delivering against their plan for just over three years. All are very different in that they are:

  • addressing different issues
  • operating in very different local contexts
  • taking different approaches to delivery.

They do, however, share certain common characteristics. Each area has established Big Local partnerships in which the majority of members are local residents. Most have adopted fairly traditional models of governance with formal meetings and committee/sub-committee structures. All have now appointed workers to support the work of the partnership. All, to varying degrees, also report challenges in engaging residents with the formal partnership arrangements. Further, once operational, partnership members note the complexities of managing the Big Local programme. In some cases, developing fully functioning governance arrangements and making the transition from vision to delivery has been slower than anticipated. Balancing residents’ management of the strategic direction of Big Local and becoming involved in the oversight of day to day delivery issues is also challenging. Many partnerships have been found to be risk averse (both in their governance and spending). This, however, reflects the level of accountability to the community partnership members feel around managing Big Local funds.

Partnership members are passionate about their involvement in Big Local and their community. This is reflected in the substantial amounts of time they commit to partnership activity – as well as other voluntary action in their community. That passion can, however, result in tensions and conflict between residents. Equally, partnership relationships with external bodies, in particular local authorities, vary. There are those that have developed close partnership arrangements (Whitley Bay), others where contact is very limited or can be, where local authorities (in the view of partners) do not understand the resident led ethos of Big Local, fraught with difficulty.

  • Locally Trusted Organisations (LTOs) which are charged with taking on the routine management tasks (e.g. employing workers/overseeing finances). There are those LTO’s that are pro-active in their relationship with partnerships. In other cases, however, the relationship has been problematic – either in terms of LTO’s delivering what partners expect or because those organisations are, themselves, financially fragile.
  • Each area has a Big Local rep. Their role has changed as Big Local areas have become operational. In the early development stage this was supporting partnerships in community engagement, profiling and plan development. Increasingly they act as a sounding board for partnership ideas and delivery and are a source of expert, objective, advice and sign-posting. As with LTO’s, reps can play a very active role in the workings of the partnership or adopt a more ‘hands off’ approach unless there are particular problems.
  • As noted, all areas involved in Our Bigger Story now have workers. Their role varies. There are those who play a largely administrative role, those who undertake community and organisational development tasks or manage communications whilst others undertake the oversight of delivery. Partnerships reported that workers could be a valuable resource, freeing up time for partnerships from routine tasks and co-ordinating activity.

Local Trust provides overall programme oversight and has, over time, refined guidance to Big Local areas and stream-lined reporting requirements in ways which areas have both found helpful – whilst others have felt that they could benefit from a clearer ‘steer’ from Local Trust. What partnerships do value (where they take advantage of these), are networking and peer learning opportunities co-ordinated by Local Trust. These events helped local residents see ‘a bigger picture’ beyond their immediate locality.


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