Kick-starting change

05 May 2016

"The community is full of ideas and enthusiasm and this is an opportunity to bring those ideas together in one plan and to really kick-start a long-term culture of taking action in the local community." In this blog piece, Julie Webb from Netherfield's Local Conversation talks change.

“The opportunity that People’s Health Trust has given Netherfield is twofold. Obviously the money is a fantastic sum of money that can go towards a great number of projects, but the process itself is also really important. The community is full of ideas and enthusiasm and this is an opportunity to bring those ideas together in one plan and to really kick-start a long-term culture of taking action in the local community.

“Although the community led approach may mean plans are made and actioned at a relatively slow pace, what the money is spent on is only part of the picture. The biggest positive impact on people can be seen just by them actively taking part in the Local Conversation process. The effect on individuals that comes from volunteering, feeling empowered and making a difference in their community is huge.

“Local people have been involved right from the start, meeting People’s Health Trust before we even knew that we were going to get funding to talk about Netherfield, the challenges and any sort of ideas people had and this was really important.

“We then formed a steering group made up of representatives from small local groups that already existed and local people that regularly use the community centres and schools. Every member of the steering group spoke to the groups they were already involved with and their neighbours, who also had all their own contacts and talked to each other – it had a bit of a spider web effect. The reach was a lot wider than if an agency had just come in and tried to impose something on the community.

“The steering group identified any gaps in the engagement plans and we made sure we used some of the money to put on events so we could speak to people that wouldn’t naturally be reached by existing networks.

“Since the project has started, we’re finding that we can achieve an awful lot without spending much money. There are larger projects in the pipeline, but the projects that are making a huge impact, like the environmental work, are actually quite low cost. There’s been more than 50 tonnes of hedging and foliage removed by local volunteers and the estate looks totally different.

“The first few months have mainly been spent going to various stakeholders and discussing working with different agencies to make sure the money has as big an impact as possible. Residents now feel they’ve got the influence and power to go to stakeholders and say ‘we want to do this, how can we do it?’ Having the backing of such a comprehensive engagement phase, the steering group know that they’re representing the whole community. They can say with confidence what is and isn’t working because they’ve spoken to so many people.

“The sum of money encouraged groups who were quite disparate from each other before to come together, but what was important was it was clear that this money is theirs and they’re in control of how it’s used. In the past there have been interventions on the estate but they’ve all been imposed on residents. A large amount of money might have been spent but the community was having things done to them. People are quite used to talking about what they don’t like about the area, but they aren’t used to being asked how they think those issues can be solved and that’s a big shift in thinking. Residents don’t have to just accept a situation, they can think of ways to solve it and then actually be part of those solutions coming to life.

“Some organisations might be wary of handing over such a large sum of money to a community group, but if the money was just being used to implement a predefined plan it wouldn’t be as effective as the Local Conversation has been. One of the biggest things residents are focused on is making sure the money is spent on projects that have a legacy.

“They don’t want to implement projects and activities that can only last for the three years of the grant because they require so much money to be spent on them. They are looking at investing money in upskilling residents so that, after the life of the grant, the group can continue its work and continue to run activities.

“Residents know that short-term interventions don’t necessarily work in the long-term because they’ve had them done to them before and they’ve seen them come and go. There’s a lot of apathy on the estate because short-term projects have happened and haven’t made a lot of difference, or residents have been consulted but they don’t feel their views have been represented in the final outcome. It’s taken some people a while to move on from this but, as they see their suggestions transform into real actions and outcomes, their confidence around the project grows. People are realising that this isn’t the same as some of the things that have gone before. This is different, this is real and they are really are in control.”


Julie Webb


Read more news from the Trust here

See more photos from the group here.

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