As we approach the two year mark since launching our latest Our Place initiative, we wanted to share with you some of our learning so far. So we asked our Policy and Learning Advisor Mhairi Reid to tell us more…
Challenging and rewarding.
These are the most common words people use when I ask them to describe what it’s like to be involved in Our Place. The Our Place approach is different to the way that we would usually distribute Lottery funding as for the first couple of years it’s not really about making grants. Instead, it’s about community building and supporting local people and groups to think about what they want to do in their community and how they can make that happen.
We are fast-approaching the two-year mark and, as we look to share stories about people’s experiences of Our Place and the difference it’s making, we thought now would be a good time to highlight five things we as a funder have learned about Our Place so far.
- Take your time and listen
Most of the communities we are working with have seen initiatives and programmes come and go, and there is understandably some scepticism towards ‘outsiders’ who waltz in with a pot of money, wanting to ‘help’. It’s crucial to get to know people in their own environment, find out their histories and their aspirations, and then begin working together at a pace that feels right for the community. We have found that it usually takes at least a year to build trust and develop credible relationships with local people and groups, and with key partners such as local authorities. Most people therefore appreciate the long-term nature of Our Place, which provides five years of Community Builder support and up to a further five years of support from Big Lottery Fund staff.
- Go with the flow
We think it’s useful to set out a broad approach and timeframe so that you can explain to people why and how you’d like to work them. The Our Place approach draws on many different experiences of working with communities, and acknowledges the similarities that exist between communities. However, the broad outcomes and the lack of specific outputs and targets is a reflection of our understanding that every community is different. Gantt charts that set out in great detail exactly what will happen and when it will happen are completely pointless if you are genuinely committed to Asset Based Community Development and empowering people to pursue a life of their own choosing.
- Constantly question the rule book
Funders have a responsibility to safeguard the money they distribute, and rules and risk assessments relating to this are often in place for very good reasons. That said, in the case of Our Place, the money belongs to the seven communities we are working with and it would be counterintuitive to impose a long, strict set of rules around how to spend that money. So, we are constantly questioning our processes and challenging ourselves to ensure that, wherever possible, we support those activities that the community believes will make a real difference.
- Strive for inclusion
Anyone can get involved in Our Place. That’s easy to say, but not always easy to achieve. One of the biggest challenges in Our Place is identifying where power resides in a community, then working with those people and groups and encouraging them to see beyond their own ideas. The initial stages provide lots of opportunities for a range of people to engage in conversations and community-led activities. However, maintaining that level of engagement is a constant challenge as you support a community to take the lead. Working groups can often become smaller and there’s a danger that key groups of people are seen as representative of the whole community. We now recognise that a conscious and continuous effort has to be made to ensure those least connected to community activity are identified and welcomed in.
- Celebrate the small things
Each Our Place community has easy access to small amounts of money through their Community Builder to facilitate activity that benefits the local community, and this is overwhelmingly the thing that people prize the most when they talk about the first two years of Our Place. The Community Chest has supported the delivery of community events, enabled people to try new things, provided opportunities to visit and be inspired by other communities, and more. We’d recommend implementing this kind of resource as we are delighted to see the impact the Community Chest is having on improving people’s confidence, raising community spirit and increasing citizen-led activity.
Mhairi’s blog is the first of a series of Our Place blogs coming your way over the next couple of months. Come back soon to hear some of the fantastic stories coming out of the Our Place journey.