Locality: doing things differently
By Dharmendra Kanani, Big Lottery Fund England Director
On Wednesday I joined the Locality 12 convention in Bristol, which was so well attended that sadly those without tickets had to be turned away. This level of interest says a lot about the credibility and relevance of this convention to local community organisations and activists alike.
I was part of an excellent panel session alongside Toby Rubbra of Vanguard, Hen Wilkinson of Community Resolve and Lyme Regis Development Trust’s Marcus Dixon. We discussed topics as wide-ranging as the roll-out of Wi-Fi in communities and the rise of smart phone apps that provide information on the history and geology of local areas.
This was all a useful reminder of the art of the possible, a way of working which is driven by local communities and led by social entrepreneurs/activists with a passion for making a difference.
It led me to set out that if the Big Lottery Fund is to be credible, relevant and accountable as well as effective in its mission then we must be adaptable. We need to create funding and support opportunities that fire the imagination of communities which are being ambitious, thoughtful and creative in responding to the testing circumstances they find themselves in.
The convention was a reminder of how important it is that BIG is an enabler of ideas – one that is able to harness people’s passions, aid collaboration and be able to take risks on approaches that may look like they exist outside of the box.
It could be argued that up to now BIG has been seen as a ‘cash machine’, funding all manner of good and spreading Lottery funding fairly and equally across the country. As we approach the 18th anniversary of the Lottery we can truly say that we have come of age, moving towards being a more intelligent funder that’s open to testing and challenging accepted practice. One that is also willing to take more risks if it means we achieve even greater impact and influence policy and practice on some of the most stubborn areas of need.
This has also meant reflecting on our performance in reaching communities most in need, which has led us to consider what and how we fund. It has driven the approach we’ve taken in England across many of our investments.
Take for example our £200 million investment empowering 150 communities which have missed out on funding in the past make their areas better places to live in. We supported the establishment of Local Trust, which addresses need at a grassroots level, and is investing at least £1 million in each of these areas, to put the decisions on what gets funded in the hands of residents.
While this money will help them make some very important changes to their local areas, it’s also going to build people’s trust, knowledge and skills.
This is what we call People Powered Change – a belief in communities to do good and to make things better for themselves, but doing this in way that is supported and nurtured.
We are also doing things differently in terms of how we are working with beneficiaries of Lottery funding, the community sector, local and national government and the private sector – crafting an approach to tackling stubborn areas of need. This is weighted towards prevention – finding ways to stop problems getting worse, recurring and/or putting learning and evidence into practice.
We want to be associated with a handful of investments that are high value, run over a much longer period of time, between 5 – 8 years, and place a premium on collaboration and partnership. They must ensure that there is a structure to measure impact and most importantly, a positive view of communities whether that is the most disadvantaged babies, young unemployed people, isolated older people or adults with multiple and complex needs. In each of these investments we’re seeking to support local agencies and communities to work well together – following, responding and resolving need and in effect redesigning the approach to age-old problems.
Our view is that the voluntary and community sector has to be to the fore and drive this partnership approach. They are not an add-on as some may see them in the new commissioning world. These investments offer opportunities for the VCS to operate as an equal and leading partner, engaging more widely with a range of other sectors and working differently, which includes having a measurable impact.
This approach perhaps signals and supports through funding a different and better way of looking at a need from a vantage point of how it occurs, and being more hopeful and optimistic of the community being served. It is what I think will drive the solutions to these seemingly intractable problems.