Collaboration is key to address community equality

Posted on the 12th September 2019

As we enter Communities Week, I have been reflecting on the speed at which the world around us is changing. It feels that the word ‘unprecedented’ is used frequently to describe the pace of change; whether in relation to the way we work, the way we travel, how we communicate, and even how we describe politics. And yet, so often, it also feels that the rhythm of everyday life doesn’t change; most people still get up every morning to go to work, school or another activity, come home, cook dinner, see family and friends, and at some point settle down to sleep.

The existence of this rhythm is one of the things that this is consistently reassuring, happening in communities up and down the country. The difference is the varying circumstances between many of those communities. There is broad consensus that inequalities are widening, and some communities have been left behind. The challenges people face are palpable, from easy access to cash machines and GPs, to growing in-work poverty. There is a real need for business to take a different approach and support people to create long-term change in their communities.

New research from Local Trust has sought to define what the characteristics of a ‘left behind’ community are. They identified a lack of civic assets, community engagement and connectivity in its broadest sense as three key factors that make a significant difference. The key element that runs through these characteristics is the need for a vibrant private sector that creates prosperity and provides people with opportunities to come together, share experiences and build relationships, through employment opportunities and the chance to develop skills.

This is thankfully being recognised by Government in their recent framework for strengthening communities ‘By deeds and their results’. Businesses are a vital part of a healthy community. And the needs for a healthy and vibrant private sector is nowhere truer than in ‘left behind’ communities.

However, involving the private sector is not the answer alone. A different approach is required that focuses on effective cross-sector collaboration, responding to the needs of people in the community. At Business in the Community (BITC), we have already seen some powerful examples of the difference that can be made in communities when sectors collaborate. In Bolton, over 40 organisations from across the business, public and social sectors have come together to support people in the town as part of the Bolton Family. Much of their activity is aligned to Bolton Council’s 2030 Vision to create stronger, cohesive, confident communities.

The group work together across a number of initiatives to support different people. The needs vary from helping unemployed people to access employment mentoring to the provision of work clothes, through the Working Wardrobe scheme; to supporting young people to access lunches during school holidays through the Seddy Bears picnic. Each initiative is supported by a range of partners, including businesses.

Since June 2018, Working Wardrobe has supported 104 people, getting 52 of them back into work; whilst the Seddy Bears Picnics promote healthy products to families by giving away goody bags from Asda and Warburtons. Essential to the success of the Bolton Family is the collaborative nature of the group. Partners work together to identify where and how they contribute most effectively to supporting people in Bolton. It is this collective approach that is addressing the needs of a local community, and which was recognised in BITC’s Responsible Business Awards this year, where Bolton Family won the Connected Places Award.

Collaboration is key to supporting ‘left behind’ communities. What is interesting is how prevalent it is within the thinking across the public and social sectors, often under the name ‘place-based approaches’. This isn’t new. The challenge is supporting people to understand how to collaborate effectively.

At BITC, we are working to unite businesses, other organisations and neighbours to create thriving communities by co-creating opportunities and building long-term trust. Our Place Leadership Team is chaired by Steve Rowe, Chief Executive of Marks and Spencer.

We have reviewed different examples of place-based approaches to distil the key steps and support businesses who want to take this approach. What is interesting and reassuring is how consistent the different models proposed by organisations are.

For example, New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) have recently published their framework for place-based funding. When compared to BITC’s Guide to Developing a Place-Based Approach, the commonality is obvious; calling for a long-term approach that is based on understanding local context and needs, and recognises the interconnectedness of communities and the issues affecting them. These principles are consistent across so many approaches and examples that we see in supporting ‘left behind’ communities. Indeed, NPC highlight our Pride of Place project in Blackpool, from which we have drawn much of our learning, as one of their examples.

It is this consistency that is key to embedding the change we need to see. Change and collaboration are not new. Making them happen, however, is a challenge. It takes time, patience and perseverance, built on developing trust and relationships.

This is why Communities Week is essential. If you are interested in learning more about how to collaborate with other organisations, email us at place@bitc.org.uk

By doing so, we can begin to ensure that a ‘left behind’ community becomes a thing of the past.

Andy Melia is Interim Director of Place at Business in the Community

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