Our Place Ventnor – improving, enhancing and building community in a coastal town

The Our Place Ventnor project on the Isle of Wight aims to address the challenges facing Ventnor’s local economy and reverse the problems that have left half of the town’s population among the 20% most deprived nationally. By encouraging residents and agencies to work collaboratively to co-design services and share budgets, the Town Council aims to deliver the following three priorities:

  • Improved health and wellbeing
  • A renewed and refreshed economy
  • Enhanced community capacity.

What was the issue?

The English Indices of Deprivation 2010 painted a shocking picture of Ventnor, revealing that the central area of Ventnor is within the 20% most deprived areas nationally. Like many coastal towns, the economy is heavily reliant on low paid, low skilled and seasonal employment from tourism. This, along with child poverty and poor housing stock, affects the health and wellbeing of the local population. For example, the number of residents that are long term sick or disabled in Ventnor (8.7%) is double that of the rest of the Island.

What was the solution?

Since recognition of the town’s issues with deprivation, the Council has been keen to engage the community more in decision-making. The Our Place approach fitted this philosophy in a way that was also both structured and supported. The Council brought together residents of the community, service providers, third sector organisations and private companies to improve health, wellbeing, economic prosperity and community capacity in the town.

Since 2012, the Town Council has involved the wider community in decision-making via annual consultations with representatives of the town’s third sector organisations. This helped build the appetite for increased community involvement, creating significant enthusiasm for the Our Place programme when it was later introduced.

Following an introductory Our Place meeting in March 2014, 55 local residents signed up to be part of one of six ‘Vision Groups’, each of which focuses on a particular issue facing Ventnor:

  • Older People
  • Young People
  • Recreation
  • Open Spaces
  • Opportunity and prosperity
  • Wellbeing.

The groups identified and contacted relevant public service providers to engage with on their particular issue. These providers then led seminars for Vision Group members to explain more about their roles and responsibilities. This helped to build understanding and develop a relationship that would be useful when working together more closely in future. As well as the Vision Groups, the wider community keeps engaged with developments through a monthly email about local issues and upcoming decisions.

Members of the private sector were also encouraged to get involved with the Our Place programme at an introductory meeting in March 2014. Ventnor Business Association and the Town Council now have monthly meetings where the local social and economic challenges of the town are discussed.

The Town Council also received’ Breaking New Ground funding to develop a one-stop data hub and data sharing model. This will focus on the storage, analysis and modelling of data from all agencies to better understand the needs of people in the community and to improve service design and delivery in future. They see it as an opportunity for other coastal towns to use this hub to design and deliver services and address similar issues.

Who is involved?

The Our Place project is led by Ventnor Town Council with the town’s Mayor acting as the chair. The project is supported by the NHS, Isle of Wight Council’s Public Health directorate,Ventnor Children’s Centre, Age UK, and the local community. A number of consultants have been engaged to provide expert knowledge relating to legal issues, coastal towns and regeneration.

Why did they choose the Our Place approach?

The Our Place approach was chosen because it was all about having the say really, on what goes on in your community. The Town Council was keen to listen better to the views of local residents and engage them more in decision-making. They felt that Our Place was an exciting opportunity to do so in a way that was both structured and supported.

What support and resources did they access?

  • The Relationship Manager’s role as a sounding board and ‘critical friend’ was crucial, helping the team to think about things in new and different ways. They led the initial Our Place introductory meeting, successfully galvanising support for the approach.
  • Attendance at a peer review session was very useful and offered them interesting insights into the types of things that other projects were doing. Additionally, comments on their Operational Plan from other Our Place projects as part of the peer review process gave a very helpful external perspective.
  • Along with other Our Place projects, Ventnor attended a New Economy Manchester workshop in London during early November in which a supporting cost benefit analysis (CBA) tool was explained. They found this a very helpful exercise.

Benefits of the Our Place approach

The Our Place approach has improved the relationship between the town council and the wider community. By working together more closely, residents see the ‘nice face of the council’ – they are no longer seen as officials who only meet behind closed doors.

It helped the Council to engage with new people in the community. Those with skills and resources are volunteering, which is really helping things move forward. The group feels that part of this is because of the ‘national kudos’ that the Our Place approach gives; it tells people that this is not just us, this is a programme from outside, thereby lending some extra credibility to the approach they are taking to working with the community in Ventnor.

The relationship between the community and the Public Health Department of the Isle of Wight Council has really flourished as a result of the Our Place programme. The department has worked well with the older people and wellbeing vision groups in particular, taking on a ‘connector and enabler’ role in which they plug them into agencies, plug them into people who are doing similar things, give them advice and support. This relationship has also been useful in that local people’s understanding of their own networks, their own neighbourhoods, has been exceptionally valuable for the department.

The structured approach provided by the Our Place programme has been valuable for the Town Council and Ventnor’s wider community. It was felt that the approach has got process – it’s got some thought behind it, and that the artefacts that Locality have asked them to produce are actually really sound. The creation of logic models and CBA have required deep thinking from the Our Place Ventnor team, which has been really useful.

Challenges of the Our Place approach

The Council would like a wider cross-section of the community to get involved in the programme, but acknowledged that people, especially in more deprived areas, have other commitments on their time. They stressed that the community needs to be aware that their involvement, no matter how small, is crucial to the success of the programme.

The Our Place approach has been relatively intensive on the resources of the Town Council, especially given the current economic climate of austerity. Nevertheless, they understand that greater community involvement in decision-making and service provision will, in the longer-term, deliver savings.

Expectations need to be managed correctly. Stakeholders need to remain patient as this is not a process that gives ‘quick wins’, it is something that has an impact over the longer term. The Council also needs to manage expectations in terms of what the Vision Groups expect from them; they have to redefine their relationship so that it is more two-way.

It was felt that the timescales for the programme were quite tight but that actually they were quite a good challenge and so really spurred them on to get things done.

What have they learnt?

“If you’ve got the will” their advice is “just to be open: to open up, to listen and to go with it.”

Our Place Ventnor felt that the approach works best with good buy-in from those in high-level roles in the local authority and local business sector, along with the support of community leaders. People will therefore recognise the value of what you are doing and ensure it remains a priority.

They would advise communities that they shouldn’t be afraid to approach their local authority about any issues that they may have, as they may find out that the local authority feels the same way.

They would also suggest taking the time to talk to the wide range of local agencies to better understand their priorities. This enables communities and others to recognise how best they can work together to meet these priorities.

What’s next?

The Our Place Ventnor team have recently completed their final operational plan and are continuing to embed the approach within the area’s philosophy and within the Council’s practices. It is hoped that, as the process continues, more services will be owned and run by the community and that local community leadership groups, called Community Service Management Groups, will be able to take on more of a tactical decision-making role, as outlined in the following diagrams:

Current decision-making process
Current decision-making process
Future decision-making process
Future decision-making process in which Community Service Management Groups do the tactical decision-making and services and operational decisions are managed by the community

Part of their future plan is to engage more with frontline services. It is believed that people on the ‘frontline’, such as GPs or dentists, are well placed to access the diverse range of people within Ventnor’s community and therefore understand the wide range of needs within the community. The role of Our Place would be to absorb the information coming from these providers, feeding it into the Vision Groups so that they can start to work on ideas for service improvements.

The future

The Our Place Ventnor team is also looking to integrate the Our Place approach into a wider town operational plan. This is a much bigger plan through which they are looking to apply the techniques that they have learnt through Our Place to other areas such as leisure, tourism and heritage. It is not about creating a whole new strategy but building upon the town’s current Our Place project. In doing so, they continue to work towards the vision of a healthier, wealthier Ventnor.

Ventnor operational plan cover
Ventnor operational plan cover

Contact

For more information on the project, please contact David Bartlett attownclerk@ventnortc.org.