Our first workshop for the 11 Enhance Projects, funded by the Co-op Foundation and DCMS ‘Space to Connect’ programme, was held in London on the 13th Feb 2020. Eleven people representing nine of the eleven funded projects attended. It was an opportunity for projects to come together and hear about each other’s work and share their progress so far. Projects spoke of what had helped and hindered their journeys and shared stories which illustrated the difference made to local lives in using community spaces to help people develop their social connections, confidence and skills. This blog provides some summary reflections and learning from the event.
Enhance projects have been funded to develop pro-social spaces for people to participate in and connect to new networks through social activities. Almost all projects are community hubs or spaces, one is primarily an outdoor space, and others offer a range of social spaces. One is an arts venue which is looking at combining that function with broader community use. The focus of the 11 Enhance Projects falls broadly under the following areas:
- Understanding community needs/preferences
- Offering new or an expanded range of activities e.g. arts
- Improving staffing or logistics
- Improving aspects of accessibility e.g. opening times
- Creating a new physical space or spaces
- Improving an existing physical space or spaces
- Working with local providers to deliver new options, e.g. exercise classes
Factors that had helped projects were;
- The flexible nature of the relationship with the Funder, trusting that organisations know their communities
- The light touch approach to performance monitoring
- An easy application process and guidance that was informative and useful
- The fact that funding was for revenue and/or capital allowing projects to be creative and responsive to local issues
- Paying the money “up front” enabled projects to do the work needed. The money also helped projects broaden their use of the resources and show their viability to other funders.
- Having access to technical support to drive the project delivery e.g. expertise specific to the key stages.
Key learning themes highlighted by Enhance projects were:
- Involving local people: Places were seeking to develop strong involvement of local people as collaborators in delivery and as recipients of resources. The importance of engaging local people, early and consistently and ‘passing power’ to them and having an ‘it’s their space’ ethos e.g. local people may have a key to the building, are able to book rooms. Small actions like these can create trust and a sense of, and experience of, civic pride and participation.
- Methods and approaches for community engagement and dialogue. Recognising and meeting people in their own places/spaces. Creating and building relationships through being pro-social and acts of kindness. The value of social connections and how our offer enables these through sharing through the personal, social, faith, familial – many also using ‘food’ as a bridge into community. Building lasting, none transactional and fluid relationships with people who may be lonely and isolated allows them to identify and build on their strengths and interests.
- Building momentum can be helped by peer to peer networks locally and across the Co-op Foundation/DCMS programme – building and sustaining relationships with funders and others. Sustainability comes through growth as projects evolve and flourish and identify methods for promoting their progress. Importance of fostering local partnerships and collaborations in creating sustainability and growth.
- How to ‘measure’ and communicate impact. Understanding and knowing how to tell the story. Importance of looking for unintended positive consequences, sometimes “one thing leads to another…”. How to communicate impact in a way that works for the projects and organisations and communities, not just the funders.
- The role and value of independent community-led organisations (community anchors) in the context of wider changes in the environment such as social prescribing, LAC, health trainers and more generally with regard to the ‘left shift’ ambitions of some local authorities and NHS organisations.
Some of the themes emerging from discussions with Enhance projects so far are about organisational resilience and sustainability. Projects may find the Lighthouse Tool from Locality of use. This tool is to help you make your organisation stronger and more successful. The tool will alert you to areas that need your attention now to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of your organisation.