Celebrating Big Local ‘difference’
May 22, 2012
Big Local is resident driven and brings together local talent, ambitions, skills and energy from individuals, groups and organisations in up to 150 small areas across England.
Last week marked the start of 12 Big Local spring events for those living and working in Big Local areas. On the Wednesday we were welcomed to the William Morris Big Local area, in Walthamstow, London and then on the Friday at the Osmaston Community Centre in Allenton, Derby.
One of the things that a lot of the areas talked about was ‘difference’: how Big Local felt different to other programmes that they’d worked on in the past, and the different approaches each area has taken to getting people involved.
In the William Morris Big Local area, resident Grace Williams, who is newly in post to co-ordinate Big Local activities of volunteers, talked about moving away from a consultation process toward mechanisms for different and creative ways to have conversations with people locally. Her task, managed by residents in the area, is to work with local, passionate volunteers go out and have conversations with other people about the area in a range of different places.
Currently her plans include day-long bus journeys in the area speaking to passengers, standing in post office queues to have conversations, and setting up a Big Local tent at community events. But it’s not all talk. Grace will also be running clay modelling, photography and tapestry sessions to help create a vision for the area.
Joe Russo, local resident and chief executive of Enthusiasm (a local youth charity), talked about it being a ‘different way of funding’. Joe explained that he was initially very sceptical about getting involved until it became clear that Big Local is not a grants programme. The opportunity to invest the money, rather than just spend it appealed after he had seen previous programmes that were ‘parachuted in’ and left nothing behind when the funding ran out.
When it became clear that the money was not going to be ‘divvied up’ between organisations those looking for their ‘slice’ went away. This has left a group of people that are very passionate and committed to making Allenton an even better place to live. As a result the focus in Allenton has been on asking people locally what would make the area even better, not ‘how should we spend £1m’
As well as re-framing the question, they are using a mixture of traditional consultation with new, creative methods to develop a vision. This includes a fun day, using film, setting up a website and getting local media involved. They’ve also asked community groups to run events for them, like football matches and pizza nights.
We have stories from other areas which are moving from conversations to action; bringing together residents and those who support the area to help make Big Local areas even better places to live. Our website has videos, pod-casts, photographs and case studies showing progress already being made as people start their Big Local journey with us.
The overarching question I ask myself is what will make a long-term sustainable difference to these areas and I think the answer is to capture the local talent, ambitions, skills and energy from individuals, groups and organisations so they make that difference together; led by residents who care about where they live and want to make it an even better place.