What we have learnt from the first seven Big Local plans Every Big Local area is different, with its own special diversity of residents, environmental, and physical assets as the starting point for their Big Local journey. In the process of developing profiles, visions, partnerships and a Big Local plan, areas have explored the perceptions of residents, probed opportunities, and identified the specific ways to spend their time, energy and resources that will lead people to feel even happier about the place that they live in. So, at the point of receiving the first seven Big Local plans, what can they tell us about both the process and more widely what it is residents are focusing on to make their areas â€˜an even better place to liveâ€™?
Different plans share common priorities At the point of receiving the first seven plans, what has been remarkable is that while each Big Local area has fully explored their individual context and identified some possibilities that are very specific to their area, wider strategic priorities are very similar. Beyond the finer detail, there has been a high degree of convergence in the way that areas have prioritised their activities towards improving the place they live in. This is interesting for a number of reasons: It highlights what residents feel is needed to fully enjoy their experience of living there It provides an implicit indication of what residents value most about living somewhere It provides a first glimpse of how resident-driven priorities manifest and help to move towards the four Big Local outcomes: 1. Communities will be better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them 2. People will have increased skills and confidence so that they can continue to identify and respond to local needs in the future 3. The community will make a difference to the needs it prioritises 4. People will feel that their area is an even better place to live
Themes that will make an area even better So, what are the themes that residents feel need to be focused on to help improve their area? Looking across the seven plans, these themes may have been adapted and put together in subtly different ways to address local context, but looking across all of them it is clear the following points have been prioritised as important. The themes may be recognised to point at both what residents in Big Local areas value, as well as what investment is required to meet this aspiration: 1. Creating more opportunities for younger people (both through leisure and education) 2. Reducing the isolation of older people (through mental, physical and social activity) 3. Improving / promoting health and wellbeing 4. Improving the physical environment e.g. green and open spaces 5. Investing in lifelong learning opportunities through training and education
6. Generating a sense of community spirit and community pride (through opportunities to engage in community activities) 7. Developing the local economy (focusing on fair finance, skills, enterprise and employment) 8. Involving more people in Big Local and working towards the improvement of community cohesion 9. Helping people to feel safe through directing efforts towards crime and community safety 10. Investing in infrastructure to create more community facilities and leisure opportunities Within individual plans, there were also some more specific priorities that help to support some of the main priorities, for example: investing in housing to support quality of life and community pride investing in traffic and transport to support community safety creating intergenerational opportunities to reduce isolation
Big Local areas addressing multiple issues through cross-cutting activities What is interesting about the priorities these seven Big Local areas have decided to invest in, is the ways in which they have linked them together. Areas plan to carry out activities that tackle multiple issues. Creating more opportunities for younger people Areas often recognise that there are close relationships between some of the themes they have prioritised. For example, an emphasis on making better use of both indoor and outdoor communal spaces is linked to more opportunities for young people and less anti-social behaviour. The message underlying this is; if you create more opportunities for people to spend their time doing something positive, you also create a buffer against negative behaviours. By focusing on assets and opportunities this creates new possibilities and enables people of all ages to engage in things they enjoy, that result in more positive behaviours. Generating a sense of community spirit (through opportunities to engage in community activities) Although often mentioned separately within plans, generating a sense of community spirit, community pride and engaging in community-focused activities are all closely linked. Community spirit might be created from opportunities to participate in working together for common purpose, while community pride can be based on residents benefitting from a positive experience of their area. So while these might be conceived of as distinct concepts, they are all mutually reinforcing. Big Local areas are hoping to help instil this sense of community spirit and pride from creating the relevant opportunities for this to develop and flourish. While this might take time to develop in some cases, activities outlined in Big Local plans hope to create the necessary momentum to achieve it.
Improving green and open space – creating quick wins Some of the Big Local plans focus on making an immediately visible difference to their area through focusing on the physical environment and improving the open, green spaces available. The benefits of this kind of project can be far-reaching through the positive experience of volunteering gained from physical work, which can help bond people. Improving the physical space itself can also generate a sense of ‘community spirit’ that is often aspired to. Creating a community garden for example, is a sustainable asset that people can use, enjoy and take pride from with a genuine sense that this is helping to ‘make their area an even better place to live’. Reducing social isolation and promoting health and wellbeing Although areas have developed plans that approach this theme in slightly different ways, they often link reduced social isolation with an investment in activities promoting health and wellbeing. There is an expectation that opportunities created through health and wellbeing activities will lead to the development of closer relationships between residents by providing the impetus for them to get out into their communities and participate. While activities may focus on older, or younger residents specifically to help motivate that particular group to participate, the cumulative effect of improving wellbeing helps residents of all ages feel their area is ‘an even better place to live’ for everyone. The assumption beneath this theme is that active people who participate in local activity reduce their isolation and gain a sense of connection with their area, which helps people to feel they have a stake in the place they live in. A feeling of connection or belonging to the area you live in has been strongly associated with wellbeing in previous research and so helps to re-enforce the positive health impact of the activity itself. Developing local economies - social investment and fair finance There is some recognition that providing funding for social investments through working closely with a credit unions or CDFIs (community development finance institutions) can help to boost the local economy at a relatively low cost. Through working closely with credit unions and CDFIs on the nature of their investment and how they wish to prioritise funding, areas can link social investments to some of the themes they hope to focus on. In this sense, Big Local plans make the link between investing in individuals, developing their personal ideas and entrepreneurial spirit, but also recognising this will provide wider benefits for the area. The same can be said for Big Local’s Star People programme, with individuals working with UnLtd to fund their ideas and develop them. Investing in skills and employment There are some interesting ways in which areas have sought to combine their priorities with developing skills and providing opportunities for the employment of residents. For example in one area, they are planning to employ local tradespeople in the regeneration of housing stock, with the hope that this will offer opportunities to increase the number of apprenticeships for young people. In one instance an area is investigating the feasibility of having a community centre, the contract for the work itself states that the successful bidder must give work experience to two young people as a condition of completing the work.
However, the focus on developing individuals in Big Local areas is not currently recognised across all the plans, despite the potential for social investment being more clearly referenced. Some areas have not yet made the link between social entrepreneurs, social investment and the development of local economies more widely that they aspire to. It will be interesting to see whether this will change over time as successful examples are shared between areas.
How areas plan to share their learning and achievements In trying to create a learning culture, several areas have recognised the importance of connecting communications with transparency. For example, through making public all records of meetings, plans, projects and photos etc. it helps residents to feel involved in what is happening, as well as making the integrity of Big Local activities transparent. All seven Big Local plans recognise the value of checking their progress in a way that helps them know how far they are progressing towards their goals. There are clear linkages between the outcomes pursued, activities supporting them and the evidence required to demonstrate changes made. This detail within plans helps to create a culture of learning about Big Local areas’ progress towards the vision they aspire to. Some areas are even investing in a baseline as a means of measuring their progress, while others have determined shorter and longer term goals that will require different levels of evidence to demonstrate impact: ‘many issues will take years rather than months to fix and we shouldn’t adopt a quick fix sticking plaster approach but make sure that we have a sustainable long term strategy. We’ll do this by working in partnership with a range of agents as well as empowering and equipping local people to make changes to their community’ Leigh West Big Local plan
What next? The unknown at this point in time is how the momentum of creating positive opportunities will play out; whether and how each achievement can help provide a platform for others, compound and enhance their potential, or create other unknown possibilities. At the point of creating the Big Local plan, each area is at the point of venturing into a programme of improvement, innovation and to some extent experimentation. Creating an ‘even better place to live’ can include both the most mundane and highest aspirations of residents. An interesting and important dimension of the Big Local plans to date is the engagement with a wide range of residents, understanding their specific needs and identifying aspects of the physical environment, services, and experiences of life that can be improved. There are a wealth of ideas contained within the seven Big Local plans that aim at the heart of people’s experiences, seeking to make changes that will create an overall sense of positivity within resident’s lives.
The seven Big Local plans The seven plans are from the following Big Local areas and are available on our website on the pages for that Big Local area. Barnfield Firs and Bromford Leeming and Aycliffe Leigh Neighbours NW Ipswich Par Bay South Bermondsey
Daniel Pearmain, monitoring, evaluation and learning co-ordinator Mark Breen, communications and public affairs co-ordinator February 2013
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