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Idea Exchange: How we’re unlocking Shirebrook’s potential

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A former mining community has been chosen to trial a more collaborative and preventative means of providing services.

Project name: Thriving Communities

  • Objectives: Preventing people hitting crisis point, unlocking power and potential in communities, building on aspirations and growing enterprising skills
  • Timescale: 2017 - present
  • Cost to authority: £368,270 annually
  • Number of staff working on project: eight officers, four based in communities
  • Outcomes: Where modelled, thriving communities has realised over £600,000 per annum in service demand reduction and over £3m in social return on investment over a 12-month period. It is anticipated that many more communities across Derbyshire could benefit from the rollout of the approach
  • Officer contact: Emma Alexander, strategic director, commissioning, communities and policy, Derbyshire CC.

Shirebrook, a town in North East Derbyshire, may not be a household name but it has long been in the media spotlight. It was prominent in the miners’ strike in the 1980s while the working practices of Sports Direct, the headquarters of which is based in this former mining community, have attracted comment. It was no surprise then when in April this year, BBC Newsnight decided to feature Shirebrook as a place that epitomises the changes to the national economy over the past 30 years, from the demise of heavy industry to the advent of zero hours contracts and migrant workers.

Shirebrook has also been the focus for Derbyshire CC’s Thriving Communities approach, one of a number of places in an otherwise largely affluent county where communities experience a range of health, economic, social and cultural challenges.

Thriving Communities is being delivered with a small team and with a commitment to a set of principles. These include valuing the rich insights from local people, bringing services together in connected teams and through community networks, encouraging different means of aspiration-led working and utilising spaces unconventionally to grow the capacity for community activity and enterprise, Through these principles we can do things differently.

Following significant work on the Thriving Families initiative in 2015, the council recognised that service overlap and inefficiencies in working practices across the public sector were resulting in poor outcomes for local people and families with complex needs, despite often relatively high levels of investment. Thriving Families work revealed that people and places were inextricably linked and that the networks and connections people have in their local communities and outside are important in supporting communities. The council’s focus at this point shifted to include communities as well as individuals and families, evolving into the Thriving Communities programme.

Through Thriving Communities, the council aims to create a closer relationship between public services and local people and between partners and local enterprise. We’re knitting them together into the fabric of the community through collaboration, networking and human-centred decision-making that focuses on aspirations, not problems.

From prototyping community-led solutions, it became evident that when staff and community members were given the capacity and flexibility to work together to come up with new ways of addressing community need, the benefits of doing so were immediate. A disused kitchen in a reception room has become a community café where those with low levels of need can get food as well as getting to know other local people who often want to help. What was once a vacant storage space has become a hive of youth activity, reducing the escalation of problems for the police and local businesses.

This approach has meant we’ve needed to be agile and flexible, to learn lessons when things work, be honest about what hasn’t and to consider why. The council acknowledges that one particular solution in one community may not work in another – services need to be open to this to produce better outcomes.

From the work in five specific areas across the county, the council has made a case for change and has got strong foundations on which to build a new model of working applicable to all levels of the system.

tc group 1

tc group 1

The challenge now is to move from a successful programme into a sustainable and embedded way of working across the council, across partners and across communities. Our aim in 2019 is to accelerate change. We will be working with our development partner to create a series of tools and a codified model which can be used to move towards mainstreaming the successes of the approach across Derbyshire as a whole by 2024. It is in Shirebrook, Bolsover, that we have based the accelerator. This will drive change locally and inform county-wide learning and priorities in advance of the broader rollout. To do this we are focusing on three key priority objectives:

  • preventing people from hitting crisis point – existing services and support are failing to prevent people from falling into crisis, leading to increasing demand for high cost and unsustainable support;
  • unlocking the power and potential within communities – too often our existing services and ways of working fail to create the conditions for people and their communities to support themselves and each other;
  • raising people’s aspirations and skills to be enterprising and thrive – today we focus too much on the short-term needs of our people and communities, leading to reactive and paternalistic relationships, instead of working to raise aspirations and building skills for the future.

We are working on these three priorities across four key layers to drive whole system, whole place improvements and to accelerate change in order to realise our ambitions. These layers are:

  • Connectedaccelerating an enterprising relationship with our communities that builds on their strengths and aspirations;
  • Collaborate amplifying powerful local collaboration to create support that works for each of our diverse communities;
  • Partnershipenhancing how we work together in partnership to achieve a shared strategic vision for Derbyshire;
  • Leadership growing enhanced leadership skills and capacities across the council and partners in order to realise empowering, place-based working.

By attempting to co-develop this big idea the Thriving Communities approach has been ambitious from the beginning and not without its obstacles.

In the past, communities often described themselves and the services they receive in a culture of ‘them’ and ‘us’, where organisations are ‘doing to the community rather than ‘working alongside’. In order for the Thriving Communities approach to work the council has acknowledged that it needs to change and embed a culture which focuses on growing the aspirations and potential in communities, rather than simply looking to prescribe solutions to problems.

This notion of ‘them’ and ‘us’ was also identified across organisations themselves. Working often in the same community and toward shared goals, workers are often isolated from each other, competing for outcomes, missing opportunities and wasting both energy and resources. The thriving communities approach facilitates better locality collaboration, through more creative cross partner forums, encouraging a shared understanding to be developed in the community.

Thriving communities areas have collectively produced significant outcomes. Community based apps have been co-designed and co-developed. Micro-businesses have been created. People previously unreachable by services are delivering peer-led support themselves. New routes into volunteering have been produced. And community activity or employment is based on aspirations rather than what’s simply ‘on offer’ or what has often been presumed that people can or cannot do.

The programme is now at the heart of Derbyshire’s transformation journey. Communities are now being supported and encouraged to think differently about how they see themselves and what they can achieve together, but there is still much work to do and even more challenges and success to come.

Emma Alexander, strategic director, commissioning, communities and policy, Derbyshire CC


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