In 2010, like many councils, West Lindsey DC asked how it could deliver on its ambitions of ensuring prosperity and wellbeing among its residents at a time when public sector funds were being cut drastically in the light of austerity.
- Project: The Entrepreneurial Council
- Objectives: To support communities to co-produce services
- Timescale: 2010 to present
- Cost to authority: £3.75m over four years
- Number of staff working on project: Eight
- Officer contact details: Manjeet Gill
We recognised that we wanted to support our communities, protecting them from the impact of public sector cuts, rather than simply balancing our books or reducing the services we offered.
As a result, we focused on a corporate approach to community action and the council’s role as a community developer. The strategy was part of a corporate model called ‘The Entrepreneurial Council’ which focused on three strands: community action, commercialism and modern innovative work practices. In this article, I will focus on the community development strand of that approach.
This new way of working council-wide as a community developer was intended to help communities help themselves and others.
Our approach to community development recognised that there was a need for skills development, both in the community and our workforce. The challenges of moving from services run by by officers to services run in partnership with communities required skills in change management as well as patience. Community development takes time.
Our approach has built on the successful community development that takes place in leisure and cultural services and sought to apply this to areas such as benefits and economic development.
We set out to support communities towards co-producing services via the following methods.
We established our community action team of six officers - each assigned to their own part of the local area. Their role is to increase volunteering within communities and boost the funding they receive.
We also employed a dedicated third sector development officer to aid the development of the third sector market for public service provision, both economically and socially. We are currently working with our local enterprise partnership on a county-wide initiative to develop a social enterprise development fund building on our successful district experience.
In order to support communities to co-produce services, we invested in capital funds which act as a lever to secure match-funding from national funds for volunteering.
These include the community chest, which is a £250,000 fund, previously known as the community action and volunteering fund. This offers grants of up to £500 to groups to help them with their local projects.
We also set up the community assets fund, a £1.25m fund used to develop social enterprise community start-ups which can then access other external funding.
The fund provides grant and loan finance, as well as business support, to community groups to help them manage community assets, and set up or expand community enterprises.
The aim of the fund is to develop local enterprises, such as village shops, pubs, allotments and community hubs, helping them become more sustainable and have greater social impact. It also aims to help lever national and regional funds into West Lindsey through match-funding. For example, a £100,000 investment from the fund could help a social enterprise to draw down over £500,000 in Big Lottery funding.
Examples of successful projects include community shops, a trust to deliver a community swimming pool and health centre.
Finally, we created the councillor initiative fund. From this, each councillor was allocated £4,000 to distribute to community projects which benefit the local community over the period April 2013 to March 2015, and can put forward proposals for project support. This enables councillors to encourage and support community action and enterprise in their wards.
Modern community action is unlikely to survive without great communication, which can be a challenge given the rural nature of some of our communities. So, in 2013, we announced that we would install wifi hotspots in 30 village halls across the area in order to provide broadband access to the public in rural areas. We also engaged village champions who supported other members of the community to access services online, such as applications for universal credit.
A perfect example of how our investment in community development works is Trinity Arts, our theatre in Gainsborough. The theatre was originally planned for closure in 2010 due to cuts in Arts Council budgets.
To keep the theatre open, we employed our community development strategy. First, we increased our use of volunteers to help run the theatre, both at a practical and a strategic level; volunteering is not simply about help on show night, but includes business champions acting as advisers on finance, marketing and commercial matters on the theatre’s board.
We also introduced new staff roles at the theatre which are more focused on marketing and co-ordination to boost its popularity and improve its running. We have reduced our net budget for the theatre by over 40% since January 2012 and improved audience numbers and satisfaction.
Manjeet Gill, chief executive, West Lindsey DC