Learning from innovative communities: insights from the NESTA Neighbourhod Challenge
For the last year NCVO have been working with NESTA and Big Lottery Fund to learn from 17 projects across the country as part of the Neighbourhood Challenge. We thought now would be a good opportunity to share some of the early learning as it emerges from the programme, We’re going to be at the NCVO Annual Conference next week, talking about how organisations can get new people involved and act as catalysts for change in their community or organisation and to build on the points below, so if you're there come along for a chat and to share your thoughts.
We asked Alice Casey who heads up the Neighbourhood Challenge at NESTA to share some insights from the programme so far.
'We set up the Neighbourhood Challenge programme to learn more about how community organisations can unlock untapped potential and inspire people to work together to address to their own local priorities. We know that this is what many of the best community organisations have been already been doing for a very long time. However, what is new is the scale of the challenges facing local communities and public services, alongside a commitment from the government to support civil society and activism. This creates a great opportunity to scale up community led innovation; and help release much more of the untapped potential that exists within all of our communities.
We wanted to use practical examples to create new insights into the skills, tools, finance and support that would be needed to do this, and to learn about the system-level changes needed to have impact at scale. It has been an exciting, and challenging journey, and the range of approaches used have been as varied as the neighbourhoods themselves.
The groups have led programme design, and have tailored their approaches to fit their own local areas, often combining or customising methods to fit the bill. Some groups have used community hubs, and tested out challenge prizes such as Brixham YES in Devon and Coopers Edge in Gloucestershire. We’ve also seen social entrepeneurship in places such as Peckham and Darwen, where they have taken the living room out into the community to find and support new potential entrepreneurs. Others have used specialist methods of Community Organising such as can be seen in Brent,and Newark. We have also seen many groups take up an Asset Based Community Development (Strengths-based) approach to unlocking community potential, including Merseyside and Surrey Community Foundations, The Mill in Walthamstow, and Shiregreen in Sheffield.
These are just a few examples which show a range of imaginative ways that organisations can work closely with local people to work on their own priorities, instead of instead of doing to or for them. But how could funding and support agencies enable more local groups to be catalysts for change across the UK and beyond?
Our latest paper, Learning from Innovative Communities, provides insight into what funders and support agencies of all kinds can learn from the communities they aim to reach, and how they can create the right conditions for these varied and innovative communities to take a lead. We don’t have all the answers, but we have learned that funders need to challenge themselves to be innovative too; rather than granting funds to plug top-down gaps, they could also invest in local potential, catalyse new relationships and enable groups to unlock local ideas, skills and talent for themselves. And if neighbourhoods are to reach their full potential, they need more flexible support and investment, freedom to learn from mistakes and develop their own capabilities. More innovative funders, supporting more innovative community organisations could unlock the creative potential to make a difference in neighbourhoods everywhere.'