Over the past 20 years, LifeLine has been working with local people in a range of settings. We began in outer London boroughs with statistics you’d be more likely to find in inner London. Now we have reach across east London and we’re spreading out to the rest of the capital and, through the FaithAction network, across the country too.
One thing we’ve recognised from our time in London – and it’s just as true throughout the country – is that certain areas end up being much more attractive for funders to invest in than others. It’s not even uncommon for these “unattractive” areas to have needs as great as their more attractive counterparts but, for one reason or another, these needs have not received as much attention – from the “outside”, to the people looking for those in need, the area appears to be doing just fine.
You may be surprised to learn that, even when we’ve attracted funding to deliver in these less-funded areas, we’ve found delivery can be challenging and stakeholders to be over-stretched, unengaged, or resistant, when we’re expecting a warm welcome due to the scarce delivery resource. The issue may be because these areas that traditionally lack funding have less infrastructure and resource to facilitate delivery. This is certainly a significant factor but, talking with other organisations, we’ve found there are four top factors that usually apply;
- The protection of PR
- The lunacy of localism
- The barriers of bureaucracy
- The benefits of partnership
The protection of PR
A common issue, this is a result of a stakeholders trying to protect the image of the area. For example, trying to implement an anti-bullying campaign could suggest, to some, that the area therefore has a problem with bullying serious enough to warrant intervention.
However, sweeping problems under the rug, in some vain attempt to protect reputation and image, benefits no-one – particularly not the victims of it. It is only through having leadership brave enough to admit the issues they’re facing that we can hope to overcome them.
The lunacy of localism
Compounding the first issue is something I’ve come to refer to as ‘localism that defies logic’.
Some areas seem exceedingly sceptical of “outsiders”. These organisations, even with a great reputation and a proven track record, can find it hard to get a foot in the door if they’re not already built up a presence in the area.
It seems there is a fear, particularly when it comes to larger national organisations, that they will “parachute” in their own solution for the delivery period, and then disappear the day after it ends.
Dianne Betts, CEO of First Rung, commented:
Trying to protect a community’s image will often do more harm than good. Coming into a tight knit community setting is frightening for those who reside in the area. Building trust requires work. But through building true partnerships we can embrace the fear and turn it into bravery and hope.
Since 1983, First Rung has been dedicated to providing innovative and high quality learning and employment opportunities to support young people achieve success and fulfil their potential. They offer a range of programmes specifically tailored to individual needs, ensuring the course is best matched to the participants goals.
The barriers of bureaucracy
Another frequent issue is widespread inefficiency in local systems. Bureaucracy and red tape result in lengthy processes where progress stalls. Different departments fail to communicate and queries have to be repeated to each new person. Sometimes, the whole thing is held back for weeks or even months while we wait for signoff from someone higher-up. All this time we lose to inefficiency could have been better spent out working with young people.
As a delivery-focused organisation, it can be very tempting to revert back to the areas we’re established in, where we can easily deliver our programmes. But if organisations like ours follow the well-trodden paths, the new areas can lose the funding opportunities and, with it, the chance to improve their situation.
The benefits of partnership
An antidote to localism and competition is partnership. LifeLine have focussed on building effective partnerships over the last 20 years with local authorities, statutory services and other providers, which has helped us to reach both deeper and wider than we ever could alone.
I recently had a chance to ask Amy, co-founder and director of Let Me Play, her thoughts on the value of partnership working:
We’re always keen to work with partner organisations to support local issues. We believe that collaborative work is powerful work and can lead to meaningful intervention and lasting change. By working with key stakeholders and other like-minded organisations, we can make real change. We look forward to working with Lifeline Projects on a range of programmes in the future.
Let Me Play (LMP) provides opportunities and supports social change across the UK. The focus is on education and social impact: working together to bring about positive and sustainable development. The LMP Group serve schools, businesses and individuals through apprenticeships, employability programmes, alternative education, enrichment and holiday camp programmes and residential summer camps. Let Me Play was established in 2004 with a residential summer basketball camp and with the mission to create opportunities for young people.
- Local authorities need to focus their efforts on welcoming new providers who bring in new funding. They should build bridges, not barriers.
- Providers need to stay true to their convictions, work hard to forge new relationships, make as many connections into each new area as you can, and stay persistent until the breakthrough happens.
- Providers should focus on their strengths and consider how they can maximise these. They may have a greater impact on society if they venture to new territories and focus on breadth rather than depth.
- Local organisations should also focus on their strengths, not fearing competition but welcoming partnership and diversity.