I’m writing this having just got back from running a workshop at the Tpas Engaging Communities conference in Nottingham, which Sovereign also sponsored.
This was a two-day event full of workshops and ‘learning zones’ where different organisations shared some really innovative ideas. And, as Jenny Osbourne (Chief Executive of Tpas) explained in her opening speech, we had a room full of dedicated resident and community engagement staff who were all up for the challenges we face as a sector.
That was clear when my colleague Jess Dewhurst and I led a workshop about “Sovereign’s ‘Deal’: targeting communities”.
To make sure our residents’ voice was at the heart of the business after our merger in late 2016, we brought together experienced residents from the two former organisations (supported by Sovereign’s Board, senior managers and an external expert) to jointly create a new approach.
The result is our triangle of involvement, which links three elements with each other and with our main Board:
- Our Resident and Board Partnership helps influence our strategy, policies and service standards
- The Scrutiny Coordination Group commissions reviews and makes sure scrutiny’s a valued tool for monitoring, managing and developing our services
- Our Sovereign Communities support and harness the enthusiasm of residents to make the difference in their neighbourhoods
Our workshop focused on the Sovereign Communities groups, which are all about listening to people on the ground and turning that enthusiasm into action that has a wider community impact.
Made up of Sovereign and other local residents, each group is free to choose what it wants to focus on. They sign up to our Communities ‘Deal’ and, in return, receive funding and tailored support from our Community Engagement team.
One defining feature of our approach is a cycle of involvement that’s aimed at groups becoming self-sustaining after three years (it’s also great if they’ve achieved their aims earlier!)
There’s a clear funding structure for each year but with the flexibility for groups to access more money up front if the need’s clear. There’s a separate training budget (investing in residents themselves is key to them running groups independently in the long-term) and each group can also bid for additional money from our Local Initiative Grant budget.
As well as explaining how our structure works, we shared some learnings so far:
- groups have taken longer to establish than we thought – so be realistic
- build in time for people to get to know each other
- make sure groups aren’t set up to only ‘chase the money’
- start to build confidence in individuals so they feel empowered
- try and get a mix of people involved, experienced and new members – this helps to keep ideas fresh
Then we got a bit more interactive, challenging participants to engage the residents in our fictitious village. We set the demographic scene and asked how they’d go about finding people who want to form a group? How could they find out what matters to the community? What might be some good ways to introduce residents to one another so they could share their ideas and focus on a common aim?
This led to some animated conversations as people drew on their own experiences. It was interesting to see how staff all agreed that they needed to be innovative in their approach and try to engage with residents in various ways, such as through social media but not losing the importance of face to face contact too.
Thanks to you all for demonstrating how willing and able we are as a profession to support our residents in facing the challenges within their communities. I personally took away so much – and I’m looking forward to the national Tpas conference in July.