Category Archives: Business

I have 35 years of experience working with groups from across the community, not for profit, public, social and charitable sectors.

A time to listen

29th April 2017 I was asked to facilitate a community session for the Mayor of Bristol (Marvin Rees) and Kerry McCarthy MP. The localised issues raised at community engagement sessions can often be listed beforehand housing, transport, education, fly-tipping, but nesting amongst these issues was the ongoing ramifications of Brexit. The audience while not large certainly reflected the diverse nature of opinion concerning the Brexit debate. What became clear during the session was that when politicians listen and engage with the fears and concerns of ordinary people a more considered debate takes place, which in turn helps forge a more objective understanding of the complex issues that are often presented in simplistic headlines. My lesson from facilitating this session is that we need to develop ways of breaking down the often perceived barriers between elected representatives and the general public.

It will not be easy, but social media has its limitations. There is no real substitute for eye to eye contact and exchange of opinions, which often energises and secures the principle of accountability. We have allowed the vilification of our elected representatives to cloud our wider engagement in our democracy. That is not to say some of our MPs and elected representatives have not been the cause of their own vilification. But there is a space, a void and dare I say a responsibility we need to claim back to make our democracy and accountability work.

If we are to recapture hearts and minds then it will need to be done community by community, neighbourhood by neighbourhood reconstructing the relationship and replacing it with politics that works for people.

Space the final frontier

Taken for granted until they are placed under threat open spaces near our urban centres not only increase our quality of life, but they are essential for leisure activities. The mental and physical health benefits they provide have been demonstrated, along with the proof that they actually prevent and slow down access to expensive health care costs. They are also the lungs of our community offsetting the effects of air pollution while providing a habitat for wildlife to survive. Exploring our open spaces not only improves our feeling of well-being but creates a sense of connection with our broader community. Our local councils, who act as the custodians of our open spaces, are now facing the consequences of a two-pronged assault by the government through their policies of austerity and Growth and Infrastructure. Given this hostile environment, it has become increasingly important that our local council’s do the right thing.

Growth and Infrastructure Act

The Open Spaces Society, have set out the legal risk to public open spaces by the Growth and
Infrastructure Act, “In the past, communities could register their local open space as a town or village green, securing their rights to enjoy it and protecting it from being built on. Now the Growth and Infrastructure Act decrees that, throughout England, landowners can challenge your use of the green for informal recreation and you then have only one year in which to register it. The danger is that the land could be developed before you even know it’s at risk.” 

Austerity 

The Local Government Association report Under Pressure, states, “Councils are currently halfway through a scheduled 40% cut in funding from central government. Having delivered £10 billion of savings in the three years from 2011/12, local authorities have to deliver the same savings again in the next two years. As a result of these cuts councils in many areas will not have enough money to meet all their statutory responsibilities.”

The term “statutory” refers to those services, which the council has to provide by law, the biggest areas of statutory expenditure for your council are social care for the elderly, those with complex needs and children at risk. The level, depth and speed of financial cuts demanded by the central government is unprecedented and will have consequences for generations to come. As your council struggles to tackle the growing demands of social care the stark choice is one of providing essential care to the most vulnerable in our community or reducing services, which are not generally considered “statutory” like public open spaces for example.

The crisis has brought about a natural reaction. Legitimate protests have/are taking place, but they have failed to ignite the mass movement required to force a change in policy and as a consequence had little impact on the policy of austerity. Calls for councils to use their “budget reserves” to plug the hole provides a good soundbite, but will not provide a sustainable answer and those calling for this approach know this full well given it will only delay the problem and ultimately hit services supporting the elderly and vulnerable much harder. The idea that any council will set an illegal budget is just daft. The debate is not one of just reductions, but some services may ultimately stop.

Doing the right thing

Here in Bristol, the funding cuts are valued at £92m during the next five years. The idea that efficiencies, wasteful expenditure on pet projects, gold plated pensions, and cutting jobs will magically fill the budget hole is utterly discourteous to anybody’s intelligence. As reported in the Bristol Post the financial strategy for the council includes a definite saving of £1.2m by 2019/20, which is predicated on a change in how parks and open spaces are managed and maintained with the council looking at alternative ways to run them such as setting up trusts or mutual societies

Northern Slopes

The Northern Slopes constitute three open green spaces between the Knowle West and Bedminster areas of Bristol, which had remained relatively undisturbed since the Second World War when they were utilised for allotments. Thursday evening, 16th March, I had the honour of spending the evening in the company of the volunteers who are the driving force behind the Northern Slopes Initiative (NSI). Like similar volunteer groups, up and down the country the volunteers of the NSI find themselves at the coal face of convincing their local community of the importance of the slopes, protecting and enhancing them while gently elbowing the council to maintain these critical facilities. It is a thankless role, which generates no financial reward, but these volunteers are increasingly becoming the backbone of our communities as the council is forced to retreat. Relatively small in number but dedicated they are prepared to sacrifice their evenings and weekends to improve conditions for their fellow residents. They may also be holding down a job or retired, but their sense of duty is second to known. It will be these very same volunteers who will be called upon to “step up” as part of the response to the financial crisis the council finds itself in.

It ain’t what you do, but the why that you do it – that’s what gets results

Bristol Council’s willingness to look at alternatives, while fraught with difficulties is to be welcomed, but it will not be what the council is seeking to do that will determine its success, far from it, it will be how the council goes about doing it. Until the how is declared the willingness of the council to explore alternative approaches will remain aspirational just like those many well-meaning strategies, which litter the history of local government in the UK.

Collective Impact

Collective Impact is a framework to tackle deeply entrenched and complex social problems. It is an innovative and structured approach to making collaboration work across government, business, philanthropy, non-profit organisations and citizens to achieve significant and lasting social change. Read more here

Ashley Community Housing

On 14th March, I visited Ashley Community Housing to discuss their impressive work in the resettlement of refugees. Ashley Community Housing is a thriving social enterprise that puts people before profits. ‘Community’ is at the heart of everything they do we do to bring about positive change throughout communities in the West of England and the West Midlands.  Since 2008 they have successfully resettled over 2000 individuals from refugee backgrounds– developing their independence, promoting their positive contribution to the community and easing their integration into UK life. Unlike similar organisations which place an emphasis on processing numbers, Ashley Housing deals with individuals who each have unique needs, skills and ambitions. Many of Ashley Housing staff, including our CEO, have lived experience as former refugees, meaning they have produced a tried and tested resettlement service that is culturally responsive. For more information following this link. I’m particularly impressed with their Rethinking Refugee Campaign.

People, Places, and Spaces Conference Bristol

Enjoyed speaking to so many energised people at the ‘People, Places and Spaces conference’ in Bristol, which was organised by Locality. Sharing mistakes, successes and applying knowledge to new challenges is always refreshing. Good feedback too my assessment that we need a rethink of the role, powers and functions of local government now. We need to stop tinkering around the edges and stop continuously managing the crisis as this only leads to managing decline. We should never forget that regardless of the cuts local government will remain an important resource holder and when at its best it can be a great agent for change in local communities, but sadly for many, the behaviours sitting behind their experiences when engaging with local government leaves a lot to be desired.

Social Investment

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations website provides an excellent introduction to the issue of Social investment, which is an investment activity that has an expectation of both a social outcome and a financial return, which would usually be below market rate. For voluntary organisations, it represents a form of repayable finance that can be used for capital investment, revenue funding development, capacity building, or other ways of improving their sustainability.
Social investment can take the form of:

  • A loan, usually a secured loan
  • equity (only if the organisation is constituted with a shareholding structure)
  • Quasi-equity where the lender takes their returns as a proportion of the organisation’s
  • future revenue
  • overdraft facilities

Social impact bonds where investors put forward the capital required to run a project, and are repaid by the commissioner (usually government) based on the results – or social impact – of the delivery organisation (often a charity). Read more here

I AM HUNGER FILM

13 million people in the UK currently live below the poverty line, which is the combined population of London, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester & Glasgow. Currently, under production, I Am Hunger is a film that will celebrate the vital work of individual volunteers, self-funded charities and community groups engaged in defending those most vulnerable citizens who find themselves hungry and without shelter. The film will also explore some of the route causes and possible solutions to the steep rise in poverty and homelessness, but ultimately this movie is about you and what you can do given the first step towards change is the one you decide to take.

Anthony Tombling Jr is the director of the film. Anthony is currently a self-funded independent filmmaker. Anthony first started producing music videos before moving into Documentary. Anthony originally comes from a music background. Some of Anthony’s musical work can be heard on the original Ex Machina soundtrack, which won 2016, Ivor Novello. Anthony is now concentrating on making documentary films that cover social issues affecting communities. His latest film A River follows the impact of a license to frack upon a much-loved river in Wales. Narrated by celebrated actor Michael Sheen OBE, the film has already been well received on the independent film festival circuit and was a feature at last year’s East End Film Festival. The film was also screened at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, taking the community’s story into the heart of British politics. Anthony’s work can be further explored here: unit3films.com

My Role

The artists and creative narrative for this film project are rightly with Anthony. My expertise is used to undertake research into the issues and the people who will ultimately be part of the movie. I also explore investment opportunities, establish the social media platforms, develop awareness campaigns of the film and provide overall project management of the project. Further information on the project can be found here