01 July 2013

One of the things I enjoy about working on our Connecting Policy with Practice programme with the Big Lottery Fund is getting out of the Westminster bubble and visiting some of the organisations we’re working with.

So far that’s included visiting Brighter Futures in Stoke, where they are co-ordinating a major new partnership to improve local services and systems for adults with complex needs, and the Emmaus community in West Norwood that offers work and a home for people trying to turn their lives around.

Last week I set off to Plymouth (happily for me I love long train journeys and the journey to the South West is a particularly nice one) to join Lindsey Hall of the Real Ideas Organisation and Ben Connah from the Ministry of Justice on one of their exchanges.

The Real Ideas Organisation (RIO) is a social enterprise developing fresh new ideas and delivering real, tangible projects. They are the inspiring sort of folk who see a social need and just deal with it. For example, they have spotted that young people in the small town of Liskeard can play an active role in regenerating their town centre and supported them to run cultural events through the ‘Secret Fridays’ programme.

Ben Connah and Lindsay Hall
The range and reach of their activities is evident just from walking around the historic Devonport Guildhall that is now their base, a social enterprise hub for Plymouth and a focal point for the whole community.

Upstairs, in the main hall that also serves as a revenue-raising wedding and conference venue, local teachers are in a workshop figuring out how they will adapt to the new curriculum and build social enterprise into their schools. Downstairs (by what was once prison cells!) the head teacher of a new primary Free School that RIO helped to establish is working to get everything in place before they open in September, visibly excited by the challenge ahead. RIO staff work on partnership plans with employers and others as part of their Big Lottery investment to help more young people in Cornwall get into work. Outside, new housing has replaced some of the more worn down flats in the area, and residents use the Guildhall regularly, not least for the delicious café that is part of RIO’s social enterprise model.

It’s striking that while ‘silo working’ is a constant public service bugbear, organisations here are working together pretty effectively, partnering up and delivering entrepreneurial solutions and services co-designed by local people – although Lindsey admits that measuring the multiple impacts across collaborative services is tricky stuff.

Perhaps this person-centred, collaborative model is easier at a local level. It prompts Ben to reflect on the historic Whitehall tendency to commission services around a single event (losing a job, becoming a victim of crime) rather than the more complex reality of people’s lives. Crime is high in the area, and Lindsey suspects that many victims of minor crimes here may well be the sorts of people RIO work with already. Using Ben’s expertise and contacts in the field of justice policy and victim services, Ben and Lindsey plan to draw together local victims, victim organisations and others to work out how they might better deliver more holistic support, using socially enterprising approaches, generating changes locally and lessons that they can take back into government.

‘Working together and differently’ sounds like an obvious thing for government and communities to do, and might risk seeming worthy or trite. But it runs right through the Connecting Policy with Practice programme and with a project like Lindsey and Ben’s should deliver real results too.

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