The importance of community, by Amy Middleton
Personal relationships and connections, rather than services, can make the most difference in people’s lives, especially when times are hard. Amy Middleton works at the Mayday Trust, which knows this. She writes: ‘Shifting the focus from weakness, fixing, and segregation, as well as overcoming the systemic barriers is at the heart of everything we do with the Personal Transitions Service, so for me it seems obvious that a total paradigm shift is essential if we are to really make a positive difference. A focus on organisations without ‘walls’ allows us to take a step back, rebalance the power dynamics and put people in the driving seat of their own lives. By building positive support networks and remaining in local communities, people are more likely to make a sustained change in their lives and not only move on from their tough time, but also be prepared for the next bump in the road.’
Building trust in communities to take power through Community Organising
Increasingly the public sector wants to involve local people, but many are suspicious of the authorities or are even fearful of engaging. Nick Gardham, the CEO of Community Organisers, explains what they are doing locally to build trust and capacity for local people to take more power.
‘In the community organising world, we are starting to see how investing this time in listening, building relationships and encouraging people to come together on local issues is rekindling the trust between people and the institutions and organisation that seek to serve them. Through taking action and rekindling trust people start to believe in their own ability to make change.’
Better Way leadership principles into practice
To mark the start of our third annual Gathering in July 2019, Polly Neate writes about putting Better Way leadership into practice in her organisation, Shelter. It’s opening up a debate about how to make a Better Way happen, close to home.
‘The Better Way principles demand radical change. They speak of compassion and kindness but – or perhaps sadly because of that – they absolutely do not speak of the status quo.’
Teaching children to be active citizens in schools
At our roundtable on sharing power, we identified that we need to do much more in schools to build an appreciation of what it is to be an individual in society so that young people can be active citizens and take more power. Alison Gelder from Together for the Common Good reflects on the roundtable and writes about what they are doing through the Common Good Schools Programme.
Applying ‘Advantaged Thinking’ to communities
Nick Sinclair, Director of the Local Area Coordination Network, was inspired by our roundtable on tactics to apply these and other ‘Advantaged Thinking’ questions to their work in communities:
How we talk about people without stigmatising.
How we understand people and their potential, not just their problems.
How we work with people encouraging risk taking and building trust.
How we invest in people beyond just supporting them to survive and cope.
Crazy about the kid
Cate Newnes-Smith, inspired by our national discussions in A Better Way, decided to try and set up a group of strategic thinkers across the public, voluntary and private sectors in Surrey who could make life better for younger people. They started with a series of questions, and so far have identified what they believe will really make a difference in children’s lives. It’s about creating genuine connection and community. Or put it another way, being ‘Crazy about the kid’.
Karin Woodley writes about how to use radical listening to create organisations ‘without walls’ in a blog drawn from her opening remarks at our May roundtable on that theme.
‘Radical listening is a process that enables us to disrupt stereotypes, tackle social injustices and transfer control of our organisations back to the people we work with. It helps us to regain control of our destinies so that we do what matters most and has real value to our service users. Radical listening drives a liberatingly authentic and creative culture of ‘outside-in’ continuous improvement. It stops us tinkering with existing approaches and enables us to make fundamental change that is rooted in our knowledge of what matters most to the people we were established to support.’
Creating relationships, not services
In May we held a roundtable on creating organisations ‘without walls’ - focused on communities and solutions, not institutional self-interest. Clare Wightman introduced the discussion by telling us about the inspirational work of her organisation, Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire. ‘We’ve always thought that the thing people need in life when they’ve got problems isn’t so much services – services have their place – but good people around them. Services are few. Services have limits – walls if you like - around what they do. But there’s is no limit to what people will do for those they care about.’
We need to reshape the landscape of power in our society
In the fourth blog in our series about sharing power, Richard Bridge likens power to a delta. ‘In the delta it is the pilot’s knowledge of the landscape, what in another context we might call ‘the rules of the game’, that makes them powerful. If we wish to change the relations of power between people and communities, as a practical first step we need to find ways to break up and change the established landscape of power. We have to forcibly change the ‘rules of the game’ in order to create space for new actors and new voices to step in and empower themselves.’ He suggests Citizen’s Assemblies, with members selected by random selection or sortition, as one way forward.
Making not shaping power: first thoughts from the front line
In the third of a series of blogs from contributors to our roundtable on sharing power in April 2019, Rhiannon Bearne writes about the shared tendency of both charities and movements ‘to see power as ‘other’: an entity which is held outside or beyond a person, place or project. For service delivery charities like mine, our job becomes one of developing tools and systems to help people access that special place where power resides, such as central or local government, or the people who commission services. The problem with this approach is that we can end up behaving passively in relation to power. We develop ways of working from the outside to affect power – but, crucially, not to unlock it for ourselves.’
Sharing power? It starts by understanding power and privilege
In the second of a series of blogs following on from our roundtable in April 2019 about sharing power, Sufina Ahmad reflects on the real challenges when power is so interlinked with privilege. Sharing power starts with an understanding of the structures that hold power and trying to work within institutions to change things, she suggests.
She writes ‘Last December my sister and I attended an event on immigration and diversity politics and the implications it poses to liberal democracy. Even now, more than four months later, I feel anxious and overwhelmed when thinking back to that event. The levels of overt racism, othering, hyperbole and disdain towards minoritised groups in Britain shown by some of the panel members and in most of the audience contributions shocked me. Around the same time as that event I read Rutger Bregman’s book Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World.
Sharing power? A personal reflection
In the first of a series of blogs following on from our roundtable in April 2019 about sharing power, Avril McIntyre reflects on how personal contacts make it much easier to resolve problems and about how to help others in a way that genuinely empowers them.
‘I was talking to friend who lives on a housing estate recently. He described how a group of young people had trashed a car outside his house the previous night. When I asked what he’d done about it, he looked surprised and said, “Well nothing – what could I have done?” There was a powerlessness in his response.’ To read more..
Local Cornerstone - Purpose versus Targets
As part of our series of essays in Insights for A Better Way, Edel Harris reflects on why principles are better than targets based on her experience of giving power to front-line carers at Cornerstone.
"Can you imagine a workplace with no managers, no supervising and checking, no burdensome policies and procedures, three simple measurements and a network of up-skilled, local, self managed teams all focused on achieving a charitable purpose?…If you work on the premise that people who want to work in the social care sector are motivated by making a positive difference. If you recruit for values and attitude and you then provide an environment where colleagues are genuinely trusted and empowered to do a great job you will find that amazing things happen.”
'Company citizen seeks partner for mutual advantage'
Tom Levitt provides some fascinating case studies from the private sector which illustrate our proposition, 'Collaboration is better than competition', and demonstrate a significant shift in corporate thinking. His essay first appeared in Insights for A Better Way.
'..we’ve moved from employees taking initiatives to sponsor each other, bake cakes and ride bikes for money, through communal days out for painting or gardening, through providing the skills that charities and community groups need - right through to a company expressing its own mission and purpose through a strategic approach to its relationship with the community'.
Complexity demands collaboration and a new paradigm
'Almost all social interventions are complex. There are three key reasons for this: issues, people and systems are all complex, but we often pretend otherwise. We need ‘trust based’ funding and alliance contracting to recognise this...' To read more...
The Bensham Co-Op: focusing on strengths and mutuality
In another essay from our Better Way publication, Ollie Batchelor gives a brilliant example of 'doing with' rather than 'doing to', showing that 'Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses'.
'We settled on a co-operative, with free, unlimited access to fresh produce for anyone who showed up and a community of mutual support and care built around the ideas, strengths and abilities of those who came along. In the two years it has been running we have been able to provide fresh food for around 120 people every week, more than 11,000 in total, costing about £3000 a year. The Co-op’s remit has grown as people have identified other needs or suggested things they would like to help with.' To read more...
Jane Slowey and Advantaged Thinking, in memory of Jane
Our publication, Insights for A Better Way, is dedicated to the late Jane Slowey, a founder member of A Better Way, whose Advantaged Thinking is an inspiration to us all and vividly illustrates our proposition, 'Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses'. Colin explains how it came about.
‘Jane believed that charity should inspire action through the stories it amplifies. Back in 2004, when Jane joined youth housing charity Foyer Federation, the narrative about young people was predominately negative. Too often, we knew more about what young people couldn’t do than what they could. We talked about the need to help people cope, without always understanding or caring that people also need to thrive. Jane wanted to invest in a different, more honest story…’ To read more…
‘Mass participation is mass enjoyment: the Selby Centre in Tottenham’, a case study by Sona Mahtani
Sona Mahtani writes vividly about the Selby Centre, a living example of our proposition, 'Mass participation is better than centralised power'.
‘Enter one set of double doors to get married in a salubrious wedding banqueting hall, before going into a boxing club with an Olympic sized ring. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself on the Ding Dong play bus in a children’s party or a strategic away day in our global garden or going upstairs to learn a skill or fifty. It feels more strategic, more impactful and energising somehow which only comes from being where it really matters – on the ground, working with people and finding that they hold the answers to all those wicked problems. And boy is the food good!’
Leading thought by following your heart not your head
Kathy Evans writes about the personal journey that has led her to speak from the heart in one of the essays in our coming publication, Insights for A Better Way, illustrating the proposition, 'Collaboration is better than competition' and the different kind of collective leadership we want to see.
It’s been five years since I became CEO of Children England, a membership family of children’s charities with a proud 75 year history of collaborating to change children’s policy and services for the better. I had 22 years’ experience of working in the children’s charity sector so I knew the territory well, but I will openly confess I that had no idea whatsoever how to fulfil the role’s central expectation of becoming a sector leader – a thought-leader - from a ‘cold start’ in my first CEO role...
Cattle machine = education system
This poem by sixteen year-old Alicia Moore captures how the education system is failing to respond to the individuality of many young people and brings home vividly the importance of our proposition that 'relationships are better than impersonal transactions'.
'we’re hear to help, says everyone
the college, the education system itself that does not adapt for those different
for those who cannot fit the mould
I am a square trying to fit through a circle'
How to move from targets to principles in schools
'Something has gone seriously, seriously wrong in schools,' writes Graeme Duncan in another of the essays from our forthcoming collection, Insights for A Better Way, illustrating our proposition that 'principles are better than targets'. 'As a collective impact charity focused in education, we too often see places where principles are seen as a luxury that cannot be afforded. Leaders under intense pressure are regularly betraying the principles that brought them into the job in the first place. They are paying a heavy price, but some children, particularly those being so regularly excluded from the mainstream system, are paying a far heavier price...'To read more..
It’s relationships, not transactions, that ‘get you through’ the bad times
Julia Unwin tells a moving personal story to illustrate our proposition, 'relationships are better than impersonal transactions', as part of our coming publication, 'Insights for A Better Way'.
'Everyday life is full of transactions. Buy a ticket, jump on a train, pay for over-priced not very good coffee, tap an oyster card, rush to a meeting, text the next event to say I’m running late. And increasingly each of those transactions is done without even making eye contact, speaking or even handing over cash.'
The Good and the Bad
In another essay from 'Insights for A Better Way', Clare Wightman tells a story which illustrates what it means to apply our Better Way proposition, 'Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses.' I work in Spon End, in Coventry. Like people, neighbourhoods can get a reputation that stops you from seeing the good in them. People call Spon End ‘the Bronx of Coventry’ – people who’ve never been to the real Bronx. The story I am going to tell you now is about the good and the bad in my neighbourhood...
Large charities should not compete against local charities
In the first of a series of essays being published in Insights for A Better Way, Polly Neate write about 'local is better than national'. The proposition, she writes, asks 'organisations to swim against the tide of competitive tendering. It’s easy, as a national organisation, to float downstream on that tide, waving goodbye to the small, local organisations left behind. The choices large organisations make in response to local competitive tenders are easy to complicate. But the simplicity of doing the right thing cuts through the complexities we create– that’s why it’s so challenging...'
Lessons from Grenfell Tower
This terrible event has already revealed a wide range of shortcomings that go far beyond the quality of social housing and regulation. The survivors and local community - through the most awful of circumstances - are holding a lot of power. What do they have the potential to change?
"Mainstreaming or specialism?" The development of self-help groups with the slogan “nothing about us without us” has been a characteristic of the British civil society sector over the last 30 years. When is it more appropriate to signpost to these organisations or to mainstream services?
"Change that lasts" The dominant approach to women experiencing, escaping and recovering from domestic abuse is to wear them down with constant reminders of their own inability to cope.... Classified by means of a risk assessment tool, a woman deemed a “high-risk victim” will have her case discussed by a group of professionals at a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC), at which she is not present...
"Advantaged thinking" Many services for young people frame their offers in terms of needs or deficits, with young people seen as 'vulnerable', 'homeless', 'care leavers','young offenders' and so on. This is ‘DisAdvantaged Thinking’ and it teaches young people that it is enough for them to survive or to cope with their disadvantage rather than enabling them to build a thriving, sustainable life for themselves. Advantaged Thinking on the other hand starts from the premise that everyone has the talent and ability to create their own future and be someone in life.
"Yes, it is time to take back control" In these extraordinary times, it’s important to remind ourselves, that overall and broadly speaking, we continue to make great steps in both social and political progress... But in our pursuit of social progress and more benign political representation we have all but ignored the growing concentrations of economic power... The real question is who owns what? where does power sit? and who has got all the cash?
“We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for”
Caroline Slocock writes about how great social changes have often come into being through collective, not individual leadership. “Leadership” she writes, “starts at home. As we set out in one of our founding principles, “changing ourselves is better than demanding change from others.” Or, as Mahatma Gandhi also said: ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’”
“So this is Christmas, what have we done?” We entered 2016 with business leaders predicting economic recovery but with austerity still pounding through the public realm. Even the Governor of the Bank of England talks about the “growing sense of isolation and detachment” and “the first lost decade since the 1860s”. I understand why friends tell me that they turn off the TV news. Lately I’ve started to do that too and it scares me more than anything. But we have work to do and, difficult though it may seem to be, we must embrace the New Year as another chance, a chance to rediscover hope ...
A Better Way for business: from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism
Business is the most powerful force invented by mankind. It shapes our world like nothing else. It is, at the end of the day, a machine. Capitalism is the system that we have created to direct that machine. But what have we directed it to do? .... We are fortunate to live in a time where we are on the brink of an historic culture shift. Capitalism is rapidly evolving. The homo erectus of Shareholder Capitalism is just starting to die out, as it is replaced by the homo sapiens of Stakeholder Capitalism. From shareholder value to value-for-all.
Enabling people to take more control of their lives
Last year I joined the Board of a small charity called Groundswell. The way it works is simple. Volunteers act as health ‘advocates’ for homeless people. They accompany them to their appointments with GPs, dentists, and hospitals. And they provide encouragement along the way…To my mind the most important thing is that the volunteer ‘advocates’ are all people who have themselves been homeless… Why is this kind of opportunity for homeless people so rare? Is it something about the behaviour of the homeless charities themselves? Have they, despite their best intentions, become a barrier?
Love, trust and the teachable moment
Three months ago today politicians were united across the normal divides in paying tribute to Jo Cox, their murdered colleague. I doubt whether the word “love” has been used in the House of Commons as many times in the entire lifetime of a government as it was in that single afternoon. Love was, they agreed, Ms Cox’s defining characteristic, love of family and friends, love of constituency and colleagues, love of humanity.... Briefly and optimistically I thought those last days of June were national “moments” and that the awful shock of the murder might jolt politicians, and more broadly our national discourse, into a new appreciation of love and trust. To read more...