'My Neighbourhood’ is a partnership project involving public, private and voluntary organisations with the aim of improving the quality of life of residents within specific neighbourhoods in the Harrogate District.
Initially the project took place in one area of highlighted need, with just 10 partner organisations involved in two weeks of coordinated community activity, engaging with local residents and addressing their concerns. From the success of that pilot the ‘My Neighbourhood’ partnership was formed. The project’s reach and activity has steadily grown and today it focuses on four geographical areas, involves over 100 individuals from partner organisations and is engaging with hundreds of local residents through its collaborations.
In 2010 the Harrogate District Strategic Partnership recognised that whilst many local partner organisations (public, private and voluntary and community sector service providers) were involved in valuable work within the district, there was duplication and a lack of joined-up working; in addition organisations were under increasing pressure to deliver outcomes and efficiencies during a period where resources were under increasing strain and budgets reduced. The Partnership agreed there was a need for a collaborative structure at a neighbourhood level to deliver outcomes against joint priorities. These priorities were: a strong local economy, supporting our communities and enhancing and protecting our environment.
Analysis of quantitive data along with qualitative information provided by key service providers identified four distinct areas of need within the district. These were also identified as areas that had a higher call on public services. Three of the areas were chosen for their deprivation and a fourth area chosen for its rurality and subsequent isolation. The ‘My Neighbourhood’ partnership was formed with the overriding aim to increase the quality of life through raising the economic, social and environment well-being of residents living in priority areas through focused partnership working. The project has had wide support from residents, elected members and key service providers. Initially 10 partner organisations were involved and over the subsequent 8 years of the partnerships existence, involvement has grown with over 100 individuals from partner organisations working together.
Partnership project groups have been established for each area and an action plan to tackle the key issues jointly has been developed. The groups report into an overarching steering group that has a membership of senior officers that can dedicate resources and ensure action on behalf of all is achieved.
The ‘My Neighbourhood’ partnership recognises the value of joined up working to the benefit of many, enabling collective responsibility, reducing duplication and learning how to problem solve together at a local level to improve the quality of life of residents.
Progress is reported four times a year to a management steering group consisting of senior representatives from the Harrogate District Public Services Leadership Board. ‘My Neighbourhood’ continues to achieve against the annually reviewed priorities that are agreed by the steering group.
The ‘My Neighbourhood’ partnership approach has saved resources for partners (both money and time) and improved the quality of life for local residents for example:
- Rollout of Credit Union Services across the project areas – The Credit Union started in 2015 and now has 717 members, savings now total £100,000 and the Credit Union has allocated £325,000 low cost loans to local residents who may otherwise have resorted to high-cost doorstep lenders.
- Annual community events in the project areas provide both fun and information for local residents and a chance to celebrate their locality.
- Monthly drop-ins at a local Library, provide an informal setting for residents to discuss their concerns with a range of service providers including housing, local Police and Fire services. Each drop-in has a theme and includes local charities and community groups, a recent eye-health drop-in included local opticians offering free advice.
- 256 learners benefited from free adult learning and skills courses in the year 2016-2017. Free courses are offered across all the project areas on a wide range of topics from crafts to computer skills to budgeting advice. ‘Computers for farmers’ gave valuable specialist advice to farmers in isolated areas from a specialist agricultural business tutor.
The impact of the project is evidenced in each project area:
- Annual events in the Ripon area have provided an opportunity for partners in the area to come together to showcase and promote their work and have had an additional outcome of recruiting new volunteers to projects such as library volunteers and volunteer drivers. Each year the event attracts over 800 local residents and has become a regular annual event on the calendar of residents.
- In the rural area of Nidderdale, the Red Cross loneliness project joined with Adult Learning and Skills service to create a course for rurally isolated individuals to come together and learn how to cook nutritious meals for one. Along with learning a new skill, the individuals were also given budgeting advice and advice on how to keep warm in winter. A secondary outcome was that the group made new friends and has continued to meet socially.
- Working in partnership gave extra strength to a grant application for community computers for the Harrogate Woodfield ‘My Neighbourhood’ project area. The computers were installed in a local volunteer run community library; partners from adult learning and skills service provided free courses from basic computer lessons to internet security and internet shopping. Following publicity of the project, a local volunteer now provides twice monthly computer advice to local residents. As a result of the valuable training and advice a number of residents have gone on to further adult education.
- In the Fairfax district of Harrogate there has been an emphasis on fitness and health based activities, with health MOT’s and fitness classes for the locality.
Equally important are the secondary outcomes of partnership working including; creating efficiencies from joined-up working, pooling resources, forging relationships, reducing duplication, sharing knowledge, skills and ideas, and achieving a better understanding of each other’s strength and expertise.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The ‘My Neighbourhood’ project has gone from strength to strength due to hard work and energy from the teams working in to areas to engage with their communities and improve their quality of life. Whilst in an age of austerity many organisations are having to cut back and re-evaluate the services that they offer, the ‘My Neighbourhood’ project shows that by doing things differently and collaboratively you can, with very little money (a budget of £4,000 per year), but with a lot of enthusiasm and determination, make a real difference to people’s lives.
Each year the ‘My Neighbourhood’ project team carries out an evaluation so it can learn from what has worked well and what could be improved. We quickly learnt that a balance is required of what partners think an area needs and what local residents think. Resident surveys are an expensive and time consuming method of gaining residents’ views, however a Quality of Life Survey sent to each resident in each locality has provided a good baseline of information for partners. Where one area received a low response rate a ‘Community café’ was trialled whereby local residents and partners were invited to the event and given an opportunity to share their thoughts and meet others living and working in the area. The combination of the survey and Community café provided valuable insight and was worth taking a risk and the additional expense.
A lesson we continue to learn and remind ourselves of is that we need to manage expectations both of partners and residents, the Quality of Life Survey revealed some wonderful suggestions, however with limited budget and resources ideas need to be realistic and have clear measurable outcomes for those involved.
Maintaining the lines of communication is key, although time consuming, a regular newsletter has helped partners identify new opportunities for their involvement, to look to join up on activities to create a ‘one public service’ model and a valuable opportunity to promote forth coming activities.
Fiona Friday, Partnerships and VCS Officer, Harrogate Borough Council, firstname.lastname@example.org