The Place Shapers Northern Forum: CEOs consider key drivers to develop young people friendly neighbourhoods

The Place Shapers Northern Forum meeting in July 2012 involved 28 Chief Executives from small and medium sized housing associations. They explored strategic leadership based on learning from the YPFN programme and considering four imperatives as in the picture on the right. (On the left is the summary from housing managers with greater range of views, less top marks but a lower overall score of 3.64.) The CEOs rated their overall performance as 4.17 out of 5 and the 4 criteria as:

§  Buy in from the Board: 4.07

§  Participation strategy: 4.54

§  Partnership commitment to local action: 4

§  Neighbourhood plans: 3.86.






Where there is no vision the people perish

Over 18 months the Young People Friendly Neighbourhood programme has been working with 20 local communities to develop sustainable youth provision at a time when many local authority youth services are shrinking by as much as 60%. FPM has been supporting this local capacity building, including through a number of seminars on business planning, community development and organisational development. The July seminar focusing on organisational development interestingly went right back to a full exploration of purpose and vision to help make sure local developments put the function of what they wished to achieve before jumping to plucking an organisational model or form off the shelf.


Below are some of the key points and concepts to arise.


1.     Function: focusing on vision

The group of community activists, council elected members, housing and Groundwork staff returned to the central theme of vision (function), demonstrating that this needs reviewing and refreshing in order to guide the partnership effectively to agreement about what organisational form best suits this. Reflections included:

§  All partnerships are in very different places. No one model or form fits all.

§  Organisational change has the tendency to overcomplicate, leading to cumbersome constitutions unfit for purpose that collapse under their own weight. The organisation becomes labour intensive and takes focus away from it being simply a vehicle (not a structure) to achieve the community ends.

§  The objective is to find the vehicle that allows people to come together in the simplest way to face the challenges.

§  This poses a significant challenge for some organisations which may be tempted to retreat from collaboration in order to increase the chances of individual successful tendering. The greater opportunity is to see community based partnerships as something they can and should contribute to through, for example, offering a credible hub and spokes model: local presence, credible infrastructure and national player.

§  Affirming the vision, consolidating the partnership and building membership are a continual process, not a once off event. In Torbay for example this has been supported through a number of community events and in Durham through a young people newsletter.

§  The established involvement of key stakeholders, especially the intended beneficiaries – in this case young people – can inspire creative solutions and momentum to develop quickly once the foundations are sure. In one area, in Delves Lane in Durham, there was a step change during one meeting, setting up a constitutional commission to agree the parameters of the emerging new organisation.

§  Vision and credibility needs to be based on the integrity of the future, not the activity of the past.

§  The first sustainability challenge is sustaining that shared vision.


2.     Vision and empowerment

A vision for an autonomous, community led organisation may be in tension with local authority and funders learnt behaviour. “No one taught local authorities to let go. Elected members may be able to give a broad picture and talk of handing over power, but it is the officers who do the do. And it is not in their training to let go. All their training is to take control, run stuff and do things to communities.” (Cliff Mills). Yet empowerment means someone has to let go and there has to be a rebalancing of power, authority and accountability. The additional challenge is that this process needs to happen at a time of significant change, cuts and the withdrawal of local and national state.


3.     Vision and timing

This programme is not a two year programme from start to finish, but an initial timeframe to set out the scene, identify the players, develop the vision, build the partnerships and create the conceptual scene about the future possibilities. DfE funding was in order to encourage innovation, try things out and explore options, within the context of community involvement in decision making.


4.     Vision shared

At this stage of the programme, a number of the partnerships are revisiting and reviewing the initial vision and reflecting on whether it is fit for purpose, who owns it and who is committed to see its implementation. Some of the risks being identified in the partnerships are summarised below:

§  Silos: organisations are still working to their own agendas on their own terms.

§  Tidal: shared commitment comes and goes and proves hard to establish and built on. There is a need to deepen ownership and strengthen range and commitment of key stakeholders.

§  Convoys: there is almost too much going on and too many diverse opportunities. Communication is about telling others where one’s own ship is heading, unaware that the effect resembles a convoy of ships sailing off in parallel lines and not converging.

§  Short term pragmatism: there is a risk that the vision espoused is based on short term organisational business planning, not longer term agreed community goals and thus will wither as soon as funding for activity ends.

§  Constant gardening: a vision requires care to grow and put down roots and this forms the essential process of building collaborative and cooperative effort for long term sustainable community benefit.


Community activism training resource

As part of the YPFN programme, we have developed a community activism training resource which can be used all at once or in bits as best suits your needs.

Community Activism is a resource for children, young people and adults to use locally to help strengthen community action to help make where we live a better place. It is based on Act by Right which you can also get for free at

Community Activism helps those of us involved in our neighbourhoods to think about the part we play and the values, knowledge and skills to help us work well together and make change happen where we live.

The journey has five suggested places to visit, but lots of opportunity to change the itinerary, do more in some areas and less in others or go to other places not mentioned in this short resource guide.

The journey

1. We start by getting to know each other and representing others.

2. Venturing out, we look around and get to know our community.

3. Landing in new territory, we get ready for action.

4. We then branch out a bit further, discovering new knowledge and skills as we explore how to help make change happen and campaign for change.

5. And all good journeys need a chance to look back, share our experiences, find out what’s changed and what we plan to do next.




Housing Providers take the lead in supporting sustainable youth provision

The housing providers YPFN event at the end of May showed the strength of passion and depth of experience among many housing providers to promote and lead on young people friendly neighbourhoods. This site has many of the resources and materials used under the capacity building section.


Here you can also find the pictures from the event, showing some of the content participants produced:


And the first photo shows a self-assessment of what is already in place across many housing providers and the second shows what those taking part felt about the 2 days. More to follow…

Timing is everything: reviewing form and function in Reading

Annette Goldband from FPM reflects on recent developments in Reading, exploring emerging models of community ownership. Reference is made to the right to challenge. Details are attached.

The Reading Steering group had a very productive day with Cliff Mills from Mutuo/Cobbetts. He outlined the history and principles of the co-op movement and explained a range of organisational structures in detail, drawing on real examples to illustrate the advantages and limitations of each. Throughout this process he was checking details about the local situation which served to a) help him contextualise his support to the group and b) helped the group identify the key decisions they now needed to make.


The steering group were already working on their business plan and issues arising from this were able to be addressed and clarified; as indeed, issues from the business plan were able to begin to clarify organisational structure choices facing the group.


The steering group has since met to explore further a number of key issues emerging:


1. Nature of partnership and relationship with local authority youth development service

As part of the business plan, Groundwork staff were to meet all YPFN partners individually to discuss what they want and need from their involvement in the project and what they are prepared to bring to the table. Whilst these conversations had occurred early in the process, the steering group recognised that this needed to be an ongoing exploration, repeated at several stages, with growing trust and clearer vision allowing for more frank negotiations.


As the context continues to change for all partners, it is also important to keep reviewing each partner’s position. In relation to the local authority partnership, the Reading YPFN group need to clarify what the local authority’s position is on allowing the local community to take over responsibility for youth provision in the area. If so, they need to appreciate that this will not necessarily be in the old model of subcontracting; if a mutual is established, the local authority will have a valid and relevant voice but not control of the organisation; if a Multi-Stakeholder Mutual, the local authority may be represented but will not have the majority stake, which is likely to be with residents as the principle intended beneficiaries.


Cliff Mills also helped the group understand the Right to Challenge and how this can be used, NOT to create an antagonistic relationship with local authority services, but to negotiate better use of local offers and local authority resources. For example, this might communicate itself as “We do have the right to challenge, but rather than take this up, we would like to reach an agreement about appropriate areas of responsibility and local accountability.”


The Reading group have had involvement from paid staff of the youth development service and very strong involvement from politicians. The group began to articulate the difference in perspectives of these two constituencies. The delicacies of the politics involved here are fully recognised and appreciated by the group, who now see that some of this must be articulated and addressed for the YPFN project to proceed.


2. Form and function

The local community are in the process of developing a formalised Community Association. It is possible they will explore the option of becoming a Mutual. The Reading YPFN group began to explore the pros and cons of the youth provision being part of this organisational structure or having their own. Their aspirations regarding development of the community organisation will now be checked out formally, as part of the business planning model (see below) and the pros and cons will be put to the YPFN steering group’s meeting.


3. Wider Involvement

It was agreed that a phase 2 action plan for the involvement of young people (and adult community members) was needed. Whilst progress had been made, it was now a priority for young people’s views to be a formal part of the decision making. To this end, it was decided that the current membership of the youth project would be consulted early next week, in order that they were able to be involved in this stage of the decision making process.


4. Business plan

Two members of the YPFN group had attended the workshop on Business planning. GW (Thames Valley) is currently in the process of a wider business planning process and has decided to link the YPFN business planning with its own. This will ensure some continued support from GW post March 2013, as well as serve some joint objectives. To this end, GW staff have taken on the operational development of the business plan and will be negotiating their process for this with the YPFN steering group. The process involves interviewing all partners on their aspirations for the YPFN as well as for their own organisation.


Some key points of learning

The group found the day both stimulating and enlightening. Early exploration of different organisational structures was first undertaken in an Options appraisal in November and December 2011 in order to decide what organisational form might best suit the emerging function of sustainable youth provision in the area. The group nonetheless valued returning to this theme when the whole picture was clearer and progress more sharply defined, having an external facilitator with detailed legal knowledge. It felt to some as if they were hearing the information for the first time. A good example of the maxim that “every idea has their time”.  


At the time of the Options Paper, a required external timeframe was at odds with what the group could see emerging in tangible form which they could digest and assimilate for real rather than in the abstract. If sustainability of provision (not organisation) is our goal, these processes need to be revisited when they are needed, especially if we have had to undertake them at earlier points because they have been required!


Chief executive sets out the choice for housing providers

In this honest and powerful critique, a housing chief executive lays down the challenge: stand up for communities, young people and social justice, or sell out and go the way of the Banks.


The biggest challenge in the coming years is our response to young people. I am not sure if housing associations really understand this challenge and if they are ready to take it on. It depends how far they want to go to unearth the real community issues in their neighbourhoods. The defence of “it’s not our responsibility” is weak. If the housing association movement doesn’t recognise their responsibility then we face a difficult future. They will be complicit in creating the new ghettos in our cities. They could of course avoid the whole issue as they have done up to now through stealth selective allocation policies (eg. Not allowing enough nomination to be available to the local authorities to assist people at the bottom of the social ladder).  


We need to ask, “Are housing associations the future of social housing? Are they going to lead the challenge to provide affordable social housing to those in real need and partake in addressing deprivation and disadvantage in a partnership with other key agencies? From my standpoint the housing associations are gathering a technocracy workforce of ….yes, technocrats. As much as I believe this group has a role to play in terms of business management, I equally believe they are rapidly moving away from real social responsibility.


Remembering key “Left” social reformers I think it’s time “they put down their iPads” and started thinking about the growing social issues in our communities. Taking “social” out of housing is leading to a complete alienation of large numbers of our community. We need a serious debate in shaping housing associations of the future and for them to do some serious sole searching about what their purpose is. We must renew our commitment to Public Service and renew our oath as Public Servants. This is the only way we will understand our communities and their needs. The longer we leave it the stronger the hold by Deprivation. There may come a time when we cannot reverse what we have allowed to happen.                                   


I think housing associations are going down the route of mutual building societies – they followed the hunger of becoming banks and look where this has ended up.