YPFN - 6 points for action

Young People Friendly Neighbourhoods was a successful national programme involving local communities in exploring local need and establishing long term solutions. In this summary, Kevin Ford outlines 6 points for action which arise from our learning:

·        Community led partnerships

·        A bedrock of community relationships

·        Commissioning by communities

·        Community investment over time

·        A community premium

·        One set of services

Documents from the YPFN Capacity Building Day held on 4th December 2012

The documents detailed below represent the key outcomes and note-taking of the capacity building day held in Birmingham on 4th December 2012 with participants from the six Phase 1 trusts exploring further sustainable options for delivering services with and for young people.


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.


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!