Locality 2019 - Conference Report

This was my first visit to the Locality Convention – and I hope not my last. Locality is the national membership network for community organisations. In that regard, Locality supports community organisations to be strong and successful, to meet local needs and to give people a purpose, good places to live and good health. There’s a fantastic video here which gives a short overview of the conference.

I went to Locality 2019 held in Leeds this year with a view to learning and sharing skills of best practice in community development and improving sustainability in the voluntary and community sector.

I was fortunate enough to receive a bursary to cover my ticket and travel/ accommodation costs. I therefore arrived on time, refreshed, and unruffled at the Queens Hotel on Tuesday 12 November in good time for the opening plenary session: “Unlocking the power of community”.

Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive of Locality, and Mark Law, Chair of Locality and CEO of local charity BARCA-Leeds, opened the Convention with a warm welcome. We were asked to make friends with our neighbouring delegates and to come up with a ‘Big Idea to unlock the power of community’ to share as a selfie.

The next speaker was Councillor Debra Coupar, Deputy Leader of Leeds City Council who presented some of the amazing community development work taking place in Leeds city centre. And Councillor Susan Hinchliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, informed the conference about the Council’s many community empowerment initiatives.

Tony Armstrong returned to the stage and asked Convention delegates if they were optimistic about the outcome of this year’s General Election. Unfortunately, only about 5 hands were raised in a hall containing hundreds of attendees…

Locality took the opportunity to launch their manifesto for how the next Government can unlock the power of community to create a fairer society.

At about midday, we split into various groups. Some delegates had lunch, some had off-site visits and others got on with their workshops. I attended the session on “Data, Social Change & Neighbourhoods" opened by Paul Hassan, a Development Manager with Locality. My particular interest in data and social change at the community level is around the opportunities available to harness open data and machine learning for estimating community radio audiences and how we also might be able to prove social gain delivery using data.

In this fully-booked out workshop, Zoe Banks Gross and Carolyn Hassan presented the work undertaken by the Knowle West Media Centre in Bristol (PowerPoint here). This community media organisation has been working with data for a number of years exploring how it can be used to empower and enable communities. Zoe and Carolyn shared what they have learned from the project over the years and guided us through some processes to consider a number of practical ways that data can be used to engage with stakeholders and improve the understanding of an organisation’s performance.

A lot of food for thought in the last session - which was fortunate as it was now time for lunch and the all-important networking opportunities. I chatted with a few other delegates who had been in the last workshop and after eating browsed the stands of exhibitors like Endsleigh Insurance and NatWest Social & Community Capital who are all delivering value to community-based organisations throughout the UK.

After lunch I attended the fully-booked session entitled “Measuring social impact: what works?” with Dave Ahlquist, a Development Manager at Locality. My interest here was how it might be possible for community media organisations to prove the worth of the social value that they deliver for small amounts of funding investment. The PowerPoint slides are here.

This was an information-dense workshop divided into three sections:

  1. Approaches and tools such as: Social Return on Investment (SROI), cost-benefit analysis, Keep it Local Toolkit, Outcomes Star, Theory of Change
  2. Policy and investor perspectives with Health For All in Leeds, Shoreditch Trust, NatWest Social & Community Capital
  3. Discussion, further support and development

There is such a wide variety of tools and techniques available with the aim of helping to measure our social impact - and some of them require specialist training to use them. This workshop drew on real-life examples and compared different approaches to measuring social impact using the frameworks listed above.

By evaluating some different approaches and highlighting the practical work of the example organisations, this was a useful workshop that presented the advantages and disadvantages of different techniques in order to establish the most appropriate tools for evaluating project outcomes. This session also looked at how to make the case for social value in local commissioning which drew on the learning obtained from Locality’s Keep it Local campaign.

In the final plenary session of the day, Tony Armstrong, Locality CEO, discussed with Vidhya Alekson, CEO of Power to Change, how the relationship between the two organisations has evolved over the years in response to an ever-challenging economic environment, increased pressure on the third sector to deliver statutory services, and the growing body of skills and expertise in the voluntary and community sector.

Delegates then listened to four inspiring case studies demonstrating partnerships between local councils and funders with community organisations to provide solutions to local issues and delivering tangible social change.

First up was Tony Dylak, CEO of Royds Community Association, spoke with Kersten England, CEO of Bradford Council, about the valuable strategic partnership between the two organisations. Second, Alison McKenzie-Folan, CEO of Wigan Council, talked about the Wigan Deal and the value of asset-based training with David Baxter, CEO and founder of Abram Ward Community Cooperative. The Wigan Deal is an informal agreement between the public sector, citizens, community groups and businesses to create a better borough

Next to the stage was Dawn Austwick, CEO of The National Lottery Community Fund, which has provided invaluable support to both large and small community projects over 25 years of operation. Last, but not least, was Kimberley Frangos from the New Wortley Community Association which has provided services and support to the people of New Wortley since 1982. Kimberley explained about the value of working with The National Lottery Community Fund to develop a new centre for their community and a wellbeing programme.

At that point, it was the end of the formal programme and there was a little free time to catch up with emails and social media before a drinks reception. This was another opportunity to meet new contacts, potential future project partners and swap email addresses.

After a quick drink there followed the Locality Awards dinner and the Locality Awards Ceremony. Again more talking, networking, and strategic discussions - and the Locality Awards was a fantastic showcase of the amazing and inspiring community development work that is going on up and down the length of the country.

Chatting and networking continued late into the night - very late for some, I heard, but a clear head had to be kept for a second busy day at the Locality Convention 2019.

We started Day #2 with the fantastic Commoners Choir - a choir dedicated to singing about the world around us, its inequalities and injustices, and their opposition to such injustice. This session gave us an opportunity to blow away a few cobwebs from the night before, lift our voices in (harmonic) rage and present us with a lesson in the power and potential of creative activism.

Suitably energised from singing with Commoners Choir, we then went promptly into workshops. I chose the session called “Board Games: working effectively with your board” which explored themes of sharing best practice on governance and effective management. The Community Media Association is going through the process of converting to a CIO and there has been a fairly steep learning curve over the last two years or so in the management and governance of charitable organisations.

This workshop was led by Hugh Rolo of Social Investment Business and Director of Development at Locality. What was particularly impressive with this workshop was Hugh’s depth and breadth of knowledge and experience - it was refreshing to know that others have had to wrestle with the same problems of developing appropriate charitable objectives, establishing trading arms, engaging with the Charity Commision, and developing partnerships. A memorable quote from this session came from someone whose name I shall not quote who said “Establishing partnerships can occasionally be the temporary suspension of mutual loathing between two organisations in the pursuit of cash”. Perhaps a little on the harsh side but it raised a good laugh.

After a coffee break, we resumed in the Queens Ballroom for “Ideas to unleash the power of your community: TED-style talks from inspiring speakers”. This session was hosted by Kim Leadbeater, the sister of the murdered Yorkshire MP Jo Cox and Ambassador for The Jo Cox Foundation. Kim began with a powerful and moving speech, looking at her own work and how that interfaced with the voluntary and community sector. Kim and The Jo Cox Foundation are dedicated to keeping Jo Cox’s memory alive through bringing communities together and bridging divides. One project of The Jo Cox Foundation is The Great Get Together, an annual event bringing together communities up and down the country to celebrate kindness, community, respect, and shared values.

Kim was on stage to introduce four truly inspiring speakers: Anji Barker of Newbigin Community Trust, Paul Butler of The Selby Trust, Scott Richards of Project 6 in Keighley, and Brian Dawe of Safe Regeneration Limited.

There were some final words from Tony Armstrong, CEO of Locality, before sending us off to lunch and on our way. The conference was a fantastic opportunity to make contacts and pick up some excellent ideas on best practice. What came across very strongly was the breadth and depth of knowledge in the voluntary and community sector - no community project should feel isolated and battling alone. There is so much passion being put to amazing work and the Locality network is full of people with expertise who are willing to help.

The Community Media Association will definitely remain plugged into the Locality network - a number of emails have been exchanged already and at least one meeting has been set up next year to discuss developing ideas around organisation sustainability.

It was great to be reminded that the community media sector is part of a wider network of voluntary and community organisations and that there are numerous links to many other other community development organisations who might not be involved in making media but are as dedicated to delivering social gain as much as the community media sector. Fingers crossed that I will be able to go to the Locality Convention 2020 to be held in Birmingham!