December 2019: WEST END PARTNERSHIP CHALLENGES
WEM (West End Morecambe*) is a community partnership whose aim is to help the West End of Morecambe be a better place to live. Over 2019 the partners worked hard to further this aim but unfortunately, some of the energy was diverted to dealing with internal issues. We would like to explain what transpired and how we plan to move forward.
West End Morecambe is one of 150 resident-led partnerships across the UK overseen by Local Trust, a National Lottery initiative. Each partnership has been granted funding over ten years and is required to draw up regular action plans which outline its intentions. These must be approved by Big Local nationally before anything can go ahead. West End Morecambe’s first delivery plan (2016) achieved some positives but failed to make significant progress. As well as internal disputes, which required intervention by the Local Trust, its 2017 action plan was mostly rejected. In that year there was a fresh intake with some existing partners (for various reasons) leaving.
In the summer of 2018, a new action plan received the full endorsement of the Local Trust. Furthermore, the Chief Executive of Local Trust met with the partnership and applauded the change that had taken place. A revamped website was launched in September 2018 along with a new £500 Community Chest grant scheme in October of that year. In November, organisations and individuals were invited to a launch event where foundations were laid for working with the community on larger and more ambitious projects. In its new Plan, the partnership had decided to move away from simply giving grants and instead to start conversations with organisations in order to deliver significant outcomes.
With this new activity, the reputation of West End Morecambe improved a good deal and whilst not everything was perfect we recognised the challenges. What was not anticipated was how difficult it would be to convert this ambitious plan into action.
The Money and the reality
We have heard complaints about funds not being spent quickly enough with the assumption that the sole purpose of WEM is to distribute £1 million. In our new plan we focused on themes and outcomes with our objective being to meet those outcomes and the funding being instrumental but secondary. This has created tensions both within and outside of WEM.
While £1 million sounds exciting the reality is not quite so grand. Firstly, that works out at around £100,000 per year which is not that much when you consider that Christmas lights in the West End can cost £10,000 and a playground in the park, £40,000. We also have running costs including training and employing 2 workers.
Drawing up the Plan
While drawing up our plan was costly for the partners in terms of volunteer time, it was enjoyable and team building. Disagreements were constructive and all felt engaged. Everyone was proud to have worked on a plan that was met with enthusiasm by Local Trust.
Carrying Out the Plan
It was to be expected that executing the plan would require clarification of what had been agreed and would throw up difficult questions and that there would be disagreements. These are part and parcel of community work and can help develop the strength that can make a real positive difference. Progress was made including a healthy take-up of small £500 community grants, two £20,000 projects were agreed and the hard work of some on the partnership even helped attract a new £200,000 project into the West End.
However, divisions began to surface that had their roots in earlier conflicts and despite appeals for constructive dialogue and mediation (through our Local Trusted Organisation) we faced an intractable situation whereby one member was suspended and then resigned and two other members were asked to leave. Unfortunately, this took up months of time with disruptive meetings creating an atmosphere of tension and distrust in which it was impossible to operate effectively. It also created confusion for those outside of the partnership as we needed some private space to resolve the internal dispute while rumours in the community only added complications. Though patience and effort in resolving these problems were substantial we did little more than stand still.
The Way Ahead
While it’s unfortunate that some local projects have unavoidably been held back, we have been able to engage with other organisations, such as the City Council, and move forward in evolving the plan. We anticipate having an open event in early 2020 in which we will relaunch the plan and open the partnership to new members.
It was a very trying year where mistakes were made all around and we appreciate that it’s been frustrating for many in the wider community as well as the WEM partnership. However, one of the Local Trust objectives is to empower partnerships and local communities through training and learning which inevitably includes mistakes and setbacks. Undergirding our Plan is a determination to create sustainability and leave a legacy in Morecambe’s West End. To that we are 100% committed.
*Late in 2019 we decided to change our name from West End Million to West End Morecambe Big Local in order to identify with the Big Local network (of which we are one partnership) and the various resources that places at our disposal.
July 2018: YEAR 3 ACTION PLAN – see the plan
At the beginning of the year, the West End Million began a full review of past activity and began developing a new plan for future work. Lancaster Community & Voluntary Solutions (LCVS) were chosen to be a new Local Trusted Organisation and by June a new plan was submitted to the national Big Local. It was fully endorsed a short time later and activity began to relaunch the West End Million.
June 2017: YEAR 2 ACTION PLAN – see the plan
After some discussion by the partnership, a proposal was made to carry on with the current themes and carry them over into year two along with one new area of work that had been highlighted through consultations. A budget of £123,000 was applied for however the national Big Local was unclear as to the process or methodology used to explain this and the plan and majority of the funding were put on hold. Whilst two small areas of costs were approved the decision was made to fully review and discuss how West End Million might re-structure its’ work. In October, a new Big Local Rep joined the West End programme and a fresh look was taken as to how West End Million might move positively forward. It was agreed that it was okay to make mistakes but there was a need to learn and positively change. The partnership went through some internal changes and it was agreed the Local Trusted Organisation (responsible with day-to-day assistance in delivering funding) would step down.
March 2016: YEAR 1 ACTION PLAN – see the plan
The first year’s plan had four themes that were prioritised (1) Housing, (2) Young People, (3) Festivals and (4) Enterprise and a range of sub-groups were set up to act upon the plan. The partnership also set up a community grants fund. Overall £140,000 was allocated to be spent in the first year. Over the year some positive work was achieved and there were many smaller successes. A great deal was learnt about the challenges of community partnership working but the desire to deliver funding and some imbalance in the way the partnership functioned meant some aims of Big Local were lost and the direction of funding shifted away from what the partnership had originally planned. Issues also arose around the lack of visible credit for West End Million funding and limited evaluation. The partnership’s working groups (tasked with delivering the mini action plans) also declined. West End Million funding did go to a number of projects which achieved some great activity but overall the partnership took a learning curve that was as much on how not to do things as how to do things successfully.
September 2015: West End Million Partnership Committee formed
A new community partnership was set up as West End Million and tasked with rolling out the Big Local programme in the West End. With oversight of a Big Local representative, the partnership worked to create a first-year plan. Locally based More Music was chosen to be the Local Trusted Organisation responsible for day-to-day assistance in delivering funding for the partnership.
December 2012: Big Local announced for the West End, Morecambe
A temporary Steering Group was set up with start-up funding and drawing together different volunteers working with the support of a Big Local Representative. A wide range of ongoing consultation and conversations at events and door-knocking took place. There was some to-and-fro in developing a consensus on how the project should work and so finding a clear group direction took some time. By July 2015 the group had completed its work in drawing together a large Community Profile and Plan for delivering the Big Local. Whilst not necessarily providing strategic direction the profile did provide a strong mandate to build on.