Bill Graham, manager of New Wortley Community Centre in Leeds, and regular guest blogger for Power to Change, reflects on his own successful and unsuccessful moments as the leader of a community business.
We all strive for success. We want to be able to sit back, bask in reflective glory and say “I have succeeded!” But what is success and how do you know you have truly achieved it?
I recently applied for a Big Lottery grant to develop New Wortley Community Centre, keep people in work and move towards making a particular project sustainable and commissionable.
A lot of work had gone into the bid, it took almost a year to complete, and the bid was re-drafted and reworked several times before submission. During this lengthy process, I often felt alone. But with assistance from critical friends in the community, they helped shape and develop the bid alongside me. That’s the plus of a community business, there’s always people to help.
The bid itself was borne by a fear of not succeeding. Our project had attracted commissioners but despite their interest, they were simply not ready to invest. So out of fear the project might fail, I worked up a bid to the Lottery to ensure the project’s continuation.
Once the bid was submitted we passed through to other stages and scrutiny – topped off by a visit from Big Lottery staff. Through this process, I presented our case for funding in the strongest terms, backed by evidence and our own evaluation of need and how to meet it. Despite this, doubts started to creep in and I started to think we might be unsuccessful.
Luckily it all paid off.
It’s a funny old world and success is but a fleeting glimpse of a promised land that you always seem to be running towards but it keeps getting further away!
“You have been successful!” said the Big Lottery Fund, and those words have been repeated in a number of calls over the years with different funders.
Sometimes they do say “unfortunately you weren’t successful at this time” which is disappointing but you understand they can’t fund everyone. But for the successes, I don’t know how I am supposed to react. We can’t break out the champagne – we are a third sector organisation after all and that wouldn’t be seemly – and goes against my Scottish instincts!
I am not one to dance and shout about our successes. In fact, almost immediately I find myself thinking “that’s great news…but now we need to make this work” and the realisation that this bid’s success is followed by more work to ensure the proposed project can succeed sinks in, and in many ways it’s this point where the real work begins and there is no time to rest on your laurels!
So… our project at New Wortley Community Centre, which was not successful in attracting commissioning has been successful in attracting more grant funding – which might lead to eventual success with local commissioners.
But what’s important, is that the project is successful in achieving measurable positive outcomes for local people and delivering investment that has a meaningful impact in an area of deprivation (top 1% of the UK)
Some say success breeds success, but sometimes being unsuccessful is the catalyst to be successful!
Bill Graham is the successful leader of a Community Business in Leeds (Or, is he?)