Bonus episode: How to adapt to meet the changing needs of your community

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One Voice Blackburn's chairman, Abrar Hussain, offers up some tips on how to adapt your business model to the ever changing needs of your local community.

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Veronica Gordon 

Welcome to this bonus episode of Then One Day. In these podcasts, we share tips and advice from community business leaders that we hope will be useful to you if you run a similar project or if you’re looking to start one. A few episodes ago, we heard the inspiring story behind One Voice Blackburn, a community business that aims to build up their local young people to become more confident and aspirational. Here’s the CEO Zaffar Khan on what that means to him.

 

Zaffar Khan, One Voice Blackburn 

People often think my teacher changed my life, and, you know, I’m sure you and I will have teachers that probably did change our lives. But you just think that’s really corny and cliched, that doesn’t really happen in the real world. It’s all about how much money you make and what car you drive, what house you have, and how many holidays you go to. Clearly, as you get a bit older, you realise that those are actually not that important. But if you develop a child or help a child or young person, or somebody from a deprived background, or a socially isolated background, I cannot describe that feeling to you. Because you’re changing not only one person’s life, you’re changing their family, their future families. You as an organisation have been the pivot to do that.

 

Veronica Gordon

Zaffar just used the word we’ve become very familiar with in the past year, pivot. Pivoting has been a primary focus for businesses throughout this pandemic, with organisations having to shift how they work and what they offer. However, Zaffar and the rest of the team behind One Voice have been pivoting since their inception in 2011 as chairman Abrar Hussain explains.

 

Abrar Hussain, One Voice Blackburn 

When we did set up the organisation, we looked at a number of key areas that we wanted to work with the community. And the areas that we came up with were around health, education, and leadership. So, those are the three key themes that we came up with when we first sort of set up One Voice. And what’s really happened – I think, we sort of naturally not necessarily drifted, but spread the work that we do. We don’t sort of actively go out and seek work to do. I think part of the way the organization’s evolved is we reached out to our local communities and asked them what is it that you need. Because ultimately, we’re there to serve our local communities. Yes, we have a sort of wide spread of services that we deliver. But I think it’s based on what the needs of the community are.

 

Veronica Gordon 

By actively engaging with their community, and continually asking them what they want, rather than assuming, One Voice has adapted over time, resulting in new women’s groups, sports activities, and multimedia outreach work. While a lot of businesses are gearing up to return to some sort of normality, I thought it would be useful to get some tips from Abrar on how to maintain that pivot-friendly ethos, by allowing your community to continually influence your organisation.

 

Abrar Hussain, One Voice Blackburn 

Tip number one would be to know your community. It’s important that you find out who is it that you’re serving? What are their priorities? What is their need? So, making sure you’ve got that engagement with local communities, and understanding what their needs or requirements are.

Tip number two would be to proactively go out and reach communities. There are people out there who need support, guidance etc. And that tip is to make sure that you’re actually actively going out and finding out what it is that people want. So, whether that’s through focus groups, dropping sessions etc. But it’s just making sure that you actually go out to the community rather than ask the community to come into you. Because that way you get sort of a very good feel for what is required and what’s needed. I think we’ve done them in various guises. So, we’ve got a quite a significant profile on social media. So, your usual channels – Facebook, Instagram, that kind of thing. So, people are aware of what you’re doing. And it’s perhaps a bit more sort of informal. So, you’re not there, like you said, knocking on somebody’s door, but you’re still reaching out to them. In our early days, we had an annual sort of mailer. They were good fun. And it’s more around having fun with the young family. So, you have your mixture of stalls, rides for the young people in the community. And it’s just not necessarily sort of your hard sort of reaching out to them, it’s more sort of your softer. So, you’re accessible, you’re available, they have sight of you, and it’s merely sort of enticing them to come in rather than, you know, physically going out and trying to sort of drag them in as it were.

Tip number three, as an organisation, make sure you’re flexible and adaptable. So again, as I said, our key strand in all this is about understanding and wanting to sort of serve the community rather than building up your own organisation. When we started off, as I said at the beginning, there were only a few key services. As and when we’ve got that buy in from the local community, that’s spread. So, people have come to us and said, “Have you thought about a sports club?”, “Have you thought about this?”, “Have you thought about that?” So, it’s about making sure that you’re sort of flexible and adaptable wherever possible. So, you’re there to offer whatever services that you can physically and, you know, within the resources you’ve got available, are able to deliver. And a lot of the work that we’ve done has stemmed from there. So, you get some excellent ideas and views from local communities. And then our attempt is to deliver back on that to make sure that we’re able to deliver that for those sections of the community.

My next tip would be around partnership working and collaboration. So, one of the things that we have noticed over the last few years is we’re not the only group out there doing good work. And again, you know, it’s one of those isn’t it. You know, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. I think there’s a lot of people in the community out there who are passionate about community. And it’s kind of finding those partners and those collaborations to make sure that you work with them. It helps you sort of reach out to more people.

 

Veronica Gordon 

One of the things that became clear from getting to know One Voice is that they’re not interested in being a flash in the pan success. They’re in it for the long haul. So, I asked Abrar how they managed to plan for the future, while maintaining their signature style of flexibility.

 

Abrar Hussain, One Voice Blackburn 

I think we break our strategy out into a three-year cycle. And what that does allow us is, yes to set ourselves some targets and key objectives for the next three years, but also then to review that to make sure is that still appropriate. The world changes, and it changes very fast. For example, all our services were all delivered face-to-face 12 months ago and we’ve sort of moved on to a more of a digital platform. So, those have your sort of benefits in terms of accessibility, and people can do it from their home. Obviously, it has your downsides because people aren’t then socially interacting etc. So, part of it’s around being able to sort of adapt to your environment. And that’s important. And you’ve got to be able to not necessarily change, but sort of evolve into, you know, the organisation and look at opportunities, look at needs, look at changes in environment and adapting to them.

 

Veronica Gordon

Thanks to Abrar and One Voice Blackburn. It’s clear that the past year has been a real test for businesses. However, this new tolerance for change is something I hope we can keep. Global pandemics aside, the world is constantly changing. And if we don’t keep up, we’ll get left behind.

 

Abrar Hussain, One Voice Blackburn 

I’ve often been called a dinosaur because I’m you know a bit stuck in my ways. This is how I’m getting that blend of what sometimes comes with young people, yes there’s inexperience, but there’s definitely that passion isn’t there? And that hunger and that drive.

 

Veronica Gordon

If you need extra help and advice, head over to www.powertochange.org.uk for more information and resources. Thanks to Power to Change who brought you this podcast and to Pixiu for producing. We’ll be back in two weeks’ time. But until then, from me Veronica Gordon, thanks for listening.