The Empowering Places model and emerging impact

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Following on from the progress update of Empowering Places in January of this year, Bonnie Hewson shares a roundup of our learning to date.

By Bonnie Hewson, place-based investment manager, Power to Change.

Over the past five years, through the Empowering Places programme, Power to Change has been testing out the ways in which catalytic community anchors in some of England’s most deprived communities can seed community businesses in their places to kick start a virtuous circle that builds social infrastructure for long term impact.

These ‘catalysts’ – in wards within Hartlepool; Wigan; Leicester; Bradford; Plymouth; Grimsby – have worked with their communities to identify local needs and business opportunities, they have incubated business in assets they own, they have supported businesses to take on assets, they have nurtured community groups long the path to community businesses and supported entrepreneurs to connect with their community.

With the help of programme partners, Coops UK, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the New Economics Foundation, we have offered all the catalysts a grounding in cooperative models, local wealth building and community economic development approaches, as well as working with them to understand land bank models, participatory budgeting, community research and community organising.

With other collaborators like the Centre for Thriving Places and the Relationships Project, we have worked with them to better understand the role of strong relationships and how to measure what matters in building and measuring a local wellbeing economy.

It has been a programme very much led by the needs and interests of each place but with a strong sense of curiosity between all the places and partners about what the connections and learnings might be between the places despite their different approaches and starting points. If you are interested in a particular place, their approaches and the impact Covid has had on their community then you can read more about each one in their place profiles.

Empowering Places Catalyst and Priority Place Profiles

You can also watch some short videos recording during Covid by our catalysts that give some insight into what they experienced and learned from the global pandemic in our Community Business Covid Diaries blog.

There has been a hunger at the heart of our Empowering Places peer network to create something strong and nourishing, that puts into perspective the chaos of difficulties experienced each day by community anchors working in hard pressed places. Out of the struggle has emerged a sense of shared purpose, as well as deep friendships and a quiet confidence. And also, a respectable number of new and trading community businesses.

Our learning partners at Renaisi have been with us for the past two years of the journey and are as excited as we are by the number of new community businesses that have started trading, but happily they also think that all the other impacts that stem from building more social infrastructure in each place is just as fascinating.

Empowering Places evaluation reports

Now you can decide for yourself by browsing our newly available evaluation reports. Here is a brief round up of what you will find in each one.

Published in August 2020 this provides the foundation for the later reports to build on. It unpacks what Empowering Places is – where it fits into Power to Change’s work, its aims and ambitions, what the programme consists of in terms of support. It also examines early indications of the impact of the programme and some of the implications of Covid.

This report builds on the first interim report and draws on findings from the six individual place profiles (listed above). It digs deeper into the approaches of the six ‘catalyst’ organisations, highlighting similarities and differences, including their use of resources and their adaptation to Covid.

It also looks more deeply learning gathered from the first three and half years of the programme – focusing on the emerging impacts of the programme on the catalysts, their community businesses and on local people and the wider community. It also reflects on some learnings from the programme that might have implications for other place-based funding programmes.

This report explores the key enablers and barriers to delivering the Empowering Places programme and place-based change.  The enablers include the focus on relationships and trust, a strong peer network, the structure of the programme and its support, the delivery partners and the local context.

Barriers also consist of the local context, as well as the time and resource needed for change, the programme flexibility and its complexity, the risks to individuals and communities, and of course the Covid-19 pandemic.

And we aren’t done yet. With one more year of the programme to run we have plenty more insights to share over the coming months – including our Empowering Places Change Framework, partner reports on best practice in local enterprise support and place-based funding, and what the next iteration of the Community Life Survey Booster can tell us about each place.