Local economies Power and leadership

Big Local: agents of change

Marking the halfway point of the Big Local programme, Angus McCabe from Our Bigger Story reflects on the change that has taken place in communities across the country and considers the factors that have contributed to or hindered change happening.

“‘Big Local as Change Agent’ is a story of change in 15 Big Local areas and over five years in total. It draws on lots of examples from the areas involved with a particular focus on the last 2 years of activity.  So, what are the headlines?

The Big Local programme is complex and multi-faceted

Big Local partnerships have adopted various strategies to bring about change – from the building of community resources, to children’s and adults services, access to employment, crime reduction and business development. In some areas the Big Local partnership is very much leading change, in others, the successful running of the partnership relies on effective working relations with other organisations and community groups. Some Big Local partnerships have played a co-coordinating role whilst others have commissioned local organisations to deliver their Big Local plans.

Change is happening at different levels

Changes in the community occur in lots of different ways for individuals, local groups and the community as a whole. It can involve, for example, reducing social isolation, boosting confidence and aspirations, building new skills and employment opportunities, developing community groups, voluntary organisations and new ventures, opening community hubs and spaces, improving the physical environment, and helping to generate a greater sense of community spirit and cohesion. Big Local can also involve important convening and coordinating roles.

Mobilising people, resources and approaches 

Big Local bring local residents together in a number of capacities; as active partnership members and volunteers,  specialist paid workers and expert Big Local reps. Alongside this, Big Local also involves Locally Trusted Organisations (LTOs) and other agencies involved in delivering local services and activities. Change is generated through a combination of Big Local funding, other leveraged resources, capacity building at local and national levels, and crucially through local knowledge and commitment – a passion about place.

The obstacles

These challenges can be ‘internal’ in terms of personalities, power struggles, the inaccessible ways in which Big Local partnerships sometimes operate, and histories of tensions within the community. However, difficulties also concern ‘external’ forces and wider policy change. There can also be limited understanding of, and scope for, influencing key strategic decision-makers and the policies and pressures which affect the community.

Change and the Big Local model 

The Big Local model provides significant resources for resident-led action, but also combines a patient timescale, additional support, an institutional structure of partnerships and LTOs and a hyper-local community approach. We argue that the support and resources available to Big Local areas are just a starting point for bringing about resident-led change. In the words of a partnership member:

‘You say that the money has given us credibility, I don’t think it has to be honest. I think that money has given us the resources to earn that credibility through our actions.’

Find out more:

This is a multi-media evaluation, so you can read the report and the summary, but you can also watch the film ‘Changing Communities’ and animation on who holds power in Big Local areas.

There are also over 80 other videos about Big Local areas and discussions on the challenges they face all available on our website.

New research project with Our Bigger Story areas

The Big Local areas involved in the Our Bigger Story evaluation of Big Local are currently part of a new research project exploring how communities respond to and recover from crises. See our website for more information about this new research project, led by Angus McCabe at the Third Sector Research Centre.

Our Bigger Story is a multimedia evaluation of the Big Local programme involving 15 Big Local areas The latest report from the evaluation project- ‘Big Local as Change Agent–  explores all of these questions. You can access the full report on the Our Bigger Story website, along with the accompanying film and animation below.