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Community spirit Power and leadership

Celebrating a new generation of community leaders

With applications open for the third wave of the Community Leadership Academy, Vita Terry, from the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), explores the impact of the programme so far – and what its legacy for community leadership could be.

When reflecting on their experience of the Community Leadership Academy, participants often talk about how much they valued the opportunities to share experiences and learn from each other.

The programme began in 2020 to provide support for the people making Big Local happen – helping them to develop and share skills and knowledge to benefit the whole community. In 2021, it expanded to include participants from external partner organisations who are leading positive change outside of the Big Local programme as well.

You’ve got people to talk to who are in similar situations … when we all got together at the residential it was like a big family getting back together.”

The Community Leadership Academy is aimed at people who want to explore their own potential, and the change they can bring to their neighbourhoods, by working effectively with others. The programme provides support for changemakers through a mix of one-to-one coaching, online group learning workshops, and in-person sessions.


Investing in individuals

The academy has successfully identified and brought together emerging and existing leaders – and while those taking part tend not to identify themselves this way, they are very much already ‘doing it’ in their communities.

Evidence shows that the Community Leadership Academy increases people’s confidence significantly, enabling them to achieve goals such as influencing how their partnerships or groups are working, and how their Big Local areas are operating in their communities.

“At the beginning I was really shy and found it hard to open up … now I’m so confident and find it easy to talk to people I’ve never met before.”

Two people speaking with 'Community Leadership Academy' sign in the background

The Community Leadership Academy is about helping individuals and entire communities

Supporting communities

Participants of the Community Leadership Academy describe a whole host of changes they’ve made in their communities as a result of the programme.

Some have taken on new roles in their Big Local partnership, while others have set up new initiatives or applied specific skills they have learned from academy sessions, such as storytelling methods to share lived experiences, or conflict resolution techniques.

There are also examples of how Big Local partnerships as a whole have benefitted directly from the programme. These include a shift in power dynamics which has created a sense of togetherness, more effective decision-making and more inclusive conversations.

One person summarised how much of a difference the course had made, saying they “loved it” but it “hasn’t always been easy”. They said:

[You have] to look at yourself and the way you would normally deal with things and to change your ways. I’ve spent 44 years doing things one way and [with] the CLA … it’s opened my eyes.”

A legacy of community leadership

As the Community Leadership Academy welcomes its third wave of participants, the programme will build on what has worked well so far and bring in some of the learning from earlier rounds. For example, building on improved communication about the academy and how the programme is suitable for anyone volunteering as part of Big Local, even if they don’t consider themselves a ‘leader’.

There are also plans to better connect the one-to-one coaching with learning from whole-group sessions.

I’ve appreciated the honesty that everyone has brought to sessions – being vulnerable with each other has really helped me open up.”

The academy’s long-term aim is to have a lasting legacy within communities – and there are already signs it is on its way to achieving this.

These include participants being supported to take on new roles and develop new partnerships with other community organisations, and the development of a peer network for people who have been involved in previous waves of the Community Leadership Academy.

Looking ahead, the programme will create space and opportunity for people to put their learning into practice, applying theory, tools and approaches to continue the drive for community-led change. Critically, the programme will also contribute key insights into what it takes to build community leadership that has a long-lasting and positive influence.

Just Ideas and the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) were appointed by Local Trust as the evaluation and learning partner for the Community Leadership Academy. Find out more about the Community Leadership Academy or explore its impact so far on the IVAR website.

About the author
Vita Terry

Vita is the principal researcher at the Institute of Voluntary Action Research