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Power and leadership

Introducing the Community Leadership Academy

Our chief executive Matt Leach introduces the Community Leadership Academy; support for local people transforming their neighbourhoods

£1.1 million into 150 communities across England may seem like a big investment, but it’s nothing compared to the time and energy residents in Big Local areas are putting in to achieve long lasting change in their neighbourhoods.

And when residents decide to stand up and take action to improve their communities, they are often committing much more than their time. Whilst the spirit and buzz that people get out of working collectively on local issues can’t be questioned, bringing people together is not always easy; and the skills, resilience and emotional resources needed to drive change at a local level can be underestimated.

Maybe that’s why there hasn’t always been the investment in community leadership there ought to have been in the past. Whilst leaders across the public and private sectors often have access to high quality dedicated personal development training, it is rare to see similar levels of support for people volunteering their time to make a real difference in their community. That’s why we’ve created the Community Leadership Academy.

During a visit to Dover Big Local last week, with Ted Howard from US think tank the Democracy Collaborative, we saw the new Co-Innovation Centre they have established, as part of a wider strategy to transform the economy of their local community.  This is a major initiative –  a fantastic entrepreneurial space that has already helped grow nearly 40 local businesses that previously wouldn’t have been able to afford premises from which to trade.

To get as far as they have done, Dover residents leading the initiative, had to tackle challenges and demonstrate leadership on a level at least as significant as you might see in business or public sector management positions. Juggling finances, planning, project management and, over the last year, some 4200 hours of volunteer-led work.

Across the country, residents in Big Local areas are – in different ways and at different scales – demonstrating similar examples of leadership. The Community Leadership Academy will recognise and develop those leadership skills; and support leaders in Big Local communities to develop as individuals, gain the confidence to contribute even more to their areas, and become part of a strong network of confident community leaders nationally.

Big Local has taught us that leadership can present itself in many ways, and that the ability to lead can come from unexpected places. It’s the person who shows up first thing every Saturday morning to open the community centre, the person who helps defuse conflict and makes sure everyone in the group feels heard and involved, or the young person embarking for the first time in shared community activity despite the fact few of their friends want to get involved themselves. We’d expect people from all these sorts of background to be represented amongst the first cohort of participants in the Academy.

But when I visit in Big Local areas, the best leaders I see are those who recognise that leadership is something that is best shared, and who work to achieve that in practice. Whilst it can be easy to celebrate the heroic leader, or to allow leadership slip into the hands of those who see it as being all about personal status or control, the leaders who impress me most are those who understand and value the talent and potential of others and work consistently towards developing others for the benefit of the wider community. That focus on shared and distributed leadership will be central to the Academy.

Whilst we’re incorporating learning from the best leadership programmes offered to public and private sector leaders, we are also being careful to ensure that the new Academy is grounded in the reality of delivering change in local communities. We’ve got some great existing leaders from Big Local areas helping advise on the Academy’s work, and we expect to learn more from the experience of those taking part. We also recognise that it is something new, and that we’ll all be learning, particularly in its early years.

If you know someone in a Big Local area who you think might benefit from the Community Leadership Academy, please do consider putting them forward them to take part.

They may not necessarily be someone with a title or a position associated with leadership.  They may not know themselves that they are acting as leaders or showing the potential to do so in the future. Or they may be existing leaders you think would benefit from additional support to develop and grow to their full potential. We’re hoping to see the widest possible diversity of experience and backgrounds in our first cohort. Please do help us make it a success.