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Culture and creativity

Try asking yourself “describe the legacy of David Bowie in one sentence?”

Go on, just one sentence. Or Prof Stephen Hawking, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa?

This is what Taz from Heston West told me he has been asking his fellow partnership members at recent meetings arranged specifically to discuss Big Local legacy.

So how would you describe the legacy of those household names? They certainly left a mark on the world which will last decades, perhaps longer. But it’s not always one thing you can name, and it’s not just a physical legacy – the mark David Bowie left is more than one song or album, and more than shelves of records or CDs.

No two Big Local areas see legacy the same way, and Local Trust sets no hard requirements. All we have are the overall aims of Big Local, that after ten years:

  • Communities will be better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them.
  • People will have increased skills and confidence, so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future.
  • The community will make a difference to the needs it prioritises.
  • People will feel that their area is an even better place to live.

But beyond these there is no right or wrong answer. The one thing Local Trust wants is for all Big Local partnerships to start thinking carefully about what they want their legacy to be – and to start now while there is still time, because time is what makes Big Local so different.

That’s the thinking behind two new “learning clusters”, one taking place in Leeds and one in London. These are a new type of learning event. Instead of just meeting once after which everyone goes their separate ways, we hope participants will attend the year-long series of cluster sessions so they can get to know more about other participants and other areas, build trust, see each others’ progress, explore issues in more depth, and be part of a learning experience which lasts months not hours. We also hope they will make new friendships, with “learning buddies” and keep in touch between meetings, to share ideas with, or talk about challenges.

In the past two weeks these new learning clusters met for the first time and those who attended begun a conversation with other areas about legacy which we hope will develop over four sessions between now and early 2019.

So what have we learned about legacy so far?

The first thing that came out of the learning cluster discussions is that getting to grips with what “legacy” means, is a journey in itself for partnerships. Many had started by asking – “what do we want our legacy to be?” “is it physical, is it an organisation, is it something which inspires people long after the £1m is spent?” Understanding legacy as meaning different things is very similar to what Local Trust have found in their own research into legacy.

For some areas it’s about keeping the £1m recycling around – like Lincoln Big Local who are investing in land which will generate income from ground-rent. On top of that they still have their money – invested in the land which they now own.

We heard about partnerships who saw their legacy in terms of the new skills their activities are bringing – skills for jobs or life skills like financial literacy. A few are investing their money in credit unions. NW Ipswich Big Local are depositing money with their credit union (it’s still theirs but the money they have deposited is being loaned-out to those who need to borrow) and they are also funding work to build financial literacy skills at the same time.

A few were buying buildings as a lasting focal point for their community, and for them legacy meant ensuring the people who plan to manage the buildings can develop a real sustainable business which breaks even or makes a surplus.

A lot of partnership see their legacy as revitalising community spirit – supporting people who want to make a difference, guarding against volunteer burnout, getting the younger generation involved (or just getting more people involved generally) and building up skills around community enterprise and fundraising.

We heard about partnerships who wanted to leave a strong local charity of community organisation as their legacy to continue what Big Local has started. Some were setting up new bodies in areas where nothing like that existed before Big Local, others were investing in groups which were already there or supporting micro-organisations to join forces. Some were asking questions like “what would it mean to ‘merge’ Big Local with an existing local charity?”

But many areas were only just starting their journey of deciding what their legacy will be. Many of those who had joined the learning cluster had questions like “how do we help our Partnership decide what happens after year 10?” or “will our exit strategy be a tidy-up and shut down, or can we create an ongoing entity?”

There are no right or wrong answers, and these first sessions were all about questions. But over the coming year we hope that the deeper relationships formed through the learning clusters will help partnerships become more confident about what legacy looks like for them and their communities.