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Power and leadership

Why Big Local matters now

Our new chief executive reflects on why the Big Local programme is more relevant than ever, and celebrates Big Local areas’ achievements.

By Matt Leach, chief executive, Local Trust

Just a month in, it is already clear that leading Local Trust is going to be an incredible experience. At a time when the public debate is too often defined by fear, division and anger, it is amazing to be part of a programme built, at its heart, around optimism and hope. Almost everything and everybody I’ve engaged with reaffirms my belief in the positive power of individuals and communities to make a difference.

Matt Leach, chief executive, Local Trust

A programme ahead of its time

When the National Lottery Community Fund launched the Big Local programme in 2011, it was in many ways a huge leap of faith. The underpinning belief — that by providing 150 communities with £1m each, with almost no strings attached, it might be possible to achieve outcomes that have eluded top-down public sector funding and more traditional project-based grant programmes – was untested.

And Big Local’s approach to outcomes was to emphasise that the development of trust, confidence, skills and partnerships at a local level was just as important as the sorts of hard project-based outcomes that can dominate traditional funding. This was, in many ways, ground-breaking.

But if it seemed radical at the time, five years on the Lottery’s massive investment seems far-sighted.

Growing political attention around addressing the needs of ‘left behind communities’ means that Big Local’s focus — on supporting communities facing social and economic challenges, places that had historically failed to benefit from public and lottery funding — seem ahead of its time.

Funders — nationally and locally — are increasingly interested in the importance of place-based funding. Just five years in, Big Local offers an incredible depth of practical learning and experience around the opportunities and challenges associated with making that a reality.

With an ongoing debate around the extent to which power can be devolved, in an environment in which both the national and local state is facing limits on its ability to deliver, the challenges and learning around empowerment, leadership, partnership and self-reliance at the heart of the Big Local programme are becoming increasingly relevant.

All of this makes the experience of Big Local areas and Local Trust critically important stuff at a national scale. And over the next year, a real focus for me will be working to ensure that the Big Local story — and the richness and diversity of experience from all of our areas — starts to inform national conversations.

The energy of Big Local

The sheer scale and extent of Big Local, and the energy and initiative it has released, are amazing. In just my first few days in post, I’ve been exposed to some of the brilliant things happening all over the country:

  • Residents in Barnfield in Greenwich are taking on the challenge of creating a new community hub, 20 years after their community centre was burnt to the ground, and in the process building capacity and trust.
  • Residents of the Bountagu estate are building a vision and identity for their estate — increasingly important as they engage with the massive new development taking place across their part of London.
  • An incredible (and massive) community mural is due to go up in Plaistow South after a year of work involving the whole community.
  • Everything from vegetable gardens to environmental works to debt counselling is underway in Collyhurst, as part of a multi-stranded approach to delivering local change, working in partnership with a wide range of local partners.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be visiting communities in Dover, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham and Lancashire.

It’s not often in your life that you get the chance to be part of something as special as Big Local. The opportunity to be part of all of this is a unique privilege and something I’ll be looking to share — not least on this blog — as the Big Local story continues to develop and grow.