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David Wilcox

Connecting Londoners organisation needed for civil society and action for social good: response to #TheWayAhead @lvscnews

6 min read

London needs a new organisation called Connecting Londoners, says a report on how to support action for social good - whether that's undertaken by charities, agencies, public bodies, companies, local groups or citizens.

Connecting Citizens would have four main functions: improving the system of support, gathering ‘real-time’ intelligence about London’s community life, promoting positive change, unleashing the resources of civil society – in all cases working with and through other agencies at local, borough, and London-wide levels.

The report is the first substantial response to The Way Ahead project, led by London Funders. This aims to reframe support systems currently provided by local councils for voluntary service and organisations like the London Voluntary Service Council and Greater London Volunteering - also partners in TWA. All are facing funding cuts.

LVSC and partners have published the report as an interim response to the idea of a London Hub, in the TWA report. It is written by Steve Wyler an independent consultant who was chief executive of Locality until three years ago.

The summary of the new report says

While there has been some criticism of the Way Ahead report and process, the discussion now appears to be moving into a constructive phase. Stakeholders consulted have a good understanding of the main themes in the report and generally support them. There is widespread agreement that things need to change, to deliver better to Londoners and to civil society in London, and to promote the practice of co-production, and there are indications that some agencies are accepting the need to make changes in their own practice.

More work will be needed to develop a picture of what success might look like and to produce a simple and compelling story of change. The Way Ahead project as a whole will need to lead to actions which can make a difference (including ‘early wins’), should seek out the ‘willing and the brave’, and while generating disruption must also build on the best existing practice rather than feel the need to start from scratch. A strong and simple brand, which can be applied not just to a London Hub, but also to others engaged in common endeavour, will be required.

For LVSC and GLV (and others affected by the withdrawal of London Councils funding) timing will be challenging, with the new financial year fast approaching.

My recommendation is that a two stage approach is taken: 

  • The first stage (April to September 2017) would be for GLV and LVSC to model fresh forms of collaboration, in the spirit of the Way Ahead, working with and through others as much as possible. This stage would also work towards the launch of a new entity with a working title of ‘Connecting Londoners’. 
  • The second stage (October 2017 onwards) would see the new entity up and running. This would not simply be a continuation of LVSC and GLV under another name, but would rather provide a platform for new forms of multi-agency collaboration for the benefit of London’s civil society. It is proposed that ‘Connecting Londoners’ would initially have four key functions: improving the system of support, gathering ‘real-time’ intelligence about London’s community life, promoting positive change, unleashing the resources of civil society – in all cases working with and through other agencies at local, borough, and London-wide levels.

The report says "a provisional direction of travel is needed to build a sense of shared purpose" and gives two contrasting examples:

It is 2027, and cities across the UK and internationally are looking to London as an example of how to revitalise civic life....

In every neighbourhood across London we have our local community resource agency, an attractive, lively and out-going sharing space, where people from all walks of life come together to give and to get: to enjoy each other’s company, to share ideas and plan actions to help themselves and their neighbours and improve their neighbourhoods..... Health and social care have changed out of all recognition, Londoners are much more likely to get a social prescription in the community than a medical prescription or end up in hospital or in care, and people are better off as a result... More and more services are now designed and run by local people... Many people now own community shares, in projects they care about... Behind all this stands a well organised network of borough-wide resource agencies, stimulating volunteering, helping community action and organisations get going and run themselves well, bringing in additional expert help from the council, the NHS, businesses, specialists, linking communities of interest right across London .... Then there’s ‘Connecting Londoners’, gathering real-time intelligence from across London, co-ordinating London-wide efforts, helping to shape London-wide policy and investment, stimulating investment and innovation.... All of this makes up the ‘Connecting Londoners’ project, and we know that any agency or initiative that carries the ‘Connecting Londoners’ brand is good at what it does.... London’s community is being reborn and revitalised from the bottom up....

Or ...

It is 2027, and cities across the UK and internationally are looking to London as an example of how to revitalise civic life...

A whole host of London agencies – voluntary groups, councils, the GLA, and business partners have created a powerful new ‘Connecting Londoners’ agency. Digital platforms have generated the ability for people, wherever they live or work in London, to find out what contribution they can play to London’s civic life, as volunteers, as social activists and campaigners, as donors, allowing them to meet virtually and in real time, and take action for themselves and for their community of choice.... Londoners have access to an amazing on-line compendium of resources, but also real people to speak to at the need of a phone, or experts who will come out and meet you and your group and help you get things going, for free or a very modest fee.... London’s business community has really bought into all this – incentivising their workforces to play their part, sponsoring a host of exciting activity, celebrating success in a big way.... ‘Connecting Londoners’ is producing compelling evidence about how people are connecting with each other as never before across boundaries of place, class, age, gender, race, and London is now acknowledged as the first truly socially cosmopolitan city...

The introduction to the report says it should be read as work in progress, subject to amendment as further soundings are taken with stakeholders, as discussions continue, and as additional insights and idea emerge, rather than a full or final assessment of how the proposals set out the Way Ahead report can be achieved.

I'll review the report in greater depth and write more later this week. I'm not sure the two scenarios are necessarily contrasting ... but glad we at last have a thoughtful analysis of The Way Ahead as the basis for discussion.

The Way Ahead: establishing a London Hub