The Big Local early years evaluation, an independent view on how things are going.

Deb James, The National Council for Voluntary Organisations

In April last year Local Trust brought in its first independent evaluators. Our job was to assess how well things are going – to look at areas’ progress and whether Big Local is starting to make a difference, and what kinds of things have helped and hindered areas in their Big Local journeys. At heart our big question was – is Big Local working? To answer that and lots of other questions, we heard from over 400 of the people most involved in making Big Local happen and studied the progress being made in more than 100 Big Local areas.

We pulled all the information together to try and see the big picture across all the areas, and, appropriately for a programme with Big in the name and big ambitions, we produced our biggest ever evaluation report!  We don’t expect everyone to read the whole report – in fact a colleague just told me it contains more words than the novel Brave New World (ah, the joy of working with researchers who just love numbers).  Instead we have created a  bite-size blog for local areas with some of our “top tens” from our evaluation report.

However, our first message is to say thank you. We really appreciate the time people took to fill in questionnaires, take part in interviews, feature in case studies, and host workshops.  Because so many took part and Big Local reps and national partners shared so much information with us, it means we’re feeling really confident about the conclusions we came to.

Our top ten messages for local areas are:

1.     Progress in local areas is promising

2.     Plans reflect big ambitions for people and for places and reflect what local people say is most needed

3.     Big Local is genuinely putting residents in control

4.     Big local partnerships are really trying to do things differently

5.     The experience of getting involved in Big Local has been mostly a positive one, though not without its challenges

6.     Partnerships are growing in confidence and much is being learnt

7.     Though it still feels like early days for many Big Local areas, many can see real tangible changes

8.     The changes that are less tangible and harder to measure might actually matter the most

9.     Areas have mixed views on the things that help and the things that get in the way, and on the support Big Local offers

10.  Though we identified concerns about the future and how areas can best sustain momentum, we also found strong grounds for optimism

You can read the key findings and the full report on the Local Trust website.

Creating a ‘buzz’

Debbie Ladds, Local Trust

People involved in Big Local are fantastic: passionate, committed, resilient, and give a huge amount of time for the benefit of their community.

I’ve read the full report and my evaluation highlights are that:

·         94% of those with voting rights for Big Local are residents and it feels resident-led.

·         88% feel confident about their ability to help make Big Local happen.

·         85% agree Big Local is giving residents more control over what happens in their area.

·         78% felt they are building a stronger sense of community, with an increase in people coming together.

The evaluation findings show that it isn’t always easy or smooth and there are challenges to overcome. The evaluators identified three themes that are simultaneously barriers and enablers which I suspect many people involved in Big Local will identify with. I know I do and it presents a tricky balancing act at times.

The evaluators also report that overall, those most actively involved in making Big Local happen report a feeling, a ‘buzz’, an excitement, a change of mood in parts of the community, a sense of hope and optimism, a sense of possibility, a sense that the community isn’t any longer a ‘forgotten’ one. The report provides a fascinating insight into the first few years of Big Local and how people in communities come together to start to make a difference to the things that matter most to them.

As the evaluators say, in the long-run, just the process of defining what is needed and coming together to address what is needed (and/or seeing what is needed being addressed), may fundamentally matter perhaps as much as what is actually prioritised and acted on. Only time will tell and Big Local has until 2027 to find out!

You can find out more about the difference that Big Local is making in our news story – Big Local: a powerful idea to change communities for the better.

14 – 28 April 2015, 10.30am – 3.30pm

Tuesday 14 April – Bristol
Friday 17 April – Newcastle
Tuesday 21 April – York
Thursday 23 April – Birmingham
Saturday 25 April – London
Tuesday 28 April – Manchester

We know that Big Local can be fun and exciting, but we know it’s not always easy. People involved in Big Local are passionate and committed, with powerful ideas and visions for their areas; these events reflect that.

The spring events are exciting occasions that inspire and are great for meeting other people involved in Big Local.

Big Local is evolving. Over 100 areas have now submitted their Big Local plans and we expect all of the 150 areas to have submitted their plans by March 2016. As more areas move into delivering Big Local the spring events are an ideal opportunity to showcase and share in the achievements and successes of your Big Local area and others.

These are active workshop-based events with a focus on networking and participation. They provide the main opportunity in the year for Big Local areas to come together; find out what is happening in the programme; take part in workshops run by people in Big Local areas and by people with particular expertise in delivering community-led activities; share ideas and experiences; and network and learn together about a range of topics relevant to your activities.

Every event offers a range of workshops and you can see the programmes by clicking on the event locations above. Workshops include:

  • community cinemas
  • shops and community hubs
  • reviewing your Big Local plan
  • dealing with loan sharks
  • running a community library
  • problem solving techniques
  • communicating better.

Learn new skills to help you make Big Local happen in your area

Have you seen our exciting programme of training courses for people in Big Local areas?

We have new opportunities to learn new skills and refresh old ones, to help you make Big Local happen in your area. These courses are for people already involved in Big Local, or are interested in being involved.

We put together this programme in response to your feedback about the skills you need to deliver Big Local. Each course will be fun and interactive, use a range of different styles, be practical and hands-on.

Anyone can take part – you don’t need any previous experience, knowledge or educational background. If you have any specific requirements to enable you to participate, please let us know.

This programme has courses in different locations around England, starting in March 2015. They cover topics like leadership, working brilliantly as a group, organising and running meetings, co-ordinating volunteers, public speaking and working with local media.