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Oct 2

Power to Change gives confidence to small group with big ideas

Enterprise, North West region, Social finance

On Monday I was lucky enough to attend, on behalf of Love Withington Baths, the Power to Change Roadshow in Manchester.

The campaign to keep open our gorgeous Edwardian swimming baths and leisure centre following council cuts has grown and developed over the past 18 months, with community and local business support and sponsorship, into a bid for Community Asset Transfer to revitalise and regenerate the whole building and business.

Withington Baths

An invaluable grant from Locality has progressed our business plan and the various surveys required by Manchester City Council, and we were interested to hear more about Power To Change, a £150m Big Lottery Funded initiative, backed by Trinity Mirror and the National Lottery, that will support community-led enterprise across England.

For organisations such as ours, these type of grants, supporting local community enterprise and giving financial help to groups of passionate people all over the country fighting for services, buildings, skills, provision and essential local projects, are utterly essential. We at LWB are going to need such help, if we want to realise our Big Vision for the Baths, so I was fascinated to hear more.

Peter Couchman

The community enterprise scene was set by Peter Couchman of the Plunkett Foundation which supports rural communities to take control of what matters to them, pubs, shops and food provision for example.

I really enjoyed his talk, which showed an absolute understanding of the issues faced by groups such as ours. He talked of connectivity and that fact that there is no end to the approach that things can be better if you do them together. His amusing description of the recent New Cross Library image with two policemen guarding the entrance, in case anyone should enter and be criminally filled with knowledge all too sadly summed up the current state of public services across England. He described a “amazing renaissance” of communities coming together to fight for things they hold dear and which really matter. Perhaps most resonating for me was his slide showing what he laid out as the three reactions to cuts or closures – Hope, Despair or Action. You know which one is best, right?

Tim Davis-Pugh from the Big Lottery Fund and Michelle Mitchell from the Power to Change Trust were equally as inspiring, and made me really think about the LWB campaign and how to best approach it, even how to think about it.

Tim talked about a new approach to funding, not just grant led or demand led but a cultural change to a first and last brick in the wall approach, funding which helps localism along it’s journey from conception through business planning to development and realisation, and beyond. From a baby, to a toddler, through school and the teenage years into adulthood, in a way!

Michelle Mitchell

Michelle described the Power to Change Trust, drawing the audience into her enthusiasm for this new independent trust that is being set up to facilitate help for “people with passion who want to change their communities”. She talked about the need for sustainability and long term impacts, the importance of place based initiatives and recycling the profit from any venture back into the community – exactly what we want to do at the Baths as we expand it into a bigger community venue. It felt so exciting to hear all these phrases which so resonate with what we would like to achieve, kind of made you feel you weren’t on your own, which is exactly what Locality does for it’s members.

Hugh Rolo, Business Development Director for Locality even mentioned my most favourite subject – swimming baths!

He talked of how generous the community enterprise sector is, the constant sharing of information and expertise and how important it is to consider and measure your social accounting – the impact your enterprise will have. It was interesting to start to think about the Ripple Effect as Hugh described it, about what impact it’s regeneration will have on our community. He spoke about how he believed that top down, expert led solutions were no longer working, and that it would be ground up, local solutions which would prevail and give real impact. I totally agree. He had me sold when he spoke about the fantastic Bramley Baths in Leeds which we’ve visited and which went from council failure to community success.

As part of the day we could go into break out sessions and I chose to hear Phil Knibb from the Alt Valley Trust, an amazing organisation which has grown organically to successfully run many services and facilities for their community in Liverpool. They took, for example, a failing sport centre in Croxteth where the council were losing £250k per annum and made it profitable with a very short time, as indeed they’ve done with most of the council run facilities they’ve taken on.

Inspiring to hear from Phil, but really sad that our local councils are failing so spectacularly in so many regions and areas. At Walton Sports Centre, which Alt Valley also now run, Liverpool Council couldn’t work out whether they were losing £500k or £800k per year as their accounting systems couldn’t work the sums. Now run by the community – in profit!

I got a great deal from the day, experiences like this give such confidence and hope to small community group with big ideas. We’ve can’t wait for details to filter through over the next few months. We can only hope that Manchester City Council sees the incredible value in supporting a revitalised Withington Baths and supports a Community Asset Transfer so that, one day, our group might have the Power To Change.

Join the final Power to Change Roadshow

There are still a few places left at the final Power to Change Roadshow in West Lindsey, Lincolnshire, happening on 9 October.

And the Power to Change programme is also running a film competition – send them a short film about your community enterprise, and you could win a prize of £1000. The deadline for entries is 15 October.

And you can see the photos from the Manchester Roadshow on Locality’s facebook page.

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