Sunderland’s Area Arrangements: centred on neighbourhoods and responsive to the challenges local people face and the strengths they possess to overcome them. In this case study we explore the impact of working in this asset-based way on the people of Sunderland and the practice of other statutory bodies in the region.
Area working in Sunderland
Sunderland City Council places residents, communities and councillors at the heart of our decision making. Through our Area Arrangements approach we shape our work around the neighbourhoods in which people live. This is rooted in the belief that working closely with communities is often the best way to develop solutions to some of our toughest social policy challenges. This stems from their understanding of the challenges local people face and the strengths they possess to overcome them.
To give these guiding principles a structure, we have a system of area committees and networks which work across five localities in our local authority. This approach allows us to bring together council officers, ward councillors, service delivery partners, the voluntary and community sector, residents and others. Through these forums, we identify the key shared priories for the area and develop programmes of work and funding in response.
A key partner in this mix is the local voluntary and community sector (VCS). We work closely with VCS organisations to deliver activity tailored to the local community. Below, we outline some of those activities and the impact they have on communities.
Holiday Activities for young people
This is one of the city’s collective responses to the challenge of young people suffering from holiday hunger and was facilitated though the local area VCS networks. Projects are delivered within local communities across the city by locally based VCS organisations. They use local amenities and facilities to provide free activities during the school holidays in addition to a meal. The locally tailored activities have so far included: healthy cooking and eating classes; a beach camp delivered every day throughout May half term and the summer holidays; and a youth café for older and young people providing somewhere safe and dry with games, movies and sporting activities.
Community Helper Provision
Our Community Helper provision was commissioned based on local need identified though the area VCS network in the West of the city. Community Helpers were introduced to work with residents to harness the range of assets in the locality. Community Helpers provide the support, techniques and resources to help people make informed choices about their health, work status and personal development. Community Helpers’ roles can be wide-ranging, from providing employment and skills support to talking through mental health and addiction and signposting clients to other services.
The service was established primarily to support people to improve their own personal circumstances to bring about change. A great example of this was in the Farringdon area of Sunderland. A young mother was looking for a toddler group in the area but struggled to find anywhere locally. So, instead of signposting to a service outside of the area, the Community Helper worked with the young mother to set up her own toddler group for people in the area, and to support with funding applications.
There are 5 projects intended to encourage and raise the aspirations of local people in five electoral wards in the North of the city. Through providing local people with support, activities and resources to make positive changes in their local area this will in turn help to bring about behaviour change and reduce demand for services in the area. They are multi-sector partnerships, led by VCS organisations, to deal with local issues relevant to the area.
So far, local projects have included developing a response to youth anti-social behaviour and a lack of community venues. They have also involved improving the offer of adult and community learning, health and wellbeing and support to families and vulnerable adults.
Often the perception is that – in times of diminishing resources – organisations become increasingly competitive as the funding pie shrinks in size. The Area approach has sought to foster collaboration rather than competition. Through working with local VCS organisations to deliver local activity, we have seen an increase in partnership working based on the knowledge and links to communities of respective organisations. In turn, this has helped build capacity of these organisations and deliver transformative services for the people of Sunderland.
It has also allowed us to bring together other statutory bodies in our system. Our Public Health team and the Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group have, in recent years, recognised the benefits of working through the area arrangements. They have worked with the area committees to identify local need and then resource local providers to deliver activity to respond to that need.
So, our approach to neighbourhoods is not only delivering specific programmes responsive to local need, but also shifting the practice of local partners to do the same as they too realise the benefits of this approach.
Keep it Local is brought to you in partnership with Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales which specialises in funding small, locally based charities tackling complex social problems.