A Social Sector Revolution in Plymouth

May marked my first visit to the city, which marks the very far tip of Devon and a ferry gateway to Cornwall, and I fast discovered that something pretty incredible is happening in Plymouth — that we can all take heart and some concrete learnings from.

I was down there on behalf of the Losing Control Network (of which I sit on the Advisory Council) to take part in an event to explore how funders and providers can work together to ‘lose control’ of the traditional power dynamics in giving and receiving money and targets - and instead create a more effective and fair system of enabling incredible work and vital services to happen.

One of my favourite parts about being self-employed is that I can heavily prioritise time and brainpower for learning which will enhance or change my work in the sector! Through my explorations and conversations (during and around the event) I fast learned that what sets Plymouth apart from many British towns and smaller cities is the progressive social change sector that can be found here.

For one, Plymouth’s local funders and City Council, who commission local charities and community groups to deliver services, is turning its focus from dogmatic outcomes policing towards instead building funded alliances between their grassroots partner organisations to provide a more human way to provide help to individual clients using multiple services, and to support innovation and learning between everyone.

For another, Plymouth is a recognised hot spot for social enterprises and is working towards developing as a global city leader in social enterprise. It felt like there were free advice events happening every week for new and growing social businesses, delivered by a small coalition of groups such as the fantastic Plymouth Octopus Project (POP+).

I was down in Plymouth on behalf of the Losing Control Network (of which I sit on the Advisory Council) to take part in a one day event on ‘Losing Control With Funding and Social Finance’ that the Plymouth Octopus Project were organising. This event sought to explore new research from Collaborate CIC around practical insights for funding, commissioning and managing in complexity, with a aim of how funders and providers can work together to ‘lose control’ of the traditional power dynamics and instead create a more effective and fair system of enabling incredible work and vital services to happen.

The fascinating part of this change taking place in and around Plymouth is that although it is (in part) well supported by outside grants, the clamouring for change came from the organisations themselves. They felt like many of us do; frustrated by ineffective funding as inequality across the country soars, and excited by the possibilities truly social enterprises offer communities.

I think that this brings a lot of hope to those of us looking at our own local pictures (or the whole national one), which are lagging far behind our progressive visions of what would be better. It is clearly possible to influence this change with funders or those who contract our services and find those who are willing to actively shift the power balance.

Discussion Points

If you’re looking to start exploring these ideas within your own teams or circles, try using the below statements, over lunch or perhaps an informal coffee, as a springboard for some interesting discussions!

  • Accountability for delivering results cannot exist in complex environments
  • More participation and diversity always makes for better decision making
  • By not aligning funds, funders are actively choosing poor outcomes
  • Managing performance by outcomes perpetuates harm

Take it Further

Read: Collaborate’s report ‘Exploring the new world: Practical insights for funding, commissioning and managing in complexity’.

Listen: the podcast of the event.

Browse: Losing Control resources, Plymouth Octopus Project, the Zebra Collective, Nudge Community Builders.

Eat: The Hutong Cafe

See: Hoe Park

Do: Ride the £2 Cremyll Ferry to the Cornish border.

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Hustling for good→ www.abbrightman.com

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