Choices to take

By Wendy Lowder



Old Town Ward Alliance – Community Choir


I’ve never been one to bemoan national policy decisions (OK – I admit I do sometimes)! I’ve always been a sort of a ‘crack on with job’ kinda gal. I suppose Barnsley (in South Yorkshire for those of you who have never heard it – shame on you!) is a place where people really don’t want to hear about all of the trials and tribulations, the woes and strife of not enough money, posturing across organisations and all the rest of the noise – they just want a decent life for themselves, their family, their friends and live in a community that looks out for each other and takes pride in their place. For that reason in 2013 we made a decision to test out whether if we were to completely change the way we worked with communities, recast the relationship between councillors, the council and the communities it served, devolve funding to these new partnerships – what might happen?

You can read more about our adventures here and some of our stories are here

So what has been the impact ?

  • Volunteering levels have increased significantly
  • The numbers of new community groups forming has shot through the roof – this year we had 53 new groups setting up. These groups do all sorts of things from luncheon clubs, singing for wellbeing, environmental work
  • Lots of businesses contributing time, kit use of their buildings to support the borough
  • Schools getting involved in projects
  • Every £1 we spend has the principles of reciprocity embedded – ‘give and get’ – if we support a group with funding then they also have to give back which may be about them volunteering, mentoring another group and always with sustainability at the heart.
  • Many services have been re-organised around a common geography now (our Area Council geography) Family Centres, Adult Social Care, Neighbourhood Nursing, GPs and social prescribing teams and we have re-designed police and council resources too. Because all of our service have been in so much churn we had all lost the “relational capital”, professionals had lost sight of the communities within which they worked and all of the assets in them and guess what – this just drove demand and sucked people into services.
  • We figure things out together with communities – understand the problem and co-produce a plan – for example one of the communities is working with a GP practice to work through why DNA’s (did not attend) at primary care is such a problem and more importantly what can they all do to improve it.
  • Social Media has been a great platform to encourage mentoring and say thank you and connect people and groups together.
  • Finally we really believe that this approach helps us to manage demand in Adult Social Care – indeed we may be one of the few authorities where Adult Social Care managed within its budget envelope.

I could go on and on as feel passionately about this approach – when people design solutions for their own communities with others they tend to stick and be sustained. Of course saying thank you matters hugely so we celebrate contributions – here’s one of our ward alliance events.

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So where to next for us? – well our next chapter that we’re really excited about is that we are really going to go for it with health, care and communities and recast the way we work with a particular focus on improving outcomes for those adults with complex health needs – try it out in one patch and see where it takes us.

We have shared our approach with many other local authorities from midlands to London borough, north east to north west encouraging them to think local. It’s good to share and we’re always happy to talk about what we do – come and see for yourselves and we’ll maybe see you at #socialcarefuture


Wendy Lowder is Executive Director of Communities at Barnsley MBC @LowderWendy


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  1. […] Barnsley has shifted to place-based teams and area-based commissioning, devolving budgets so neighbours can co-create plans. Wendy Lowder shared there are 94 community initiatives, with a budget of £6.5 million. Resource stays local – 90% of the budget is spent with local businesses. It’s about people helping people and building on people’s interests. […]


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