Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
First and foremost, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed and came along to the launch of ‘Whatever It Takes’, a report commissioned by The Winch with support from Camden Council to explore the capacity for partnership working as part of a children’s zone approach in North Camden.
I realise we’ve made something of a song and dance about this report. I’m also mindful that partnership working-including in its most powerful and transformational form-has been about for far longer than we have. I’ve been reminded that we’re not the first organisation to articulate a vision for partnership working, nor for tackling child poverty. These are important points.
The reason that we believe this report adds something valuable to this agenda and that The Promise Partnership is an exciting development is quite simple. We believe that a children’s zone that is community-led, developed alongside local families and young people and in partnership with the local authority and other partners, hasn’t been done before in this way. The evidence from piloting this approach since December 2011 and more intensively since November 2012, with the appointment of our first Promise Workers, gives us great cause for optimism. However, we share it in order that it stimulates debate and catalyses action: it is simply another step.
There is a great deal of excellent policy thinking, research and conceptualising around children’s zones: we want to learn from that, reflect on it and road-test different approaches on the ground, in the real world. This report is born of those real-world experiences, whether from the perspective of a teenager, a mother, a GP or any number of others. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
A few words introducing ‘Whatever It Takes’ at our event on Monday 21st October:
“The launch of The Promise Academy at The Winch was driven by a very simple question. Can we do more? Are there approaches or organisations or systems that are doing better to beat poverty and its effects? We’d had a couple of heartbreaks-as I’m sure many of you have-and we were searching for answers. We struggled and searched and asked lots of questions. So we made a promise to children in our community to support them from cradle to career, and do whatever we could to enable them to flourish. That’s the promise that has led us to this point and the production of ‘Whatever It Takes’.
In developing our children’s zone approach, we started with where the families we work with currently live: primarily in Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, Belsize and snippets of other wards. We formalised more of our partnership working in particular with schools and our experience and observation so far suggests there is good reason to look at broadening the approach.
Working on the ground, we started to better understand two key things. The first was the centrality of the relationships we held. With children and young people, of course. But also our relationships with parents and grandparents, with cousins and friends. Not only that, but we held relationships with doctors. And social workers. And teachers. We were even friends with some lawyers.
Indeed, we’ve been particularly struck by an ongoing conversation facilitated by the Social Research Unit and the Lankelly Chase Foundation focusing on young people experiencing multiple or severe disadvantage. What creates those ‘therapeutic relationships’ or ‘working alliances’ that make a difference? How do we capture, understand and foster them? Perhaps relationships are in fact platforms we invest in to co-produce outcomes with young people, rather than an often glossed-over part of the process?
The second thing we realised was that, in the simplest form, it takes a village to raise a child. This is the core assumption of a children’s zone: that we need to think about the context and culture in which a child is growing up. How does she relate to her neighbours? How does he relate to the local shops? How does she observe the environment and members of the public?
It is best articulated in Save the Children’s summer report on children’s zones, citing the work of Bronfenbrenner on ‘ecological systems theory’. In short, how does a child interact not with one service or system, but a series of complex and interrelated systems which shape opportunities and outcomes? How do these systems interact to threaten or protect children? And how can we intervene meaningfully in them?
The question we have asked-of ourselves, of families and young people, of partners-is how do we bring together these themes of on the one hand the relationships we hold, and on the other the systems which engage with the ecology around the child? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities? And how should we go about moving forward? There is no shortage of committees, strategies and taskforces focused on tackling this issue: what might make this different?
The work we’ve been doing at The Winch: piloting the Promise Worker role since last year, developing thinking around research and technology, building broader impact measurement processes and now the publication of ‘Whatever It Takes’, adds to a growing body of evidence-based praxis which we hope you will join us in developing, critiquing, improving and ultimately making meaningful for children and young people in our community.”
The report above includes both our summary reflections on ‘Whatever It Takes’ as well as the report itself. You can download a copy here. If you don’t want the combined document, you can download the summary reflections here or the ‘Whatever It Takes’ report here. To get involved in The Promise Partnership, start off by answering a few questions.
Although I am loathe to admit it, we are once again hurtling towards the end of another year. If 2011 was a year of change, and 2012 was a year of construction, 2013 has been a year of emergence. It’s been a year when the work we put into developing The Promise Academy has started to take shape, to have an impact-and to gain recognition.
We recently headed off, as we do each September, for a full team day in Shoreham at a wonderful place called The Quadrangle Trust. Such occasions are a rare but vital opportunity to plan for the time ahead but also to take stock of what has been accomplished over the previous twelve months. It’s easy to forget how far we’ve traveled at The Winch, in two short years.
And so this post functions primarily as an update of our progress in building the UK’s first children’s zone-at a time when other organisations are starting to take an increasingly active interest in what this might look like in their own locality. Our vision of supporting children from cradle to career has come on leaps and bounds, with the image below giving a snapshot of our status.
|Some work has been about bridging different segments, whereas much has been about developing new elements and building our research and tech infrastructure.|
We have been able to secure resource to launch or explore a number of areas this year, but at the forefront of our model lies the Promise Worker Pilot. The Promise Worker role is our best learning about what does and doesn’t work in child and adolescent development, partnership working, impact measurement and traditional play and youth work rolled into one.
We appointed Zenobia Talati as Lead on the Promise Worker Pilot, with Andre Kpodonu focusing on 18 to 25s, at the end of last year-and the approach has garnered interest from all sorts of quarters. Over the next few months, the Promise Worker role will be the approach adopted by an increasing number of our frontline staff, expanding to include 4 to 11s and families. The pilot has been cited as an example of best practice in Camden and won national recognition, being shortlisted in the awards category for ‘Children & Young People’s Charity of The Year’ by CYP Now. This is for ‘a combination of innovative practice, effective partnership working or campaigning for change’ that has made a contribution to ‘improving the life chances of children, young people or families’.
|Fatuma Osman and Gian Farci picked up awards for their Gap Scheme, with Ace United winning their 2012/13 league. How will we fare at the Children & Young People Now Awards?|
I am rarely, if ever, able to complete a blog without a rallying cry-and I am afraid that this one will be no different. It is both exciting and gratifying to see how a children’s zone is emerging in North Camden, to see how it is connecting and impacting more effectively on the lives of children and young people-and of course when it is recognised elsewhere. Yet it still feels very much like a work in progress, the beginning of the journey. The next twelve months will see us focus more intensively on impact measurement across the cradle to career spectrum and invest in developing early years services. We are excited about our imminent launch of the Promise Partnership Report, and working with organisations across and beyond Camden to make the zone a reality.
In this endeavour, I hope you can support us: through encouragement, through funding, through learning and introductions and support. Perhaps the most important insight we took away from Harlem was that here in London we have a latent civic infrastructure that can deliver better outcomes and improve life chances for our children. However, it will take time, resource, patience, determination and a commitment that takes precedent over individual agendas and aims. Please join us in making it happen.
Last year, we commissioned a report into partnership working across our area as part of the ongoing development of a children’s zone in North Camden. Funded in part by Camden Council, the intention was to explore the barriers and opportunities to collaborating around the child poverty agenda and to explore ways forward.
Partnership working is a term that I have mixed feelings about. It promises much, but frequently delivers little. It covers all manner of set-ups, from nominal ‘name-you-name-me’ partnerships of convenience to highly collaborative and integrated approaches to addressing specific issues and challenges.
It is also one of the areas that our trip to Harlem Children’s Zone taught us a limited amount about. HCZ and indeed the other organisations we visited were good at developing relationships with funders and supporters, be they federal or philanthropic, but as far as I was aware rarely with other federal agencies and service providers. In fact one of HCZ’s distinctive features is arguably its circumvention of delivery partners, instead effectively and efficiently delivering the full range of services and support required from cradle to career, whether in education, health or community work. As I described in a previous blog, Geoffrey Canada’s frustration at obstruction in Harlem schools drove the creation of their academies, the single biggest element of the HCZ pipeline. It is in the areas of fundraising and research that partnerships come to the fore.
One of our key observations about how a children’s zone might work in London was that it would need to focus on and harness the extraordinary resource that already exists, rather than seeking to recreate or replicate it. Both the geographical shape and the welfare infrastructure in our context require a more intelligent approach, and professionals working with children and young people from every background will pay testament to the fact that impact is as much about organisation as it is about resource. In such a space, partnership working takes on a radically more transformational role. Indeed, our Promise Worker Pilot highlights partnership working as one of three key responsibilities, alongside face-to-face engagement and impact measurement. It cannot be underestimated.
|We’ll be launching our report into partnership working in October 2013.|
So what might a Promise Partnership look like?
As you might imagine, answering this question is a journey we are on rather than a solution we intend to hypothesise, although the report provides a number of insights. Produced by Emma Gasson and Ella Britton, a wide range of individuals and organisations shared their experience of partnership working both as users and service providers. This included children, young people and parents as well as professionals from education, health, social services and the voluntary sector. Suffice to say, the report has raised more questions than it answers.
However, it does move us towards a more effective and powerful way of working together across our zone. It speaks much more to the innovative approach of the Strive Partnership than HCZ, whose work on building a cradle to career civic infrastructure and blogs on community engagement in collective impact have been hugely enlightening as we think about our work at The Winch.
|Strive’s work on ‘a cradle to career civic infrastructure’ seems far more relevant to a London context.|
We hope to launch the Promise Partnership Report in October this year, to share our learning from its development and publication as well as outlining next steps to supporting what is an already emerging partnership of cradle to career, wraparound support. The Promise Worker Pilot and Promise Tech, a platform to support impact measurement and partnership working, are central tenets of this strand of our work and we look forward to building, and learning from, a coalition of organisations and professionals who can move forward our promise to tackle child poverty in North Camden.
At the end of last summer, we submitted a proposal to Nominet Trust for a new initiative called Promise Tech. Promise Tech is what we hope will become the digital backbone that supports our work. It will include a cradle to career impact measurement dashboard, a platform for partnership working and information-sharing and accessibility for a range of different stakeholders.
We’re delighted (and grateful) to announce that Nominet Trust have awarded us funding to develop a first iteration of Promise Tech! We anticipate development taking off later this year as we look to get to grips with the project-but you can see below a brief introduction to the idea. If you’d like to read more, click here. If you’d like to help, get in touch!
At the end of 2011, we launched The Promise Academy: a new model for tackling child poverty in Camden. It was a model based on an eighteen-month step-change process which involved gathering best practice, undertaking learning and research from across the globe and restructuring the organisation.
The new model is premised on a model developed by Harlem Children’s Zone, described by a recent Save the Children and University of Manchester report as ‘doubly holistic’: a voluntary sector-led initiative working both long-term (from cradle to career) and across every area of a child’s experience (education, health, social services and so on).
In importing and developing the Harlem Children’s Zone model, it differs in a couple of central ways. Firstly, it sees us not as the sole or primary delivery agent of services but as an infrastructure and partnership-brokering organisation delivering the core cradle-to-career pipeline but focused on coordinating a wealth of service provision which does not exist in the Harlem context. Secondly, it invests a great deal more energy and thought in measuring impact, moving beyond the ‘college equals success’ formula to a deeper engagement in what success looks like, how it can be fostered and measured and how this relates to a long-term, multi-agency environment. In this respect, it could be argued to be ‘triply holistic’: adding depth, to breadth and length.
The development of our thinking from the initial launch of The Promise Academy has encouraged us to move towards an increasingly zone-focused model which is less institutional and more open to an impact-led approach. We recently established a map of the North Camden Promise Zone aligned with Lower Super Output Area boundaries (small geographical areas) to allow us to benefit from existing data and research and using this to target resources. We have overlaid this LSOA-structured ‘zone’ with local knowledge and soft data: for example the presence of dispersal zones, higher levels of anti-social behaviour, areas where young people typically gather and where we know there are much more localised ‘gaps’ in service provision. It is this area we will focus on delivering a cradle to career ‘pipeline’ drawing together a full range of partners to deliver long-term outcomes tackling child poverty.
The Winch’s new strategic plan maps out a five-year pilot for the North Camden Promise Zone which aims to engage the local authority and a range of local partners in the delivery of ‘a pipeline of wraparound, opportunity-building support and multidisciplinary care from cradle to career to support every child and young person to flourish’.
The pipeline is built on a number of modest changes around our existing infrastructure which works with children and young people from four to twenty-five years old and focuses on their educational, emotional, physical and social wellbeing and development. In addition to this, we have launched the following developments:
These elements have completion dates ranging from December 2012 to 2014. There are a small number of other elements which are not included as they have not yet been initiated.
It sometimes feels as if 2012 has been a year in which we’ve rarely had the exposure or volume we were fortunate enough to have in 2011, but it has allowed us to focus on making good on our promise to children and young people. The model-whether Promise Academy or Promise Zone-is taking shape.
|A first version of our emerging North Camden Promise Zone.|
A few months back I met with Abigail Wood, Chris Wellings and Hollie Warren from Save the Children, after they heard about our trip to New York and in particular Harlem Children’s Zone. They were interesting in hearing about our experience, insights, observations and how we are intending to apply our learning from Harlem as we look to develop a cradle to career pipeline of support for children and young people in our part of the world.
There are, of course, amazing lessons to be drawn from HCZ and Geoffrey Canada’s leadership. It has been interesting to see how the much-lauded ‘Promise Neighbourhoods’ promised by Barack Obama have fared-the only reports I have read suggest they have often floundered for lack of local infrastructure and personnel. To a degree though, perhaps we shouldn’t be overly surprised at this-simply because a model is replicated in the same country, doesn’t mean it’s the same context.
Suffice to say, the difference between a children’s zone in Harlem and London would require a far greater amount of reflection. There is always a risk with any inspiring or groundbreaking initiative, that we seek to import it without adequate reflection on context, partnership, resource and leadership. It’s why I also think the jury is out on the debate about scalability: how uniform and easily repeatable can a highly effective approach be? And what then are the tools that allow this endeavour to succeed?
Whilst it’s a shame not to have been acknowledged in Save the Children’s recent report then, it’s a very exciting piece of work which highlights the prospect of English Children’s Zones-and what they might look like. For the most part, the report acts as an excellent introduction to the model and is certainly a document I have shared with our team, supporters and others who are interested in what we’re developing. It’s downloadable here, and on Save the Children’s website.
There is always a challenge and a question to be posed about to what degree one can codify the elements of a model or change them-and still allow the model to retain adequate consistency and identity with the original. Certainly the report’s helpful description of a ‘doubly holistic approach’ (meaning working with children both over a long period and across all areas) aligns with its Harlem origins, as does the attempt to wrestle meaningfully with data.
However, there was one critical oversight in Save the Children’s report-a perhaps predictable assumption made in importing the children’s zone concept from the US to the UK.
It is easy to forget that the emergence of Harlem Children’s Zone, formerly Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families, came out of a period of reflection and change initiated by Geoffrey Canada and his senior leadership team. Rheedlen was an organisation not hugely dissimilar to The Winch in terms of its culture and decision-making approach, although it was much larger: it was a community organisation that responded to need wherever it saw it, rather than in a focused and strategic way.
It’s well worth having a look at the website of The Bridgespan Group, the consultancy who supported a great deal of change at Rheedlen. Read alongside ‘Whatever It Takes’, the story of HCZ as written by journalist Paul Tough, it becomes clear that Rheedlen never started off with a desire to build a charitable behemoth with an annual turnover of $85m per annum. In fact, to begin with there was no intention to establish schools, but to work in partnership with existing ones.
Canada discovered that for an array of reasons, Harlem schools didn’t want to let him in. And to cut a long story short, as schools were central-although not exclusively so-to delivering impact, the decision was made to establish Promise Academies, the initially controversial charters that those going through the full HCZ pipeline became students at. Canada states that his preference would have been to partner meaningfully with existing educational establishments-but they weren’t interested.
I mention this because part of HCZ’s power-its capacity, culture, flexibility and ability to leverage funding, relationships, resources and sponsorship-was the exclusive privilege of a nonprofit organisation as opposed to a form of local or regional government. This isn’t to say that partnering with government agencies wasn’t ultimately central to success-in fact it very much was-but that Canada and his team played a central, relational, infrastructure role in developing a pipeline and filling in the gaps.
There is, hence, an understandable assumption that English Children’s Zones would be coordinated, delivered and funded by the state (StC’s report focuses on schools). That would potentially be fantastic-and an interesting approach to pilot. However, HCZ’s impact wasn’t primarily about its administration and organisation, but about the strengths listed above and of course its place within the community: a position of trust, of longevity, a place where people would come voluntarily, not because they’d been referred.
I am excited to see how the children’s zone conversation in London and the UK more widely evolves. It has enormous potential, and there are many exciting and excited voices in the debate. However, I hope that as we move forward we use this report and the buzz around it in the right way: to grow the local as well as having the policy conversation, to foster a culture of children’s zones, not just a portfolio of them.
It’s often said that ‘small is beautiful’. At The Winch it’s beginning to feel more fitting to say that ‘small is powerful’. It’s in these ‘small’ contexts-where we know our communities, the assets and needs and opportunities within them-that we are building a children’s zone model that is far more powerful and effective than today’s policy nod or tomorrow’s fundraising idea. And most of all, it’s an approach consistent with our promise to children and young people.
Over the past few weeks we’ve hosted three events, welcomed hundreds of people through our doors and launched The Promise Academy, the model we’ll be building as we move forward. So without further complications-and with huge thanks to our fantastic team over the past twelve months of extraordinary change-please enjoy these short videos on our Harlem Learning Journey and The Promise Academy, our new cradle to career approach to tackling child poverty in Camden.
So here’s a nice thing. It’s not complex. It doesn’t cost anyone anything extra. And it makes a difference.
I’ve just got back from my near-daily/nightly run. It takes me about 15 minutes and it involves me, a local bakery and The Winch. It all started when the bakery dropped us a line. They had bread, and lots of it. The problem is, they had too much.
I don’t know what the overheads are on bread production. Or rather, on baking. I suppose that the ingredients are so cheap that it makes more sense to overproduce than to risk running out of bread and, subsequently, lose customers who were irate that last time they stopped off on their way home for a nice loaf, there were none to be had. I’m not a baker and not a businessman (at least not in this context). But that’s what I’m guessing.
|Bread. Or change, depending on how you look at it.|
Either way, what it means is that every evening at our local bakery, there is anything between one and three black refuse sacks worth of bread left over at closing time. Think about how much bread that is. We’re talking about fresh, healthy, delicious stuff. It’s baked onsite, every single day. We’re happy to help, of course. We take it off them just before they shut up shop. Brown bread, white bread, baguettes, challahs. Croissants, pains au chocolat, apple puffs. Bagels, sandwiches, rolls.
The children and young people we work with are the beneficiaries. They are pretty hungry people a lot of the time. And it’s not every day you get bread of this quality. Free. Fresh. We do our bit, suffice to say. Check the ingredients, do the health and safety piece. We’re talking about food which aside from being only hours old is sold in the same shift if not donated to us. And tragically, this one bakery gives the slightest of insights into the quite literally unimaginable amount of waste which happens everyday across the borough, or the city, or the country. Wasted food and wasted change. I can’t begin to imagine.
But it’s so easy for it to make a difference, for it not to be wasted. During the summer, we gave all of our children fantastic breakfasts. Each evening, it gets shared out in sessions among young people. Food is a pretty powerful thing. Research shows that a full belly makes all the difference to concentration and learning at school, and the quality of food itself plays a key role. In a conversation I had with Kids Company, they reported that two things massively reduced the problems their young people were experiencing: travelcards and meals. The terrific organisation Magic Breakfast has as its slogan, ‘fuel for learning’. Food is so simple, yet so central.
All it took was for the owner of a bakery to recognise that the waste he found so frustrating could add real value elsewhere, and to do something about it. It’s a travesty that so many businesses in this position see food wasted rather than given away. Tesco and Sainsbury’s are some of the worst culprits. Indeed Channel 4’s series on The People’s Supermarket gave plentiful evidence of the irresponsibility of both consumers’ and companies’ complicity in waste. Too often we hide behind excuses and shrugged shoulders and, whether through lack of imagination or lack of will, find a reason to to keep things as they are.
But I want to say thank you, to our local bakery. I know it’s simple, I know it’s free, but what you do really makes a difference. And it’s a reminder that, with just a little thought and effort, making a difference may be closer than you think.
I’ve just returned from the first of three ‘Camden Summits’: community events in which residents, officers, councillors and representatives of businesses and voluntary sector organisations have been invited to come together and share ‘views on the public disorder in Camden’. To my chagrin, an astute member of the public named causes which in my previous blog I missed: the British Board of Film Classification and 9 o’clock watershed.
That aside, it was a fairly typical community meeting. Fronted by Cllr Nasim Ali, with additional perspectives from Borough Commander John Sutherland and CNJ news editor Richard Osley, the evening opened with a series of reflections and questions before being opened up to the floor: over one hundred sat around circular tables, with plenty offering comments, questions and opinions (many of which were not altogether relevant).
This is a brief blog, and not one intended to analyse the meeting itself. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t brilliant. It was my first encounter with the Borough Commander, and I have respect for Cllr Ali. It was nice to see Richard Osley’s opinions added to the mix, a voice problematising and questioning some of the assumptions and narratives being articulated, in that won’t-quite-go-away kind of way. But I think there’s a bigger question we have to ask.
I don’t know how other local authorities or communities have responded to the riots. I don’t know whether what Camden has done in having these conversations is beyond or short of what others are doing. But it did strike me on the journey home, that we should be very clear about one thing. These summits are not about finding solutions. They are not about seizing an opportunity presented by the seismic but all-too-temporary moment we experienced in the evenings of early August. That’s not intended as a criticism: they should be measured against what they’re intending to achieve. I’d certainly prefer they were happening than they weren’t. But, they are at best an opportunity for a collection of people to air their views, and to air views that may well be fed back into the various meetings which have been set up. This is not a bad thing. But it is not more than this.
Any sensible person who has taken the opportunity to sit back and observe the quite frankly endless cascades of analysis and comment since the riots happened will be well aware that the causes, explanations and justifications being given are a dime a dozen. Even those with a certain (sometimes party political) aversion to particular analyses and positions should be able to understand that the truth resides across a wide range of causes and symptoms. For example: Is it a poverty-related issue? Yes. Is it a values-related issue? Yes. Is it an isolated instance? Not really. Is it inexcusable criminality? Well, sort of. I mean, yes. But that sort of feels like an easy answer.
The riots give us a rare and once-in-a-generation (hopefully not more) opportunity to genuinely reflect and to fashion an ambitious, visionary and integritous response to the direction in which our society is moving. If we were serious about this response, we would for starters be taking at minimum a month to engage every demographic across the borough we could think of, through all sorts of fora: community meetings, surveys and questionnaires, innovative stakeholder consultation initiatives, going door-to-door, inviting opinion pieces, setting up online spaces. We’d be casting the net far and wide, and we’d be organising what we were learning into different categories: Questions. Opinions. Analysis. Randoms.
We’d then be looking at how we could explore these findings further. Why not group them into several major categories? Why not look at the research and reflections on these areas published elsewhere? Why not engage expert organisations in these categories around their opinions? Why not hold a lecture series or discussion panels in which these subjects were outlined and debated? Why not bring them together in a way which sought to understand the different and complex factors at play and how they have contributed, interacted and resulted in the riots?
And then, the ‘where next’. Perhaps this is the biggest sacrifice we need to accept when we can only afford to invest minimal resources in such a process. It would be extraordinary if the entire purpose of this process was to develop a manifesto for change in Camden. To explore the very holistic and wide-ranging requirements of us as a borough – individually, in our communities, in our businesses and organisations, in our council – which need to be thought about and addressed. The cuts, the Future Jobs Fund, sponsoring a young person, ensuring the Education Commission is engaged in these debates, challenging VCS organisations to and civil society to adopt deliberate approaches which support communitarianism rather than individualism. Real suggestions to real causes developed through real discussion.
Of course, this is an ambitious remit and not one which we feel is affordable given the terrible constraints on public spending we’re currently facing. There are also legitimate critiques of this back-of-an-envelope suggestion. What can be done about areas which typically are the responsibility of central rather than local government? Where does the resource for this process come from? Does our political system allow space for questioning rather than asserting? But we should be clear. Discussing, understanding, analysing and responding to this challenge cannot be done meaningfully in one, two or three Camden summits. If the riots are to become a turning point, a learning moment: then we should be bucking a trend and investing in a process which does it justice. This evening reinforced my sense that we have some very impressive people in Camden. How can we afford not to take the opportunity?