8th March 2012

Solving problems in our neighbourhoods, together

Viv Alexander

Will Popham from Business in the Community (BITC) was one of the  participants in the problem identifying Pow Wow we held for our latest ‘How can we transform Neighbourhoods in Britain, together?’ GeoVation Challenge.  In his guest blog below he  tells us about Enter the GeoVation Challengesome of the challenges faced in the neighbourhood he works in and  what more could be done to solve these.

I am what’s known as a ‘Business Connector’ in Lambeth, working for the charity Business in the Community. I’ve had first-hand experience of the challenges that face neighbourhoods in the Borough and I have been impressed with the vibrancy and determination of local organisations and communities to come together to deal with them. Equally, I have also been struck by the opportunity to do lots, lots more!

And this is what has impressed me most about the GeoVation challenge – the push to get interested and concerned citizens talking about what that ‘more’ might be, in an environment that is enables positive discussion and collaboration. What I find really exciting about the initiative as well, is that it is ‘bottom-up’. There are no pre-described projects or agendas to focus on, rather, the direction, passion and ideas are coming from those people that know their neighbourhoods best: us.

I’ve also been impressed with the way the GeoVation Challenge encourages participants to be creative in their thinking. I’m actually on secondment with BITC from BT and know how easy it is for people to get stuck into ways of thinking and silo working. Taking this sort of approach isn’t going to help anyone and it is essential that we break out of this mind set and think outside the box. The GeoVation Challenge helps foster innovation and creativity – two things that are absolutely necessary in any transformation exercise.

I’ve used the GeoVation principles in Lambeth. For the last few months, I have been focussing on how to improve the chances for local people to get jobs, either by opening up interesting work experience opportunities, or by helping local entrepreneurs to grow and potentially take more people on board as employees. What is really apparent, is that local businesses do want to do more to help their communities, but often don’t know the best way to go about doing so. Tapping into this appetite is vital and the only way that we have been able to get these SMEs more involved has been to try and think differently, and unpack the problems and barriers in the same way as the GeoVation Challenge has done on the wider issue of neighbourhoods.

Key to the progress myself and other stakeholders have been making is the practice of asking ourselves, ‘what are we missing?’ and ‘what could we be doing if we take the barriers away?’. Take an example with the local cricket club, who struggled with finding a suitably qualified body of temporary staff to help manage large crowds on busy international match days. By introducing them to the local Jobcentre Plus and explaining the services that they offer, we have been able to overcome significant barriers, such as the quality of candidates, by offering training and qualifications for all those that apply.

The result? 150 guaranteed jobs for unemployed residents, skill development and qualifications, and a long term partnership between a major employer in the area and the Jobcentre Plus.

Transformation of our neighbourhoods isn’t going to happen overnight but the ability to harness the drive and determination of people in our communities through initiatives such as the GeoVation Challenge will make a big difference. Getting people excited about the opportunities for change and getting people working together to solve problems will mean that we can and will do lots, lots more.

If you have any ideas on how you can solve the problems in your neighbourhoods, enter the GeoVation Challenge – the best ideas will win funding to get started.