We had a traditional infrastructure or umbrella organisation, Community and Voluntary Action Torbay (CVA), that wasn’t valued and wasn’t resourced to support radical change and public sector cuts were already biting hard. We needed to explore ways in which we could survive in a changed environment of less public spending.
In the summer of 2012, a small group of change agents met in a back garden in Torquay and came up with an idea for radical positive change.
Following discussions with over 100 voluntary sector representatives, The Torbay Community Development Trust (Torbay CDT) was formed with the intention of making Torbay a place where all people felt included. The Trust empowers communities, building on strengths and skills through Asset-Based Community Development.
The overall aim of the Torbay Community Development Trust is to create better communication across the Bay, actively encouraging local involvement and decision making in improving the region, as well as developing and supporting volunteering opportunities of the highest standards.
The issues we faced
Once the decision was taken to form Torbay CDT, we had to make the necessary changes. Dealing with lots of different organisations, we needed to ensure the changes were made in as clear, systematic and inclusive way possible.
The actions we took
Because we needed to take a very systematic approach, we decided to use Kotter’s 8-step change model. We:
- Identified potential threats, and developed scenarios showing what could happen in the future.
- Examined opportunities that should be, or could be, exploited.
- Started honest discussions and gave dynamic and convincing reasons to get people talking and thinking.
- Requested support from customers, outside stakeholders and industry people to strengthen our argument.
We sought to form a powerful coalition and lead it
Once we’d decided to create the Torbay CDT, owned by the sector, run by the sector, the majority supported the idea with 40-50 people volunteering to help develop the vision, mission values and objectives.
We sought to identify what support was needed to sustain the VCSE and maximize its impact by helping people to help themselves, reducing fragmentation, duplication and maximize collaboration and external funding to support the most vulnerable, building on our passion and commitment.
Create a vision for change
A series of meetings were held where we argued about mission and vision and we came through the other side with all the above defined by the sector.
CVA, the old organization, ceased trading in April 2013 and in May the Council unanimously voted to support the new organization with £100K per year for three years and two community development staff were tuped over (£170K total), to support the newly developed business plan. I was the interim chair of the CVA and we, as a group of trustees, offered the shell of the old organisation and legacy funding to help set up the new one.
Values were critical at this stage:
- Success Through Empowerment: believing that community development is what people do for themselves and that organisations can be supported to foster grassroots action
- Asset Based Community Development: building on the strengths or assets in our community to address its needs
- Adding Value: not competing with or threatening the interests of member organisations but advocating the use of existing services and signposting people appropriately
- Sustainability: supporting sustainable solutions to local issues, meeting local needs now without compromising those of the future
- Accountability: being accountable to the Torbay community as a whole
- Co-operation: Facilitate cooperation and collaboration both within the VCSE and with business and public agencies
- A lighter touch: working with the minimum of bureaucracy
- Innovation: seeking to support, broker and/or facilitate innovative approaches/ways of working
- Equality of Opportunity: being committed to creating an equal and inclusive society
Communicate the vision
Because a wider group of people created the vision and values the message spread and when our new elected trustees took office in 2014, they were largely key leaders from member organisations, who shared the vision more widely, supported by improved communications.
Only one person transferred from the old to the new organization, we moved offices, rebranded and relaunched formerly in 2014, recruiting new people as we developed and resources allowed – recruited for fit to the values of the organisation.
Create short term wins
Although it didn’t feel like a short term win, we secured £6 miilion from BIG to run a cross sector partnership programme to reduce social isolation for people over 50. We had the only unallocated resources to test out new approaches and this provided a lever to enable us to gather relevant VCSE organisations together with public bodies and local businesses to help achieve the values above.
In parallel we used BIG Assist to develop an alternative approach to sustainability, to develop a new strategy for volunteering with member organisations and to develop tools to better measure impact.
Build on the change
We believe that everyone has something to offer. If we see each other in terms of what we can offer rather than what we need it changes the dynamic to a positive one and we know from experience that this works even with people with complex needs. We piloted asset based community development in the three towns and following the learning we launched a Bay wide community building program in April 2015, funded by Ageing Better (BIG), which included setting up neighbourhood timebanks – all designed to foster the original objective to help people to help themselves – valuing everyone’s contributions.
Anchor the change
The local authority and NHS have commissioned us to further develop capacity in the sector and we are currently conducting a scoping exercise to establish a co-ordinated voluntary sector offer to support the new care model, as well as launching a new directory with review functionality, which will enable patients to become consumers. We are now jointly commissioning with NHS local voluntary organisations to deliver new services to reduce isolation and improve health and care outcomes. Our hope is to develop a single contract between NHS and TCDT, with us sub-contracting with local providers, with capacity building and engagement and evaluation built in.
The beauty of an asset based approach is that we get to celebrate as often as possible, so our first AGM, was actually a 1st birthday celebration, with music and cake! What I love about ABCD is that we focus on the strengths, the gifts, the skills instead of focusing on the needs, the problems – we know we will make Torbay a better place to live, work and play if we stick to these basic principles.
No negative outcomes, fortunately.
By implementing Kotter’s 8-step model of change we were able to ensure that everyone involved felt included and the process went as smoothly as possible. It really is worthwhile investing the time to follow a model like this – in the long run I believe it saves time and reduces any margins for error.