On a frosty January morning at Banbury train station, 10 of the best and brightest local government officers gathered around as Local Government Association (LGA) project manager Ami Beeton highlighted to them what was to come over the next six months, including some inevitable late nights and hard work ahead. It became clear to all that the LG Challenge 2019 had officially begun.
Temperatures finally began to rise in the council chamber at Cherwell DC, the host for the first round of this year’s challenge, as chief executive officer Yvonne Rees gave a warm and exuberant welcome to the contestants and introduced the task: ‘How can public services work together more effectively to deliver healthy places across Oxfordshire?’
The contestants had just 24 hours to develop an action plan to identify how the county could ensure buy-in from different stakeholder groups to deliver healthy places and how they would need to work differently with their partners to deliver it – no easy feat.
Splitting into two teams, they hurried to their respective rooms for their first bout of team time and each selected their captains – Rob Comber (Kent CC) for Team Ignite and Hollie Stone (Barking and Dagenham LBC) for Team Thrive.
With little time to waste, the teams were thrown into a whirlwind speed dating session with delegates from across the sector, including Helen Le Brocq, director of local arts charity OYAP Trust and Pat Wood, CEO of North Oxfordshire Citizens Advice. Contestants had just four minutes to ask each stakeholder questions about healthy place shaping before the sound of the bell (or in this case, two pan lids from the kitchen banging together).
In a characteristically packed first day, an afternoon of site visits to the Adderbury Health Bus and the Sunshine Centre followed. That evening, contestants headed to a networking dinner at The Church House in Banbury. They continued to pick the brains of the council officers in attendance and heard from LG Challenge 2014 winner Graeme Kane, now deputy chief executive of Cherwell DC, as he highlighted his top tips for the competition and gave an insight into his own personal journey. Feeling inspired (if not a little overwhelmed), the teams retreated to their hotel rooms to work into the night.
Day two arrived and, braving the early morning cold, some team members headed off for a morning of further site visits in Bicester while others continued work at the council in anticipation of the rapidly approaching early afternoon deadline. They had a chance to test some ideas at a Q&A session with the Oxfordshire strategic delivery board, including Cherwell DC leader Cllr Barry Wood and Cllr Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire CC. With feedback from the board fresh in their minds, Ignite and Thrive swiftly finalised their ideas and submitted their documents for the judges to review before the official presentations.
Head judge Claire Holloway of the LGA, Yvonne Rees, Cllr Andrew McHugh (Cherwell DC Lead Member for Health and Wellbeing), Cllr Lawrie Stratford (Oxfordshire CC cabinet member for adult social care and public health) and the now familiar Graeme Kane welcomed contestants back to the Cherwell council chamber.
Team Ignite were up first, presenting their idea to strengthen community activation through the use of ‘Change Makers’ – a team of people already active in the community who would use their existing knowledge of Oxfordshire to engage the community as a whole and with ‘hard to reach’ residents, helping them to become involved in their local areas. In return the Change Makers would be able to access accreditations and training opportunities, a perk that would hopefully encourage more members of the community to become involved: a strong pitch.
Next, Team Thrive took to the stage. With their strapline ‘Healthy places are everyone’s business’, they proposed local businesses getting involved in the community and in return earning accreditations via a three-star rating based on how they adopt Healthy Place practices. This would not just help engage the community for little cost, but also have a commercial benefit for companies by increasing footfall as customers began to recognise the benefit of shopping at enterprises that positively contributed to the community.
After retreating to the chief executive’s chamber for careful deliberation, the judges re-emerged to reveal Team Ignite had just pipped Team Thrive to the post to become the winners of the first challenge of 2019. Both ideas had impressed, but the more focused nature of Team Ignite’s approach had made the difference in the end.
The judges encouraged contestants to ramp up their levels of enthusiasm and creativity for the next four challenges, especially in presenting their ideas.
The LGA would like to thank Cherwell DC in partnership with Oxfordshire CC for hosting an excellent challenge. Special thanks goes to James Taylor, Callum McMahon, Louise Wicks and Rosie Rowe for making it all happen.
Next stop is Wiltshire Council, the home of LG Challenge 2018 winner Kartar Singh.
Lizzie Nugent is an executive officer at the LGA and Penny Galvin is political administrator of the LGA Conservative Group
Follow the LG Challenge at www.local.gov.uk/our-support/highlighting-managerial-leadership/lg-challenge