ECONOMIC GROWTH

Building the pillars of wisdom

It’s the penultimate challenge for the contestants of this year’s Local Government Challenge. Their brief: to tackle deprivation and inequality through Waltham Forest LBC’s Stronger Communities strategy. Bekah Carrington explains.

Returning to London for the first time since 2018, the fourth and penultimate Local Government Challenge for 2024 took contestants to Waltham Forest – the first ever London Borough of Culture, home to Europe's largest wetlands, and named the coolest neighbourhood in London by Time Out magazine.

Contestants were welcomed to the challenge in the recently renovated Grade II listed Town Hall by chief executive Linzi Roberts-Egan. She painted a picture of why the borough is such an attractive place to live, but also explained the challenges it faced, particularly around deprivation and inequality.

Deputy chief executive Shazia Hussain introduced the focus area of the fourth challenge: turning the dial on prevention to tackle financial sustainability and providing better outcomes for residents.

The brief was to assess the model for Waltham Forest's new directorate, Stronger Communities, which pulls together the preventative levers from across the council into one place.

The strategy is built on three pillars: creating a community front door, strengths based practice, and community action and resilience. Contestants were asked to consider whether these pillars meet the council's ambition, which transformational changes and practical interventions are required to create the model and which specific groups should be targeted.

The teams quickly nominated their captains (Helen Gelder from North East Lincolnshire Council for Team Dynamic and Che-kwon Sterling of Hounslow LBC for Team Victorious) before a few members from each team were launched straight into the challenge with a site visit at Project Zero, a community group that works with young people to promote social inclusion, re

duce anti-social/offending behaviour and raise young people's aspirations. The group had the opportunity to speak to staff and young people to find out about the work being carried out and to start drilling into the key problems they faced while being treated to a tour of the huge youth centre and some home-made appetisers.

allowing officers to experience a variety of types of council and geography, as well as different formats of challenge from the broad strategic level, to focusing on a particular service in detail

The teams navigated a particularly packed schedule on day one with a variety of meetings with portfolio holders, senior officers and community action groups, as well as attending a volunteer celebration event to hear first-hand about experiences from young advisers.

This culminated in an early start on day two, with an opportunity to test ideas in a round table discussion with council directors, as well as squeezing in one final virtual meeting with the libraries team to hear more about the Welcome Hubs.

After the intense 24 hours the cohort are now used to on the LG Challenge, the teams pitched their ideas to the judging panel of Cllr Grace Williams (leader), Cllr Vicky Ashworth (cabinet member for jobs, equalities and social inclusion), Cllr Kizzy Gardiner (cabinet member for young people), Shazia Hussain and the Local Government Association's Claire Holloway.

Team Victorious proposed a rephrase to one of the pillars to help ensure it resonated with residents and then built upon them by suggesting ‘community connectors' in places like barber shops, a new digital platform to enhance resident access, and a training programme across the council to embed the stronger prevention culture for communities.

Team Dynamic's vision aimed to create a more equal borough by proposing an additional pillar to the council's Stronger Communities model around financial sustainability, while also looking at where partnerships could be maximised with, for example, the health sector, higher education and partners working with the most vulnerable communities.

The judges were impressed with the pitches from both teams, however Dynamic's innovative idea of developing a fourth pillar to build a stronger underlying economy, clinched the win.

On the panel's decision, Cllr Williams said: ‘What we were most impressed with [for Team Dynamic] was that they really focused on building strength in the community with an inclusive, stronger foundational economy and the way they articulated how we could work with communities.'

Bekah Carrington is research and data analyst – Partners in Care and Health at the Local Government Association (LGA)

X – @LGChallenge

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