Power of Little: the first 18 months of Birmingham Community Matters

As we neared the end of BCM’s pilot phase we wanted to find out how well our approach is working. With funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust, we commissioned the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) at the University of Birmingham to review our work, asking:

    • What support is available for micro community organisations? How does it sit within a political and policy context?
    • What have been the benefits and value of BCM’s approach, and how effective is it?
    • What else is needed to achieve BCM’s aims and intended impact?

      Power of Little event
      In October 2018 we held a workshop at Stirchley Baths to launch the report and gather ideas for BCM’s future.

Keen for insight from a broad range of people, we invited our trustees, volunteer surgeons and other representatives of community groups and funding organisations from around Birmingham.

It was a rainy afternoon, so we were delighted to welcome a full house of attendees to Stirchley for the ‘Power of Little’. People’s energy and enthusiasm were palpable, and many valuable conversations took place between sessions, which is exactly what BCM is about.

Our chair, Emma Woolf, thanked our funders and gave a brief introduction to the beginnings of BCM, our ethos, and our figures to date (42 surgeries held since January 2017, in 26 venues, with 133 patients supported by 65 surgeons: “Quite an achievement from a standing start!” said Emma).

BCM in a policy context
Angus McCabe, Senior Research Fellow at TSRC, gave a presentation on BCM in a policy context. He included points about:

  • Government cuts and their uneven impact on the voluntary and community sector – with increasing income gaps between larger players and smaller organisations
  • The loss of infrastructure support for this sector
  • The change in focus from capacity building (organisations doing more) to building capabilities (organisations doing better)
  • Hyperlocalism: driving policy delivery down to local level and asking communities to find solutions to problems.

In small group discussions, our Power of Little delegates generally agreed that Angus’s presentation gave an accurate reflection of what is happening. We talked about the opportunities and threats created by the current political landscape, and how we could use these to refine BCM’s approach:

Opportunities
– For local groups to work on solving community problems
– For collaborations between local groups and bigger organisations
– To centralise information and resources to maximise their value
– For companies to use corporate social responsibility programmes to support the voluntary and community sector
– To rework the relationships between councils and communities.
Threats
– Increased stress on individuals
– Knowledge being lost due to cuts and individual burnout
– Communities being forced to squeeze more out of resources
– Groups and causes competing for funding
– Without support, groups are further disadvantaged by paperwork.
BCM could …
– Give ongoing support with funding applications
– Offer themed surgeries – eg: around funding or legal structure
– Facilitate further networking opportunities
– Use social media to help people make connections.

Evaluation of BCM’s approach
At Power of Little we launched TSRC’s evaluation report on BCM [you can read a summary in PDF form here].

In brief, it shows that BCM is reaching its intended audience of small and emerging community groups, and individual active citizens, in the areas where we provide surgeries. It shows that we have achieved this, to date, on limited short-term funding.

It suggests that the informality of our approach at surgeries is valued, as is the absence of a pre-determined agenda in the support we give.

One recommendation for improvement lies in refining our terminology and helping people to better understand our model.

BCM: what next?
We asked our Power of Little delegates to respond to the evaluation and share their ideas for developing BCM’s approach. This was wonderfully insightful. We will consider the ideas generated as we consolidate or grow BCM’s offering.

[You can read the text on the above sticky notes from this PDF.]

Thank you to everyone who contributed to Power of Little – and to everyone who has been part of BCM’s story to date.