Reports

2021: Building on Local: Learning about Big Local in 2020

  • Big Local is a long-term resident-led programme which provides resources and support to 150 communities across England. Each of the 150 areas can access guidance and receives support from Local Trust, and has been allocated £1.15m to use in ways that they think will create change in their communities. Our Bigger Story is a longitudinal multi-media evaluation, charting the stories of change in 15 different Big Local areas to draw learning about the programme as a whole.

    This report follows a series of evaluation papers and is focused on 2020, a year in which the pandemic disrupted accepted ways of working and interrupted Big Local plans and aspirations. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the strength and resourcefulness of communities. The Big Local programme has continued throughout the crisis, which has provided perhaps a demanding test of the Local Trust hypothesis that “long term funding and support to build capacity gives residents in hyper-local areas agency to take decisions and to act to create positive and lasting change”. Over the course of 2020, the long-term multi-media evaluation of Big Local, Our Bigger Story, adjusted its research strategy to follow developments in the 15 Our Bigger Story study areas, linked to a parallel Local Trust research study examining community responses to COVID-19.

    Based on over 250 interviews, primarily conducted online, and a virtual learning workshop bringing the study areas together, this report outlines how Big Local areas have responded to, and been affected by, the pandemic, chronicles progress in the 15 areas, and looks at what is next for Big Local partnerships in terms of achieving their goals and creating a lasting legacy. The main messages are: COVID-19 has dominated the thinking, plans and activities of the Big Local study areas.

2020: EVALUATION REPORT

  • Big Local is a long-term resident-led programme established in 2010 which provides resources and support to 150 communities across England. It is supported by Local Trust and operates with an underpinning ethos expressed in the hypothesis that ‘long term funding and support to build capacity gives residents in hyper local areas agency to take decisions and to act to create positive and lasting change’. This highlights the significance of agency in generating change.

    'Our Bigger Story' is the longitudinal multi-media evaluation that runs alongside Big Local, charting the stories of change in 15 different Big Local areas, covering urban, rural and seaside communities. Based on evaluation research between 2017 and 2019 , this report explores Big Local as a catalytic 'change agent', looking at the nature of change, and the differences Big Local is making in these areas.

    There are three main messages from this wave of the evaluation:

    • Change associated with Big Local is multi-faceted. It can be seen in lots of different ways for individuals, local groups and across communities as a whole. It can involve, for example, reducing social isolation, boosting confidence and aspirations, building new skills and employment opportunities, developing community groups, voluntary organisations and new ventures, opening community hubs and spaces, improving the physical environment, and helping to generate a greater sense of community spirit and cohesion. Big Local also involves important convening and coordinating powers, although the impact on higher level strategic developments is less developed at this stage in the programme.
    • Big Local mobilises a range of actors, resources and approaches to create change. It brings together residents as both active partnership members and volunteers, specialist paid workers, support from expert Reps and Locally Trusted Organisations (LTOs), and other agencies created or engaged to coordinate and deliver activities. Change is generated through a combination of Big Local funding and other leveraged resources, capacity building at local and national levels, but crucially through local knowledge and commitment - a passion about place.
    • Resident-led change faces significant challenges and dilemmas. These can be ‘internal’ in terms of personalities, power struggles and the inaccessible ways in which partnerships sometimes operate. But crucially they also relate to 'external' forces and wider policy change. There is limited understanding of, and scope for, influencing key strategic decision-makers and other pressures which affect the community. Influence is stronger within Big Local areas rather than on those that lie beyond them.

    There are four phases of evaluation; the first phase covered 2015-2016, the second phase 2017-2019. There will be two more phases, 2020-2022 and 2023 – 2025.

    The Big Local model provides significant resources for resident-led action, but also combines a patient time-scale, additional support, an institutional structure of partnerships and Locally Trusted Organisations, and a hyper-local community approach. The report concludes that the support and resources available to Big Local areas are just a starting point, for bringing about resident-led change.



2019: OUTSIDE IN REPORT

  • Over the past year the Our Bigger Story evaluation team has been working with 15 Big Local areas on two themes which are central to the way Big Local operates.

    Firstly we have been exploring what the idea of ‘resident led’ means in practice. The term has been used as a short-hand to describe ‘bottom up’ driven change at the local level. On the surface this seems a simple idea with residents forming the majority of any partnership. Yet, in reality, resident led is a deeply contested term. Who ‘qualifies’ as a resident and who are ‘authentic’ residents have been constant issues in the research – and there have been different views and interpretations.

    Secondly we have been exploring the concept of community leadership in Big Local areas and what this looks like ‘on the ground’. Again the idea seems simple, but whilst Big Local areas agree this is not about the charismatic individual, they have a range of perspectives – ranging from members of the Big Local partnership as community leaders through to a much more diverse understanding such as promotion of small scale local activities which build the leadership skills of local people.

    Finally, over 2018, the Our Bigger Story team interviewed 70 people who may have a stake in Big Local and its anticipated outcomes – such as elected members, local government officers and other representatives from voluntary and statutory organisations. Each of those interviewed had different levels of knowledge about how Big Local operates and different perspectives around the the idea of resident led change. We heard both positive and more negative views. This third report aims to reflect that range of views on Big Local progress from ‘the outside-in’ and highlights some of the challenges in building strong strategic partnerships.

    • This report, based on 70 interviews with key stakeholders over 2018, provides an overview of external stakeholders' (such as elected members and officers) reflections on the Big Local model and progress made.

2018 THEMATIC REPORTS: Resident Led and Community Leadership

  • Over the past year the Our Bigger Story evaluation team has been working with 15 Big Local areas on two themes which are central to the way Big Local operates.

    Firstly we have been exploring what the idea of ‘resident led’ means in practice. The term has been used as a short-hand to describe ‘bottom up’ driven change at the local level. On the surface this seems a simple idea with residents forming the majority of any partnership. Yet, in reality, resident led is a deeply contested term. Who ‘qualifies’ as a resident and who are ‘authentic’ residents have been constant issues in the research – and there have been different views and interpretations.

    Secondly we have been exploring the concept of community leadership in Big Local areas and what this looks like ‘on the ground’. Again the idea seems simple, but whilst Big Local areas agree this is not about the charismatic individual, they have a range of perspectives – ranging from members of the Big Local partnership as community leaders through to a much more diverse understanding such as promotion of small scale local activities which build the leadership skills of local people.

  • The film highlights discussions and debates that help us to learn about Big Local - who is involved, how the partnership works, how accountability to residents is ensured, and how Big Local is working to make places even better.




2015-2016: FIRST FULL REPORT

  • Welcome to the evaluation reports for Our Bigger Story. These cover the period from January 2015 to December 2016 and are available in three formats:
    • A short summary report
    • The full report as a pdf and
    • The full report online.

    Each presents the learning from the 15 Big Local areas involved in the evaluation over the last two years and present:
    • Thumbnail sketches of each area; what they are doing and what they aim to achieve
    • An overview of the progress being made against the Big Local outcomes
    • How the Big Local process works
    • Key themes identified by participants over time
    • The challenges and opportunities of resident led change
    • A summary of the research methods.

    The reports are illustrated with films about:
    • Big Local outcomes
    • Resident experiences of being a Big Local partner: Diary Lines
    • Five short films on the themes identified by the areas involved in the evaluation: Big Local as a catalyst for change, how change is managed in communities, the expectations placed on Big Local partnerships, community leadership and how Big Local areas are working towards sustainability and leaving a lasting legacy. This material is also available as a single themes film.

    A further 34 films are available on the Our Bigger Story vimeo channel; Residents Stories. These record both what is happening in each of the 15 areas as well as ‘in conversation’ recordings where Big Local partners and residents reflect on their experiences and learning. Further multi-media material about each of the communities participating in Our Bigger Story can be found on the timeline. The ambitious goal of Our Bigger Story is to record, in different media, change in 15 Big Local areas over a decade. This will form a unique digital archive of, and a valuable resource about, the resident led change ethos of Big Local.

    You can now view the online report at beyondtheearlyyears.ourbiggerstory.com

  • Our Bigger Story: The First Chapter is the full evaluation report from the Our Bigger Story research team. It covers learning from the 15 Big Local areas over 2015-16 and includes hyperlinks to films that illustrate that learning. Further reports recording change in Big Local areas will follow in 2017.


  • The following films summarise the key learning from the first two years of Our Bigger Story, the multi-media evaluation of Big Local. They cover the progress areas are making towards achieving their goals, the opportunities and challenges of resident let change (themes film) and the experiences of local residents in delivering the Big Local programme. Five short versions of the themes film are available on the Our Bigger Story vimeo channel






2015-2016: FIRST INTERIM SUMMARY REPORT

  • So what are we finding? It is probably obvious to everyone involved in Big Local that they are all different in some way. This might just be because of where the Big Local areas are: in inner city neighbourhoods, on outer estates, in rural communities or seaside towns. It may be that they are working on different issues to achieve Big Local outcomes; from youth work to projects with older people: from environmental improvements to housing issues. It may be that they are working in different ways to achieve their goals: from the use of small grants, to commissioning services or engaging in long term capital investments in their community.

    However, from all our work (which has involved talking to over 200 people individually as well as working with local groups) there are some striking similarities in the issues Big Local areas are facing – and in how they work for change. People talk about the difference Big Local has made to them as individuals – through their involvement in partnerships or as volunteers. They talk about the change it has made for local organisations: enabling them to survive, grow or thrive.

    Most of all they talk about change for their community: a new belief in many areas that change will happen and can be sustained in the long term. It’s an inspiring story – but a challenging one. All Big Local areas believe in resident led change. But it involves a set of balancing acts. Between doing something now to encourage local residents to see achievements and get involved and working more slowly for long term developments. It’s a constant tension between widening community involvement and managing complexity. People are passionate – which is a real plus – but this can lead to conflicts. Partnerships are also very aware that they need to balance doing work at the very local level with making wider connections with other agencies and communities to achieve their desired outcomes.

    Most of all – it’s a big ask. A big ask in terms of time commitment, in developing the skills that are needed as areas move from developing their vision and planning through to delivering ‘on the ground’. Managing passions and tensions can take up a lot of energy. The Big Local approach asks for a change in the way that agencies and communities work: from what can they do for us to what can we all do together. In the words of one partnership member:

    ‘Big Local is asset based community development – building local capacity to meet local needs – but it’s a big step.’ In the coming year we will be looking at how Big Local areas are making that big step.

  • Our Bigger Story: The First Chapter is the first summary evaluation report from the Our Bigger Story evaluation team. It covers learning from the 15 Big Local areas over 2015-16 and includes hyperlinks to films that illustrate that learning. Further reports recording change in Big Local areas will follow in 2017.


  • In addition to written evaluation reports, Our Bigger Story is producing films which draw on the learning from across Big Local areas taking part in the evaluation of Big Local. The first of these shows examples of the Big Local areas different approaches to planning, community consultation and plan review processes.