Learning to change neighbourhoods: Lessons from the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme

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Learning to change neighbourhoods:

Lessons from the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme

Evaluation Report


community, opportunity, prosperity

Learning to change neighbourhoods:

Lessons from the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme

Evaluation Report

Prepared by:
Angus McCabe Derrick Purdue Mandy Wilson

Liz Chilton Laura Evans Rose Ardron

University of Birmingham University of the West of England COGS (Sheffield)
October 2007

Department for Communities and Local Government: London

Department for Communities and Local Government

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Bressenden Place



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October 2007
Product Code: 07PRO04798/b


Executive Summary 5

1 Introduction 8

2 The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme: an overview 11

3 The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme in policy context 16

4 Experts through experience? Guide Neighbourhoods: approaches to learning 19

5 From neighbourhood to neighbourhood: strategies for delivering learning 25

6 From learning to action? the outcomes of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme 38

7 Tools For Change: the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme Seedcorn

Grants Programme 57

8 Not just a box of tricks: lessons from the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme 67

9 The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme: learning for change – the broader policy lessons 79

Glossary 86


1 The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme evaluation framework:

thinking about change 89

2 The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme ‘Shield’ 93

3 Evaluation methods 94

4 Reference group membership 97

5 Guide Neighbourhoods: a portrait 98

6 The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme contribution to policy: summary 106

7 Case study: from community activist to paid worker 109

8 Guide Neighbourhoods as innovation: sample learning sets 111


The Evaluation Team would like to dedicate the following report to Rohan (Bob) Thornes (1969-2007), Resident Guide Co-ordinator, Burrowes Street Tenant Management Organisation, Walsall. Talking of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme, Bob commented:

“Personally, this is a whole new direction for me and it’s broadened my horizons … but it’s feeling part of a family with a common vision that’s helped. Seeing the power of a few right minded people moving in the right direction is what has kept me going.”

Thanks also to all those from Guide Neighbourhoods, partner organisations and community groups who gave their time to developing this evaluation report and to Communities and Local Government and members of the Advisory Group for their support and guidance.

Executive Summary

Background: The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme was funded by the Home Office (subsequently Communities and Local Government) and managed by Regenerate, part of the voluntary sector organisation Housing Justice. The Programme received £4.35 million and was set up as an action research project to encourage innovation in learning for neighbourhood regeneration. The Programme ran for 27 months from January 2005 to March 2007, and was then awarded £250,000 to continue the network for another year. Evaluation was built in at an early stage to maximise learning.

The Programme: Fifteen Guide Neighbourhood organisations were appointed in a rolling programme to disseminate their own good practice and to build the capacity of other fledgling organisations outside their own neighbourhoods. The aims of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme were to promote learning and make an impact on policy delivery at the neighbourhood level. The underlying principle of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme was that residents in deprived neighbourhoods can learn from one another about ‘what works’ in neighbourhood regeneration and apply those lessons at a practical level within their own communities. Key questions for the evaluation were how this ‘resident-to-resident’ learning could be translated into action and change at a neighbourhood level and how change could be sustained, engaging different generations and diverse communities of interest to build more cohesive and sustainable communities.

Development: The fifteen Guide Neighbourhoods were funded to provide support for less experienced client organisations by various means, including hosting demonstration visits, supplying small grant funding, and working with the clients – developing forward plans, mentoring and giving advice – to develop their capacity for action. An initial aspiration of the Programme was that local residents would be employed as resident consultants. This proved problematic for several reasons. Some key activists faced conflicts of interest as board members of their community organisation; others had care commitments, personal health problems or faced the poverty trap of insecure part-time work. However, Guide Neighbourhoods developed a diverse range of models for delivery, including employing community development workers, providing more specialised consultancy on community managed housing options, or promoting social enterprise.

Clients pointed out the value of having someone at the end of the phone to advise and support them. Being taken out of their immediate locality and meeting with others facing similar issues, through visits to Guide Neighbourhoods as well as in networking and conference activity, was judged to be an invaluable learning experience. The kite marking associated with membership of a national network and Communities and Local Government funding was felt by both guides and clients to be of positive value, even though there was no clearly defined quality accreditation process.

Policy Impact: Current Government policy, such as ‘Strong and Prosperous Communities: the Local Government White Paper’1, puts active citizenship, strengthening community organisations and cross sector partnership working at the centre of neighbourhood renewal, and also focuses attention on community cohesion. The personal touch of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme’s approach is shown to have motivated residents in client neighbourhoods to become active in their communities and to have inspired community groups to have the confidence to persist with their ideas, by seeing the example of successful resident-led regeneration. Guide Neighbourhoods have worked beyond developing the skills and confidence of key individuals in neighbourhoods to building wider organisational capacity by supporting, often quite fragile, community groups to create a physical presence and change on their own estates.

Guide Neighbourhoods have also played a role in developing greater professionalism and effectiveness within client organisations. A number of Guide Neighbourhoods have acted as positive role models and encouraged client organisations to engage in strategic partnership. This has involved effecting introductions or brokering positive relationships with public agencies in cases where this has been difficult in the past.

Guide Neighbourhoods have addressed a range of community cohesion issues. They have attempted to address the exclusion of young people, older generations and disabled people. The learning from the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme highlights the need for diverse communities to challenge and learn from each other, have time to build trusting relationships and then address issues of common community concern.

Community empowerment outcomes for the Programme were often achieved through a focus on improvements in the quality of community life, such as environmental changes, community safety and neighbourhood management initiatives. The small grants allocated by Guide Neighbourhoods were a particularly effective way of encouraging risk and innovation in neighbourhood development. The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme’s model of learning and funding from neighbourhood to neighbourhood proved effective in reaching hidden communities on ‘forgotten estates’ where little or no funding had previously been received.

In terms of neighbourhood management, Guide Neighbourhoods have facilitated more effective transfer of housing stock and better terms for the tenants involved. For example, client neighbourhoods revealed that their experience of support from Guide Neighbourhoods had speeded up the Tenant Management Organisation application process. Environmental projects to improve the visual look of neighbourhoods, often through planting flowers, supported and funded by Guide Neighbourhoods, have been effective ways of changing how people feel about their neighbourhoods and their confidence to achieve improvements. Community safety has been promoted through working with young people to engage them in a positive way, for example as ‘junior wardens’.


  • The Guide Neighbourhoods offered a menu of learning opportunities that was shown to be effective in engaging residents in client neighbourhoods, with inspirational visits often forming a key starting point for longer term mentoring and consultancy support.

  • This more in depth work was shown to have produced positive regeneration and empowerment benefits in those neighbourhoods supported. In some cases, these took the form of progress in achieving hard social outcomes; in other cases, it meant building good community governance and preventing fragile community groups from collapsing, thus avoiding a serious reversal in the regeneration of a neighbourhood.

  • The features of Guide Neighbourhood support that client neighbourhoods particularly valued included: the personal experience and accessibility of residents and colleagues; their willingness to share learning, and the honesty with which they did so. Guide Neighbourhoods were described by some as “the human face of regeneration.”

  • The Guide Neighbourhoods helped the client neighbourhoods to move beyond their (justified) anger and oppositional stance to recognise the value of building collaboration with public sector partners and understand the place of local action within wider policy contexts.

  • Residents were central to, but not the sole providers of the learning process. Resident to professional learning became an important part of the Programme in terms of effecting change.

  • The organisations involved as Guide Neighbourhoods were very diverse. This was both a strength (in that a broad range of learning was on offer) but also a weakness of the programme – in that it lacked, at times, a clear focus and profile.
  • The findings reinforce those of previous regeneration initiative evaluations. Engaging and empowering residents is crucial – but it takes time and adequate funding if local residents are to participate in regeneration as equal partners. Equally, the increasing pressure on community organisations to deliver local services on behalf of statutory agencies alongside the emphasis on local level democratic structures; require longer term investment to build the skills and knowledge necessary for good governance and accountability at the neighbourhood level.

  • National networks are immensely important to community activists and organisations in sharing experience, promoting learning and seeing the bigger policy picture, but they need a clear purpose and robust management and resourcing.

  • Arms length management arrangements may result in disengaging Government from the programmes they fund and make programme leadership more difficult.

1 Introduction

“Many people feel powerless to do anything about the issues that affect their daily lives […] For some, the organisations which take the decisions seem beyond their influence, so people are left with a diminishing sense of confidence and responsibility. Increasingly people feel that public authorities [...] are not interested in their concerns, let alone their opinions”2

“I think it does make you think that there is hope, that you can get the estate looking as how you would like it to look and to try and get everybody involved but it just takes time ... they’re [names Guide Neighbourhood] proving to us that it can actually happen so it like gives us a little bit of hope that stuff can change.” (client neighbourhood)

These two quotes, from very different sources, illustrate the essence of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme and the concept that peer learning and networking between residents has a significant contribution to make to successful neighbourhood renewal.

The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme (2005-7) has evolved from earlier initiatives to promote resident engagement in regeneration. Its aim has been to extend the previous ‘Seeing is Believing’ model3 of visits to communities in which local residents share their successes in renewing and regenerating their neighbourhood to a longer term approach of consultancy and mentoring support. This process aims to translate the inspiration and the enthusiasms of key individuals into learning for others (including community based organisations, regeneration practitioners and policy makers) so that they too can contribute to the building of sustainable community organisations and action.

The underlying principle of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme is simple. Residents can learn from each other about ‘what works’ in neighbourhood regeneration and apply those lessons in their own communities. Yet the initiative has a wider relevance to, and asks some more profound questions of, current policies across political parties:

  • what is the purpose of resident to resident learning? Is it solely about the “involvement of local people in the physical regeneration of [their] estates”4 – or is there a broader goal of enhanced community engagement generally, civil renewal, tackling issues of democratic deficit and building active citizenship in an increasingly diverse society?

  • is the objective resident led regeneration – or is it about developing a culture and environment in which communities and neighbourhood organisations are equal partners with professionals and policy makers in managing devolved governance?

  • is an emphasis on the individual citizen and their right to access quality services enough? What is the role for Local and Central Government in supporting the collective voices of marginal communities?

  • should community and voluntary groups be funded solely for their capacity to deliver public services – rather than their ability to act as community advocates?

And, crucially, how can:

  • learning be translated into action and change at a neighbourhood level and how do we effectively share, often isolated examples of good practice in the field?

  • models of learning at a neighbourhood level be translated into sharing lessons across communities of interest (such as refugee and migrant groups) which may not be geographically based?

  • the experiences of residents and community groups influence the practice of professionals and policy makers?

change be sustained over time, engage different generations and diverse communities of interest to build more cohesive, and sustainable, communities?

This report aims to address these difficult questions as well as meeting the key goals outlined in the initial Home Office Invitation to tender which indicated that the evaluation of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme should:

“be of an action learning nature and concentrate on recording and assessing the outcomes and effectiveness of the programme, and understanding where possible lessons to be learned. We would like an approach to evaluation that works with the Guide Neighbourhoods to support them in conducting their own self-evaluations, is able to take a view on particular successes and/or failures (and the reasons for these) and is able to take a view on the merits of the programme’s overall approach to the provision of learning for regeneration and renewal.”5

The key themes the evaluation was charged with exploring were:

  • the sustainability of the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme’s approach both at the local level for the individual organisations involved and nationally

  • the effectiveness of the ‘menu of learning opportunities’ being offered by the Programme

  • the impact on the individual communities benefiting from Guide Neighbourhood support as well as the Programme’s influence on local, regional and national policy development

  • the learning for individual consultants and resident guides

In subsequent discussion with the Home Office/Communities and Local Government the major focus of activity shifted from an action research project to assessing change within client neighbourhoods. In short – what ‘hard outcomes’ could be attributed to the learning and support provided to groups in these areas by Guide Neighbourhoods. However, as the Home Office itself recognised, this shift in emphasis “will be constrained by the short timescale, when most real change will take place over a much longer time”.6

Demonstrating the initiative’s direct contribution to achieving national Public Service Agreements and Neighbourhood Renewal Floor Targets has therefore been problematic in the timescales allowed. However, the ambition of the Programme and its participants is noteworthy. In developing the evaluation framework7 and methodology8, Guide Neighbourhoods aspired to very high level outcomes; supporting client neighbourhoods to reduce crime, attract inward housing and related investment, enhance local environments and build sustainable social enterprises. What the evaluation team (guided by an expert reference group – see Appendix 4) have therefore attempted to identify is – how far Guide Neighbourhoods have facilitated progress against a range of policy objectives?

The challenge for the evaluation, then, is to assess the ‘distance travelled’ towards achieving those ambitious goals within the Programme. In undertaking this task, the honesty of Guide Neighbourhoods has been impressive. They have openly shared what has – and has not – worked in terms of promoting neighbourhood learning and change. It is an openness and honesty that those communities working with Guide Neighbourhoods have appreciated. The evaluation team hope that that these values are reflected in the following assessment of the weaknesses but also – more particularly – of the strengths of the different regeneration and participation models adopted by Guide Neighbourhoods.

Subsequent sections of this report describe the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme (Chapter 2) and place it within a wider policy context (Chapter 3). The attitudes and approaches to delivering and sharing learning are examined in Chapters 4 and 5 – and the impacts of the Programme in terms of neighbourhood change are then identified – along with issues and options for future action – in the final sections of the report.

In the spirit of the initiative, we have directly used the voices of participants wherever possible. Whilst Guide Neighbourhoods addressed diverse policy objectives using a variety of approaches, there should, as one resident guide noted, be a common agenda between those involved in building sustainable communities:

“There is a lot of jargon about regeneration…but really, as a resident, there is only one question. Is this an area I want my children to grow up in?” (Guide Neighbourhood)

2 The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme: An overview

The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme was designed as one element of the Together We Can strategy, led initially by the Civil Renewal Unit in the Home Office. It was coordinated on behalf of Government by Regenerate, a project of Housing Justice, the national charity formed from merging Churches National Housing Coalition and CHAS in 2003. This approach of ‘arms length’ overseeing of funding not only reflects wider agendas in the management of Government funding initiative, but was a conscious decision to:

  • establish an overall programme, with a discernable identity – rather than finance a range of disparate projects

  • offer co-ordination which could create potential synergies between individual Guide Neighbourhoods and coordinate the provision of:

“a menu of learning opportunities for residents seeking to regenerate their neighbourhoods with experienced residents from strong, successful neighbourhoods (Guide Neighbourhoods) as the key providers”9

The initiative built on a pilot programme in residents’ consultancy, funded jointly by the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office, 2001-4. This focused on how residents with expertise in regeneration and community renewal and ‘making it happen’ could share their skills and experience with the residents of other neighbourhoods.

Two research studies were undertaken in this early period. ‘Exploring the field of residents’ consultancy’10 was a baseline UK and international survey which identified the range of activities that could be described as residents’ consultancy and a second report11 looked at the eight projects funded through the pilot and identified the market for residents’ consultancy. In the initial report, residents’ consultancy is described as:

“Initiatives through which residents of areas undergoing regeneration share, or market, the skills they have acquired through the regeneration process. At its essence is learning through shared experience.”12

In total, some £4,350,000 was allocated to the Guide Neighbourhoods Programme with a view that its participant organisations would host, over 28 months, 385 ‘seeing is believing’ visits, offer ongoing support to 321 community organisations and training for 84 groups as well as develop a range of shared resources. Learning opportunities provided by the programme were to be both local/neighbourhood based – including visits to successful neighbourhoods, consultancy services and tailored training – and were to have a national focus with the development of toolkits, publicity materials and handbooks. In addition, Guide Neighbourhoods were allocated a ‘small grants fund’ to enable client neighbourhoods to purchase a range of professional support, advice and resources (of between £500 and £10,000 per neighbourhood).

There were originally nine neighbourhoods involved, with a further five joining the programme over late 2005 and early 2006 (See Table 1 for further details). In addition Walterton and Elgin Community Homes was accepted as an associate member and further work was commissioned (initially by the National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations and subsequently by Regenerate) to strengthen and develop an active network of London-based Guide Neighbourhoods.

Table 1: Guide Neighbourhoods by region


Guide Neighbourhood

Number per Region


Poplar HARCA/New Mill Consultants

Walterton and Elgin Community Homes – WECH (Associate Guide Neighbourhood from March 2006)

1 (plus Associate)

South East

Neighbours4U – Kent (from January 2006)


South West

Pembroke Street Estate Management Board – Plymouth


West Midlands

Balsall Heath Forum, Castle Vale Community Housing Association – Birmingham

Perry Common (from February 2006) – Birmingham

Burrowes Street Tenant Management Organisation – Walsall


East Midlands

Leicester North West Community Forum (from July 2005)


Yorkshire and Humberside

Royds Community Association – Bradford

Goodwin Development Trust – Hull (from March 2006)

Stubbin Neighbourhood Association – Sheffield (from March 2006)


North West

The Eldonian Group, INclude – Liverpool

Seedley and Langworthy Trust – Salford (from March 2006)



National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations13


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