Social Integration Programme Manager for Blackburn with Darwen Council, Rebecca Ramsay, reflects on her first year managing the Our Community, Our Future programme:
I came in to post as Programme Manager for Blackburn with Darwen’s Our Community, Our Future programme in December 2018 – as I write this I’m coming up to my first anniversary. A good time to reflect on what we’ve achieved and, importantly, what we’ve learned.
One year ago, a lot of the hard work had already been done. The team had spent the summer and autumn of 2018 working with our partners in the voluntary, community and faith sectors developing our ideas for meeting the social integration challenges we faced in Blackburn with Darwen. This had largely been done through a series of “co-design workshops” that gave us plenty of information to put together a strategy and a fully costed delivery plan. This was launched just a couple of weeks before I started – so all I had to do was deliver!
There were two things I needed to achieve quickly: firstly, the recruitment of a core team with the skills and enthusiasm we needed to really hit the ground running, and in this respect I was really fortunate.
Secondly, we needed to start to commission work that we either knew we couldn’t deliver ourselves, or we knew our colleagues in the voluntary sector could bring their creativity to. We appointed a range of partners to deliver for us on six projects across our four programme priorities.
The commissioning process itself went reasonably smoothly. This was aided significantly by the team we’d put together, not least a Communications Officer who was able to make sure we reached everyone who needed to know about the opportunities available to them, and an Evaluation Officer who was able to make sure we were, at the very outset, focussed on what the outcomes we expected were – and what we would learn.
The team I was able to put together came in with enthusiasm, and have managed to maintain that enthusiasm through some really busy periods in our first year. They’ve pitched in when it mattered, they’ve supported one another outside of what you’d expect their core work to be – and all the while they’ve remained focused on what we’re trying to achieve.
We’ve worked hard with our commissioned providers, in a way which is probably above and beyond what they might usually expect. It’s been a real luxury to genuinely work together with such a broad range of specialists taking a “test and learn” approach. As a team and as providers we all recognise that we are privileged to be in the position we’re in. We all feel the weight of responsibility to get the most we possibly can out of our first year so that we can make next year even better, and share our activities and our learning via MHCLG with people trying to achieve similar outcomes across the country.
It’s been a real pleasure working on the Integration Area programme, and what’s made it so is the people I’ve worked with: the people who care passionately about facilitating, influencing and developing opportunities to respect difference and to promote an environment in which our community all have access to the same opportunities, life chances and choice.
Rebecca Ramsay- Social Integration Programme Manager for Blackburn with Darwen Council