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Locality '18 - review

It is easy to be caught up in funding, governance or policy matters and forget about why community development organisations exist and how they function. A good Locality convention will help people re-connect with that spirit of community, and the predominant feeling among departing delegates is that they have been re-energised.

Locality does this by functioning as a cohesive unit; by attracting a large and diverse list of attendees and by facilitating their engagement in activities that they can relate to. It is very well organised - as it needs to be with a convention this size - and it is loud and vibrant, every room and exhibition area buzzing with conversation, optimism and potential.

This year, the political representation at the lectern on day one attempted to sour the atmosphere of the first plenary session. Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, seemed progressive and community-minded and agreed to join the panel for the Q&A session. The same cannot be said of current Communities Secretary James Brokenshire, formerly of this parish, who managed to claim all the grassroots community achievements of the previous year as Tory governance successes. Nor did he endear himself to delegates by making an early exit without facing the inquisition of the convention. Should Locality invite decision-makers to participate in future events, it must be conditional on their participation on the panel to give their members the right of reply.

This did nothing to warm up the room for the joint presentation from Amy Kinnear of Hartcliffe & Withywood Community Partnership and Suzanne Wilson of Lockleaze Trust. Both did an admirable job of describing the hard work being done in Bristol itself.

One of the best features of a Locality convention are the site visits – always well-organised, always thought-provoking - if not inspirational. There were five on offer this year; the two that the DTNI delegation visited were Trinity Arts and the Barton Hills Settlement/Wellspring Healthy Living Centre partnership.


Trinity Arts is a music, arts and community venue in a converted church in east Bristol. Built around 1830 and serving the Church of England congregation, the building has changed hands several times over the years, Trinity Community Arts (TCA) acquiring it from Bristol City Council in 2002. The original lease was granted, chiefly, on the demonstration by TCA of their capacity to collaborate with local community and arts organisations and provide subsidised space to maximise the breadth of activities on offer. Despite other bidders representing significant communities of interest, TCA was able to provide a diverse cultural contribution to the area.

Their subsequent application for community asset transfer was successful and the group secured a short-term lease of Trinity Centre in 2003. The building was re-opened in 2004 as a community arts centre and has prevailed as an important part of Bristol’s rich musical heritage – helping to connect the dots from punk and soundsystems in the late 70s and 80s, through the Bristol sound of Massive Attack and Portishead in the 90s, to the eclecticism of the modern music scene.  With a strong focus on training and outreach, TCA works with a range of community groups, arts organisations and individuals to provide a lively and varied activities and events programme.

Trinity is sustaining itself mainly through ticket sales and bar revenue, but old buildings are in constant need of renovation, and earlier this year when historic damage to the building was discovered during scheduled repairs to the roof, TCA was prompted to make an appeal for donations. Trinity’s future was secured by donations from the public, an uplift grant from Historic England and support from Heritage Lottery Fund and other charitable trusts and foundations. The TCA team laments the lack of state funding available, yet the figures (pictured below) demonstrate their worth not just to their immediate community, but to the Greater Bristol area.

A little further east is Barton Hill, the location of the Barton Hill Settlement / Wellspring Healthy Living Centre project and DTNI’s second visit of the day. University settlements were a unique construct, originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in which students lived and worked and provided for the poor in deprived inner-city areas.

This one was established by Bristol University in 1911 but is now an independent charity and is a place where the residents of the surrounding area can meet, chat and avail of a broad range of services (courses and workshops, advice and counselling and family services). Typically, the service users are folk experiencing social isolation, one-parent families and immigrants. There is a physical space comprising a community garden, internet café, creche facilities and training and meeting rooms; however, the settlement is not merely a place to go to but a community within a community, with the sense of identity that that engenders.

Two streets away, at the far corner of Barton Hill Park, is the Wellspring Healthy Living Centre. The HLC model is a familiar one, providing, as it does, a wide range of preventative and therapeutic health services, both physical and mental. They too provide services for immigrants, single-parent families and older folk, and it could be argued that Wellspring also functions as a resource for the socially isolated.

The boards of the two organisations have proposed a merger to their respective stakeholders and staff, and following the requisite consultation process, it is likely to take place in 2019. This seems to make sense, given the considerable overlap in service provision, service users and catchment area. There is certainly potential for operating at scale and reducing competition, as well as pooling staff expertise and filling in existing gaps.

One further plenary session took up the remainder of the afternoon back at the convention centre. The theme was Locality’s Keep it Local campaign which was re-launched in the spring of 2018 and contributors included Robin Tuddenham, CEO of Calderdale Council; Paul Streets, CEO of Lloyds Bank Foundation; Heather Williams of the Knowle West Health Park Company; and Ed Wallis from Locality. The most heartening aspect of this session was Robin Tuddenham’s endorsement of the concepts of community wealth building and circular local economics. His support should prove invaluable in raising awareness of the campaign to members of local government in Calderdale and beyond.

The Day two plenary began with what Locality calls an energiser i.e. a light-hearted or participative session designed to stimulate and motivate the convention for the day ahead. It featured performer and director David Ellington, who is profoundly deaf and delivered a great presentation that had the whole room signing their respective names and waving their hands silently. Job done.

Next up, a workshop on Building Genuine Engagement With Local Marketing; a collaboration between Locality’s communications team and Semble, an organisation that designs and delivers community campaigns. Locality has devised a marketing framework appropriate for organisations with some communications expertise but no staff, as well as those with none at all. It is a seven-point strategy which requires the user to question their motivation at every stage of a marketing/communications campaign. It is linear and easy to use and may be a useful resource to roll out to DTNI members. It might also be worth bringing over the framework’s author, Tara Anderson, to facilitate further workshops with members.

The final plenary session was probably the most enjoyable one, as well as being the one which connected with the room most successfully. This was in no small part due to the energy of speaker and facilitator Stella Duffy. Stella is the co-director of Fun Palaces, an organisation that provides the franchise banner for skill-sharing events held in community spaces around the country. The events are led by local people for local people, sharing their own expertise in arts, craft, science, tech, digital, heritage and sports activities. Stella was somewhat of a powerhouse master of ceremonies who presided over what fellow DTNI delegate Shane Whelehan described as a “greatest hits” of community development achievements; from Rebecca Trevalyan’s Library of Things – a bring-and-borrow initiative that helps people access everyday gadgets and equipment – to Miriam Delogu of The Circle project.



A group of local traders who vacated the area due to soaring crime plan to completely transform an area of Bristol’s inner city known as the Bearpit. Bearpit Bristol CIC will turn the space into a food innovation hub which will include an urban farm, a food research area, a community space and around forty traders.

These final presentations were a good way to conclude proceedings and a good way to remind delegates that despite deepening sector cuts, there will always be hard-working people with spirit and imagination and the drive for positive change.

Ultimately, Locality 18 did what Locality does best: strengthens the network, educates and informs. As ever, you get out what you put in and if anyone leaves Locality without a new contact, or lead or the spark of an idea, they are not really trying.

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