The Hotspots Network is a group of organisations that formed slightly by accident when hardship swept through local communities in Gloucestershire after COVID. While central government dithered ineffectively, the social and community hubs with roots in the area came together to find solutions. Out of the connections strengthened by emergency response, the Hotspots Network is catalysing system change for the common good.
This is a short blog by Will Mansell on behalf of the group about our journey so far, and the surprising impact of measuring our impact.
The Hotspots Network is a group of six: The Grace Network; G11 Community Hub; Gloucestershire Gateway Trust; Fair Shares Gloucestershire; Gloucester Community Building Collective; and The Venture: White City. As individual organisations, we’d all put huge efforts in through the pandemic, but when financial problems started to affect more and more people, we turned to each other to shore up each other’s support. Call it ‘front line’ instinct if you will – we just knew what to do and where to go to find whatever help was needed and available at the time.
As our working relationships deepened, we realised NHS commissioners and County Council execs who wanted to help didn’t have a clear view of what our sector had to offer. We knew from experience the communities we serve have no shortage of capable, interested and driven people – they just need help connecting to each other and to the knowledge/understanding that allows them to engage.
So we applied to Thirty Percy as an unincorporated association, saying we believed we could improve the way various authorities worked with local communities. The government’s Build Back Better paper talked of a ‘transformative approach’, and we felt we could deliver some of that. We pitched a plan to show how informal collaboration between different social and enterprise hubs in a local area could have a big impact. Not just socially, but economically and environmentally as well.
We knew we’d need a strong research partner for evaluating the work, and the Centre for Thriving Places (CTP) was recommended by a variety of different trusted sources. We wanted to be able to relate national and local metrics in ways that would make sense to both authorities and local communities. CTP had a great reputation for just this kind of work and was well regarded by people in other leading councils around the UK.
We’re now one year into a 2 year evaluation process and we realise The Hotspots Network is already punching above its weight. An important reason for that is the way CTP is able to help us aggregate and collect data into lower super output areas, with scope to drill down from countywide to community wide figures.
This is helping us test a theory that some wards have more happening street by street than you can see at district level. For example Minchinhampton, has pockets of deprivation that only a granular approach will reveal. Add to that the kind of qualitative snapshots we can get with the CTP Happiness Pulse tool, and you’ve got a potent combination.
We’re working very practically, taking nationally tracked indicators and using them locally, so we can prove (for example) that young offenders get into work. When the third sector can show national data locally verified like this, we can save the government cash AND collect valuable data for them. Central funding get drawn into the local economy, and the local economy delivers more efficiently than any national initiative can. The measurement of impact doesn’t just show we’re effective – it’s changing the way the system can work. It’s a win-win-win.
We’ve already leveraged £0.25M of UK Levelling Up funding by using the framework – it’s a whole new way of demonstrating social returns on investment. Although the testing is only part way through, The Hotspots Network has already led County Council conferences on the initiative.
There’s no doubt the impact of measuring our impact with CTP gives us leverage – our reputations combined makes us quite a powerful pairing. We’ll write again when the evaluation is complete and we can say more about the local outcomes.
Meanwhile, as the Hotspots project looks set to develop and grow, we’re looking for a Convenor to help coordinate and add further support to the network. To find out more about this, or if you’re (a Gloucestershire based organisation) interested in joining The Hotspots Network – write to firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author
Will Mansell is founder of The Grace Network. Entrepreneurs buy in to the network (a large group company) for support and investment in exchange for their leadership talents. A kind of Community Drangon’s Den. Collectively, the Grace Network now owns 11 CIC’s, employing over 70 staff.