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Local Trust’s chief executive, Debbie Ladds, invited me to write an article that, on the closure of the Community Development Foundation (CDF) in March 2016, provides an insight into Local Trust’s beginnings and the relationship between the two organisations. Here’s the story.

The background

In 2010 Big Lottery Fund (BLF) concluded in-depth consultation with national and local organisations on their proposals to set up a £200m endowed organisation. The organisation would deliver a programme, Big Local, that would work in 150 areas in England. Each area would be allocated £1m over ten years to invest locally, with the nature of the investments defined by those communities. Whilst I have some understanding of the whys and wherefores of the inception of this programme, that is BLF’s story and not CDF’s or mine.

In July 2010 the tender appeared; BLF sought an organisation or organisations to prepare a proposal on the design detail of the programme and what the delivery organisation would look like. At CDF we were very excited for several reasons. Firstly, the stated outcomes of the programme were central to the aims of community development:

  • Communities will be better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them.
  • People will have increased skills and confidence, so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future.
  • The community will make a difference to the needs it prioritises.
  • People will feel that their area is an even better place to live.

Secondly, the programme was to be delivered over ten years. We would, therefore, have the opportunity to design a long-term programme based on what we knew worked and didn’t and have time to deploy, test and adjust delivery in response to evolving need. And, to  be clear, this was never about the security or length of funding – the £200m would be invested in the new organisation that the successful bidder would have to set up.

We had also dreamed about running a longitudinal research programme that could describe and evidence the tangible benefits of adopting a community development approach. BLF’s expected focus on research and evaluation hit that button, too. More than anything, we were thrilled by the possibility to be part of a ground-breaking programme that would offer more than the stop-start, short-term public programmes, that left CDF – and communities – frustrated.

The bid

CDF approached a number of organisations that could deliver against BLF’s different expectations for Big Local. UnLtd (entrepreneurship), National Association of Neighbourhood Management (network of community-led activists), CCLA Investment Management Ltd. (investing the endowment, ethically), Institute of Voluntary Action Research (evaluation models), Renaisi (neighbourhood based regeneration), Capacity Global (environmental sustainability) and CDF, bringing its long experience of community development practice to policy to research expertise. As we approached senior staff in these organisations, it became clear that their experience of ‘regeneration’ programmes influenced their appetite to be part of it; Big Local offered the consortium a new opportunity – it would be designed by those with experience and expertise in grassroots working.

CDF submitted in the joint proposal to BLF in Autumn 2010 and became the preferred bidder. CDF and partners then had to prepare a detailed business plan and manual of regulations, each 300 pages long, which was presented to the BLF England board in summer 2011. On my way home I remember taking a call on the train so fractured by signal variance that I wasn’t quite sure whether I was being told we had or hadn’t been successful. The cohesion and enthusiasm of our partnership, however, had been evident to BLF and our labours had indeed born fruit.

Delivery design

There were a number of interesting features to our proposal. We didn’t propose to set up a large organisation (there are still only 13 staff); we proposed a hub and spoke model where the delivery would take place via the expertise and networks of the consortium partners. But, of course, this meant putting in many procedural requirements to overcome any perceived conflicts of interest, plus robust contract performance management. To this day, there is no assumption that the original partners will continue for the duration – delivery is determined by the needs of the 150 areas and the quality of the providers.

The investment proposal for the £200m endowment was also unique. CCLA’s detailed modelling would generate returns to fund the central administrative costs of the programme, so that as much of the endowment as possible, plus accumulated interest, would flow to the 150 communities.

The final feature was that CDF staff would immediately take over delivery in the first 50 Big Local areas already selected by BLF, whilst setting up the new organisation. This meant continuity for the first cohort and also enabled learning from them to shape delivery for the remaining 100 areas.

In 2012 Local Trust became the new independent organisation; there are still only 13 staff to centrally manage this huge programme. Two CDF trustees and I joined the new board became trustees, which provided BLF with reassurance in the short term that this untested organisation, responsible for their biggest endowment to date, would follow the principles and practices that their board had agreed.

Four years on

I needn’t go into detail about progress on the Big Local programme, as this is well-documented on the Local Trust website. What I will mention is the rather complex governance structure. Local Trust is an incorporated charity with only a few thousand pounds in the bank. It is responsible for delivering the Big Local programme and is the sole corporate trustee of Big Local Trust, which holds the £200m investment. Local Trust’s governing document permits it to deliver other activity other than Big Local, but it doesn’t have the cash to do so. Moreover, there is a strict requirement, overseen by the Protector, an individual appointed by BLF, to make sure that all of the £200m is spent in accordance with Big Local Trust’s trust deed. It might help to read this diagramme!

Wheel comes full circle

Over the last couple of years, the Local Trust board, witnessing the outcomes of the Big Local programme, became increasingly interested in being able to advocate the approaches to a wider audience. The obstacle, of course, was that there was no financial resource to be able to do this and, Catch 22, no Big Local funds could be allocated to staff to fundraise either.

In 2015, CDF’s board was considering its strategic options for the period beyond the end of its business plan, which ended in March 2016. For those who aren’t aware, CDF was set up as a non-departmental public body (NDPB) and charity in 1967. Originally charged with delivery across the UK, with offices across England Scotland and Wales, over half a century it evolved under different administrations and social shifts. By 2011 when the NDPB status ended, with devolution and rapid reductions in public programmes, CDF’s business model had changed significantly. In addition, we were also sensitive to the lively national charity debate around duplication of organisations, the need for effective governance and focus on charitable objects, not organisational survival.

Whilst still well-resourced, there needed to be a radical re-think of CDF’s future role and in

2015 the board and senior staff began to look at strategic options beyond 2016. Whilst there was a healthy demand for CDF’s expertise the shift in contract size and local area delivery would have meant further reorganisation, taking time and costing money. I presented the board with three options, one of which was to transfer CDF’s assets to Local Trust. As the parent which bore the latter, we shared a number of genes, aka charitable objects. Local Trust also had relative stability until 2027; rather than operate two organisations it made sense to pass assets to Local Trust to support its aspirations, which CDF shared.

Trustees approved this option in December 2015 and, acting swiftly (otherwise these assets would diminish), CDF ceased trading in March 2016. The following month CDF was able to transfer £850k cash and additional intellectual property assets to Local Trust and three other national organisations.

In March 2016 it seemed an appropriate point to step down as a trustee of Local Trust; I am proud of CDF’s role and am pleased and content with the outcome. The injection of CDF’s cash will allow Local Trust to germinate Big Local approaches at a policy level and, more importantly, in communities. With continuing political and fiscal uncertainty, a steady hand and voice at a local level is more important than ever.

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