East Lothian Council (ELC) have established six area partnerships to give local people a real say in the issues that affect them. These partnerships work by giving communities dedicated funding, staffing support and a say in council decision-making.
East Lothian’s area partnerships are community-led and chaired by a local community volunteer. The membership of each consists of the elected members in the ward, a representative of each of the community councils, parent councils, tenants’ and residents’ associations, local voluntary sector organisations, and community groups. Their ‘place-based’ focus enables local people to identify their priorities to improve a range of outcomes including the physical and natural environment, child and adult learning, and health and wellbeing.
To support the area partnerships, the council has provided a delegated budget of £1.85 million and a team of staff to build capacity and aid the partnerships’ work. The partnerships have been able to influence priorities for council departments, ensuring local views are taken into account when council programmes are being planned.
The area partnerships contribute directly to the delivery of the Local Outcome Improvement Plan, working collaboratively with a range of partner organisations in their locality to develop and deliver on actions. These collaborations have been with voluntary sector organisations, the Scottish Government’s charrette and community empowerment teams, the Heritage Lottery Fund, SUSTRANS/Paths for All, and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. By working collaboratively, these partner organisations have also been able to meet the delivery of their own aims.
Many area partnerships have also attracted external match funding, bringing more money to the table than would have been possible if they were council-run. Furthermore, they have benefitted from having a single point of contact within the council to co-ordinate initiatives, plus council or other statutory partner time and associated assets to assist in the delivery of their projects.
Some examples of local projects successfully delivered by the area partnerships include: beach wheelchairs; path upgrades to improve accessibility and encourage active travel; holiday activity clubs to address summer learning loss; community food initiatives to tackle food poverty and social isolation; skate-park and play-park upgrades; and promoting engagement of young people in youth awards to help reduce anti-social behaviour.
As stated by Caitlin McCorry, service manager within the connected communities team at ELC, the area partnerships have successfully demonstrated how local people can work together to make a difference to their community. Independent evaluation found the partnerships possess an agility and flexibility that the council itself is unable to display; raise the profile of their local area, gathering energy behind the key local concerns and achieving what is seen locally as tangible change; and open-up dialogue right across communities and the council.