Author Archive

Learning about the ethic of engagement in my neighbourhood

by Raj Cheema

I’ve recently become a committee member of the Tenancy Association in my neighbourhood. Having lived in the area for three and a half years – I thought it was about time I got involved and found out more about the place. Plus – what better way to learn about Localism – than getting involved locally!

Here’s a little about my small neighbourhood in Rotherhithe. There are a handful of large housing associations operating in my area providing housing to a large number of people. You have young professionals, young families and people who have been unemployed for a long while all living next door to each. It’s diverse in a lot of senses, offers a clean, convenient and safe lifestyle – and makes you feels like you’re not in London even though the City is only 20 minutes away on the bus. There is a lot of modern developments – the dockland’s history isn’t that visible.

Our local Tenancy Association has been dwindling in the last year – engagement from the neighbourhood is at an all time low – in fact for the last six months it’s been pretty redundant and if they hadn’t found some new members – they would have got rid off it. In the past, the TA has done some tremendous work in campaigning for the interests of the residents against the Housing Associations. And realising the benefits of having a TA – the Housing Associations are keen to back the TA and maintain the bridge of communication between them and their residents.

The interesting thing is that people in the neighbourhood ‘want’ to keep the TA but don’t really want to get ‘involved’ or engage in matters that TA deals with on their behalf. Previous members have found that people aren’t interested in engaging and turning up to meetings even when the local MP is in town.

For me the TA reflects the level of apathy inherent in most neighbourhoods. And I want to find out why this is – rather than make presumptions. Is it because:
a) Residents don’t really understand their relationship with the TA – or the TA hasn’t been good at cultivating the right kind of relationship with residents
b) There aren’t any real issues of concerns that residents think the TA could deal with
c) If there are issues of concern – then residents think the TA can’t ‘act’ on these

In the next couple of months – I’ll be knocking on the doors of my neighbours to find out what they think of the TA, whether there are issues that concern them and what they think the TA could do. My goal is to get people involved and engage with the TA so that it channel its efforts to dealing with problems that concern residents. I reckon it’ll be a learning curve – I don’t know yet whether it’ll be a steep one or a small one. But I have a feeling I’m in for a bumpy ride – it’s OK, I have my seat belt on.

Stay tuned if you’re interested in finding out what progress I make in my new role as a ‘localist’.

May 12, 2011 at 4:46 pm Leave a comment

e-Bay, social care and the Big Society

by Raj Cheema

Last month, Slivers-of-Time Markets launched a video about the impact their ‘e-bay’ software is having in the social care market. The aim of the video: getting the message across to central government that their work could be a powerful catalyst in encouraging volunteerism in the social care market – on a local level.

Slivers-of-Time Markets help organisations create an online market place where time from local people becomes the currency between time-seekers and time-givers. For example, Tesco use the Sliver of Time system as an over-booking system to enable their staff to pick extra hours of work. It lets shopworkers sign up for extra shifts in their own or other nearby stores when they have free time to do extra work.

Slivers-of-Time Markets was one of the projects that participated in Innovation Unit’s enabling independent living programme. The organisation wanted to adopt the online software for the social care market and, noting their high-potential in light of the personalising social care agenda, we connected them to six local authorities in London. By enabling individuals to contract directly with one another, Slivers-of-Time Markets opens up the labour market and places control in the hands of service users.

According to a recent report from a group of charities, nearly one in four disabled and older people have experienced cuts to services and increased charges for care, with families “pushed to breaking point”. In a survey conducted by charities including Carers UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Scope, more than a fifth of respondents said services had been cut back even though their needs had stayed the same.

In this video, Slivers of Time talk about their work with Hertfordshire County Council. Hertfordshire have a large group of elderly people who need support but fall below the elgibility threshold. The online system enables time-seekers to find local (vetted) volunteers who can donate some time and help out with isolated elderly people. The potential of this scheme to transform the way in which social care is delivered personally has recently been noted in the Local Government Chronicle and Community Care.

Slivers-of-Time Markets is now hoping the government will support a series of regional trials to encourage local volunteers to give some time and support local authorities in meeting the needs of the vulnerable. If ever there’s going to be a success story of Big Society in action during the recession – surely this has got to be a strong contender? Good luck Slivers – we have our fingers crossed!

May 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Calling for ideas to tackle local health problems in Birmingham

by Raj Cheema

Young Foundation is scouting for people with big ideas to tackle health problems in Birmingham. If you think you’ve got what it takes, here is your chance to put your hat in the ring and answer four questions:

1. Tell them about the health problem you hope to fix
2. Outline how your idea is big, bold and new
3. What support do you need to get your idea off to a flying start?
4. Who is involved in submitting the idea?

The ten most promising proposals will be invited to attend a ‘Big Idea Bonanza Festival’ on 1st July 2011. The festival will challenge teams to strengthen or create a business in a day, tap into specialist expertise and pitch to a panel of dragons for the chance to win up to £2,000 of start-up funding and bespoke business support.

To apply you must be a public sector employee, third sector organisation or resident of Birmingham or Solihull. They welcome applications from individuals, teams or established organisations looking to launch a new idea or grow an existing service. Closing date is Friday 17th June 2011.

Return completed application forms should be sent to Eleanor Cappell at or (you can also call her on 0121 380 9019/ 07956 317 236).

May 11, 2011 at 9:58 am 1 comment

Internocracy and unpaid interns

By Raj Cheema

Great to see Internocracy in the Guardian today talking about the unfairness of unpaid interns – backed by its latest research. The research, carried out by YouGov on behalf of Internocracy – a social enterprise that develops work experience schemes for employers – found that 17% of UK businesses had taken on interns to use as a cheap source of labour, while 95% of the 218 UK managers who responded agreed that interns were “useful to their organisation”. The Internocracy study also found that only 12% of company managers and 10% of young people knew unpaid internships could be illegal under employment law.

Internocracy attended our Beyond Worklessness: A Festival of Ideas event last year and spoke about their ‘Proper Jobs Clubs’ programme of work which aims to set up clubs for unemployed young people to vent their frustrations and anxieties and get advice, information and guidance from their peers who have successfully obtained employement or set up their own businesses. If you want to learn more about this work, then check out the video below.

April 28, 2011 at 10:31 am 1 comment

Britain’s Next Big Thing

by Raj Cheema

I am a complete sucker for TV shows that encourage people to come with new ideas or solutions and set up new businesses. Take for example, The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den – I’m addicted. Yesterday evening, I was flicking through the TV channels and came across Britain’s Next Big Thing. The programme basically gives a small number of entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their product to buyers from national retail stores like Boots.

I was particularly taken by the story of one entrepreneur in the programme. She’s a single mum who produced a lotion for her baby daughter because she suffered from bad eczema. She was hugely frustrated by the medicines and lotions prescribed by the doctor and took matters into her own hands in her kitchen . She produced a lotion using natural ingredients that made a huge impact on her daughter’s skin. If I remember correctly – word of mouth marketing and subsequent demand – started to make her think there could be a market for this. So she pitched her product to retail giant Boots and really impressed them by her compelling story. But she was unsuccessful.

The reason why she didn’t get through to the next round? She hadn’t tested the product and there was no ‘claim’ associated with the product (e.g. a claim that this lotion was a cure for eczema or could drastically improve your skin) – something which is heavily regulated in the pharmaceutical industry. She was hugely disappointed because she didn’t have the money to pay for this herself and it wasn’t a cost that Boots were willing to take despite recognising the fact that there was space in the market for this. Their response was: get the testing done, get your claim, and get back in touch with us.

It made me think about those innovators working in the margins and the barriers to innovation they often face to take their work to scale. I had this impression that innovation in the private sector is better supported because ‘the next best thing’ is always something that the private sector is seeking. Therefore, the gamble is worth taking. But may be this isn’t entirely the case (- and I need to stop thinking that the private sector has all the solutions). Perhaps this is only the case for those working ‘within’ an organisation but not for those working in the ‘margins’. (Even though the literature on innovation repeatedly reinforces the fact that the best radical innovations are those that come from the margins – from outsiders). Perhaps for those working in the ‘margins’, the barriers to innovation in the private sector aren’t very different to the barriers to innovation in the public sector.

Although we’re adamant that the two sectors stand for different values, actually, when it comes to innovation – there’s a lot these mavericks (whether social or non-social focussed) have in common and could learn from each other. I’ve come across a few ‘social’ programmes of work that tend to look to the private sector for support and advise. And here’s a case of a maverick who could probably learn a great deal from the social mavericks trying to innovate our public services – because when it comes to dealing with regulations – I’m sure they have a lot of wisdom to share.

April 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm 5 comments

Vaisakhi and change

By Raj Cheema

This morning I woke up feeling peculiarly optimistic. I already knew the reason – it’s Vaisakhi. Vaisakhi is a Sikh Festival that commemorates the birth of the Khalsa a few hundred years ago – a new identity for a group of people in India. It also marks the new Harvest season and every year there are huge celebrations in Spring around the world. For me, Vaisakhi is a time to think and start afresh – clean out, start again and change the way I do things that just don’t work for me.

To digress slightly, yesterday evening, I found out that a friend of mine working for a central government department has been given two week notice to leave her job. But to my surprise – she’s excited about what this means for her career ahead – ‘it’s time for a change’ she said. She’s as determined as ever – and is looking forward to the challenges of a new job.

I’m finding Vaisakhi particularly poignant this year. With fresh budget cuts only a week in, local services being cut all over the place, some charities and support organisations no longer existing, and one in five young people out of work – there couldn’t be a better time to really think about what doesn’t work, what does and could work, how to support things that already work well, and what we could do better.

It sounds strange but given the scale of the challenges (that keep growing), there is also a part of me that still can’t help but be excited about the opportunities that exist to change things. The launch of Action for Happiness, the growing enthusiasm and scepticism around Big Society (which sounds increasingly like a provocation about the relationship between the state and society and individuals themselves), the several Bills making their way through Parliament – all of these things say we are ready for a change. Must be something in the air.

April 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm Leave a comment

Healthy self-esteem for a start

By Raj Cheema

Two months ago, I received a copy of the Public Service Review and, as usual, when I got back to the office, it was added to my existing pile of reading which tends to include ‘mental note to self: must read later this week’. Well, I finally managed to find some time – last week.

I found some of the articles in the review really interesting particularly the Secretary of State for Health’s ‘A healthy rebalance’ in which he outlines his vision of public health. Interestingly, his vision incorporates a re-think about the way in which people’s weak health is connected to their lack of self-esteem – something which he rightly states ‘you can’t legislate for’. Part of his vision for addressing this is: (more…)

April 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

Clore Social Leadership Programme 2012

Just a note to all blog readers that the Clore Social Leadership Programme 2012 Fellowships will open on April 18th 2011. The Clore Social Leadership Programme is an ambitious attempt to build leadership capacity in the third sector at a time when the challenges and complexities of leadership in the third sector continue to grow.

The Programme aims to identify, develop and connect aspiring leaders in the wider third sector who are working for the benefit of individuals and communities across the UK. The wider third sector includes a full range of social purpose non-profit activity – charities, community organisations, social enterprises, co-operatives, social landlords and housing associations.

If you want to find out more about the programme click here. If you would like the team to email you when applications open, send your contact details to

March 31, 2011 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Big Society on the ground floor

One of my colleagues (how do they find these things?) emailed me a link to Calouste Gulbenkian’s video on what Big Society looks like on the ground floor and what those individuals who are driving this kind of work think about the agenda. Definitely worth checking out:

The Big Society – A View From The Frontline from Setla Productions on Vimeo.

March 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm Leave a comment

Greening Public Services in the north-east

Last Thursday, we were in Newcastle upon Tyne hosting our eleventh Festival of Ideas in partnership with Sustaine and the North East Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership. The event brought together some leading innovation projects from the community and voluntary sector (more than half were from the region), commissioners from public services, social investors and local councillors all interested in reducing the carbon footprint of public services in the north east.

The event gave innovators a chance to talk about their work and participants a chance to give feedback, share concerns and help shape this work. Check out the slideshow below and find out more about what happened on the day.

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If you want to learn more about the innovation projects that attended this event, then take a look at the presentations and video pitches from the day.

Bulky Bob’s presentation and video
Community Renewable Energy’s presentation and video
Community Energy Solution’s presentation and video
Commonwheels’ presentation and video
Families Enjoying Active Travel’s presentation and video
One Planet Regions’ presentation and video
Sportsrecycler’s presentation and video
Sustainability through Staff Action’s presentation and video

If you would like to get in touch with any of the projects above, feel free to call Raj Cheema on 020 7250 8097 or email her.

March 15, 2011 at 10:49 am 1 comment

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