Aspire Partnership for Success originated in the year 2000, when the then-Leeds City Council Neighbourhood Renewal Team Manager, John Bracewell, brought together colleges and third sector learning and training organisations in inner-south Leeds to explore ways of working together for community benefit.
An opportunity arose for a bid to the European Regional Development Fund. Current Aspire partners Asha, Hamara and Vera Media joined with the Youth Service and Joseph Priestley College (now Leeds City College – Beeston Campus) to present a £750,000 programme of skills support and enterprise development. Matched with funds raised by the partners themselves (SRB, NRF, trusts and charities), with contributions from small community groups buying in professional help from the partnership, the successful 2004-07 ERDF programme impacted the lives of over 30,000 local people. It supported many long-term unemployed people into jobs; taught them vocational and transferable skills for employability; improved their health, physical and mental; provided alternatives to crime for vulnerable young people; put on well-attended information, learning and celebratory events for the whole community and set up sustainable centres, services, groups, courses and facilities. South Leeds Community Radio, for example, initially a project of Vera Media, then of Tiger11 and now independent, owes its existence to this programme.
The partners found that meeting and working together offered additional, unforeseen benefits. They shared information and knowledge, ensured complementaity in service provision and offered smooth progression and referral pathways to local people. As time passed, partners outside the ERDF programme joined the group, and when Leeds City Council withdrew from its administration in 2007, it continued to meet on a self-organised basis.
Strengthening the partnership
In 2010 it was agreed that the partnership would be strengthened by developing a joint constitution, set of aims and agreements for working together. This would improve its chances of gaining NHS and other commissions. It would also give the third sector a voice on local social and economic development bodies, which include the police, NHS, Leeds City Council, the private sector and other stakeholders. In addition, as the partners work closely with small, volunteer-led community groups and local residents, it would allow their views to feed into the city’s decision-making and strategy processes.
With leadership from Tiger11, following input from Voluntary Action Leeds (VAL)’s Supporting Links to Commissioning team and funded by Leeds City Council Area Management Committee (Inner-South)’s Wellbeing Fund, Aspire partners held an Away Day, developed their understanding and joint identity, and in 2012 held a Launch Event at Hillside, attended by stakeholders from the public, private, social enterprise and community sectors across the city. Speakers included Ruth Middleton, NHS Head of Commissioning; local Councillor Kim Groves; Area Leader Shaid Malik; Rachel Koivunen from Voluntary Action Leeds; and Al Garthwaite, chair of Tiger11, director of Vera Media and South Leeds Community Radio and convenor of Aspire.
Partners working together
Over the years, partners have worked together on many projects. Some of these are:
The Hunslet Club and South Leeds Community Radio put on popular DJing / Mixing workshop sessions for inner-city children aged 5-14, offering support for their creativity
Vera Media worked with St Luke’s CARES to make a short film, Healthy Hearts, to support St Luke CARES’ successful £10,000 bid for its dance group to the British Heart Foundation. The panel said that seeing the participants on film – certainly not all slim and active – had swung their decision.
South Leeds Community Radio worked with St Luke’s CARES’ groups of teenage parents and young people at risk to make radio programmes on teenage pregnancy, commissioned by Leeds City Council.
Asha and Hamara work with Vera Media to run courses for women who speak English as an additional language, many of them new arrivals, refugees and asylum seekers, and give support and guidance to the women. This helps their integration, and that of the whole family, into the local community.
Vera Media has worked extensively with Hamara to put on events attended by over 400 local people on issues of community safety and building bridges within the community, showing films, putting on information stalls and dance displays, hosting visits from schools and designing quizzes. In June 2012, the partners worked with South Leeds Community Alliance to host a Jubilee Street Party attended by 500+ diverse community members.
SLATE runs the FeelGood Cafe at Hillside, the centre for business and community use run by Tiger11. The cafe provides training opportunities for adults with learning difficulties. The Tiger11 board assisted SLATE with their business plan and successful start-up bid to the Yorkshire Philanthropy Fund.
Health for All and South Leeds Community Radio run The Sharp Solution, a Home Office-funded programme for young people at risk of guns, gangs and knife crime, where youth workers and radio production staff combine to raise young people’s skills and development, reduce crime figures and produce programms and CDs about the issue.
Learning Partnerships works with many of the partners to provide skills and confidence-building opportunities for adults and young people, raising their expectations and helping them fulfil their potential, drawing in local schools and other community groups as well.
St Luke’s CARES and Hamara have collaborated on well-attended youth projects to bring together young people of different backgrounds.
Indications of success
Inner-south Leeds still ranks high in the UK Index of Deprivation, due partly to population churn, some condemned housing, unemployment, lower-than-average educational attainment and in particular, hard-to-shift negative perceptions of the area by outsiders. These transmit to local residents and do little for their self-esteem. However, the last 15 years have seen a huge upsurge in well-attended and very active community groups, initiated and/or supported by many of the partners, and the burglary rate has dropped by 75% since the year 2000.
There is still some way to go, but as a young man featured in Vera Media’s 2005 film Realising The Potential comments: Beeston seems to be on the up!