No shortage of problems…anchor network solutions


Even before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the concept of a wholeplace approach to community wealth building, driven by the collective will and resources of anchor institutions, was an idea whose time had very much arrived. In the coming weeks, ahead of our first webinar exploring the power and potential of anchor institution networks, Conrad Parke, Anchor Network Co-ordinator for the city of Birmingham and the UK’s first “community wealth builder in residence”, will be exploring the process of translating the principles that lie behind the approach into practice that meaningfully impacts the social, economic and environmental justice outcomes of localities.

From “why?” to “how?”

At the Community Wealth Building Summit earlier this month, and through our ongoing conversations with local governments and anchor institutions across multiple scales and sectors, we at CLES have seen the enthusiasm with which the ideas behind anchor institution networks have been greeted. This is a movement that is growing, as more and more institutions see the value of collectively working to ensure that their joined-up approaches to spending, employment and the use of their assets can affect the social determinants of health and wellbeing. Amidst that enthusiasm, now is the time to move the discussion on – from the “why” to the “how”.

Opening up the conversation

As the “man on the ground” in Birmingham, Conrad has been embedded in the practice of the anchor network there and in the emerging network in neighbouring Sandwell for nearly 12 months and is keen to share, not only the lessons learned and his reflections on how these can be applied in other places, but also to open up a conversation with other places on their experiences. “This is a new area” he said, “we can see that people have bought into the idea, that they really see the value that anchor networks can create. But what people really want to know is what that means in their place. I hope I can share some insights into how the theory actually translates into action but I want to hear from other people too – what’s worked for you? What hasn’t? And why? I want to open up a conversation that can help us all push forward the anchor network model so that it has the opportunity to improve the lives of more people in more communities.”

Close neighbours, different approaches

Reflecting on his experience working with Birmingham and Sandwell, and the discussion he hosted at the Community Wealth Building Summit, Conrad was keen to emphasise the important lessons he’d learned by exploring the differences between the two places which, while being geographic neighbours, have had very different approaches to developing their anchor institution networks.

The network in Birmingham was initiated by the Barrow Cadbury Trust who, drawing on their long-standing interests both in the city and in pursuing socially just change, approached CLES in 2016 to map the network geography in the city. Having identified no less than 42 potential partners, more focussed work took place with seven of these to quantify the value that could be generated for them individually by working collectively to take the network forward. In Sandwell, by contrast, the development of the network was initiated by the Council, following recommendations from CLES in a report on the opportunities for embedding more community wealth building approaches into the Borough’s economic strategy. Conrad is circumspect on the advantages of having a network instigated by a local lead partner, as opposed to an independent body: “in Birmingham it took longer to get the partners needed around the table – but the work it took to do that has provided us with a deep grounding in what can be achieved – that guides the work we do even now. In Sandwell, things moved much quicker – perhaps because we had a lead partner, but also because there’s a very tangible sense of place. Sandwell is smaller, the partners all understand the economic and social issues because they impact them daily and they’re viewed as collective problems already – the dots were easier for people to join and I see that following through into how they approach the delivery phase of their network”.

A simple question

As both groups now meet in the wake of Covid-19 there is a shared appreciation of the anchor network model’s strengths in identifying solutions. “All of the value we’ve been able to create through the network in Birmingham so far has stemmed from asking a very simple question to the partners,” Conrad said, “What problem are you facing that you want the network to solve?”. From supporting diversity in police recruitment and helping workers displaced from the beleaguered hospitality sector apply their much-needed skills serving the NHS to ensuring the maximum social value possible is generated by the forthcoming Birmingham Commonwealth Games, collective working and strong co-ordination have been the lynch pin of the impact created by Birmingham’s anchor network to date. As Conrad reflected “there are no shortage of problems in all of our places – the power of anchor networks is their ability to join the dots to create traction and rapid movement towards solutions”.

Conrad’s blogs will begin on Friday. To join the conversation about how anchor institutions can deliver in practical terms and the challengers and enablers you see for your place you can comment below, email Conrad or share your thoughts with us on Twitter.

CLES has developed packages of support for those at the front line of the economic reform process and is available to support in building and develop an anchor networks. Learn more →

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1 Comment

  • Mike Riddell

    December 10, 2020

    What’s the data strategy? And the business model? Whole-system only works in parallel with personalisation. “Manage my money/health/development”. Volunteered personal information. Permission based. Exceptional user experience. That deals with the public sector silo’s BUT ALSO one’s bank, insurance company, loyalty and reward schemes. A data trust? Or something different? How is success measured? etc.