Serendipity doesn’t have to be left to chance


In the final blog of his series for this year, exploring the power of anchor institution networks, Conrad Parke discovers that what sometimes looks like serendipity is really intent.

Last Friday we had the final Birmingham Anchor Network co-ordination group meeting of 2020. As this turbulent year draws to a close our main agenda item was the agreement of the Network’s priorities for 2021. However, I think because of the proximity to Christmas, a number of the usual attendees (who are either Chief Exec or director level) had to send replacements who, in the main, were more operationally focussed.

This change in participants led to a change in the nature of the meeting – to the point whereby about half-way through our allocated time I realised I had somewhat lost control of the agenda. Instead of long-term planning, the discussion had become far more focused on “here and now” opportunities. As one person spoke about the priorities for their institution almost inevitably a second person would chime in with a comment along the lines of “well, if you want to do that, we are already doing this. So why don’t we work together?”.

Since the close of the meeting, less than seven days ago, five action-led proposals and ideas for future work have been brought forward:

  • A housing association and the hospital have agreed to roll out the “Hospitality to Health” project to a new neighbourhood, this time with the added possibility of linking it to a supported housing scheme for those whose employability is being undermined by home circumstances or insecure housing.
  • Multiple partners have agreed to work with Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games team to create a legacy project for the Commonwealth Games employment initiatives and for the local businesses currently being supported to win work in the Games’ supply chain.
  • One of the universities, concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on graduate unemployment, are leading a conversation about graduate placement programmes with all partners recognising more could be done to co-ordinate this work so that greater value is created for all parties involved.
  • Similarly, all the employment leads present recognised the number of youth employment initiatives currently underway, or soon to be underway, (YPP, Kickstart, Get Started) and that more could be done by working together to utilise these resources to create permanent employment pathways for the partners that last far longer than the initiatives themselves.
  • Led by the Hospital, the meeting recognised that the joint apprenticeship levy for the Anchor Network (approximately £6m per annum) could be used more effectively and that there were options now available, such as levy transfer, that the Network could help facilitate. For example, the business growth hub at one of the universities would help transfer unspent levy to small businesses that might not otherwise consider an apprentice.

What this emphasises is that progress and impact for an Anchor Network does not always have to be through doing something “new”, instead progress can be made and genuine value added by simply joining up more effectively what is already there.

“these apparently serendipitous conversations are too important to be left to chance”

When we consider that all of these programmes of work are employment based, the record levels of redundancies already recorded in this year and the fact that the number of unemployed people in the UK is expected to surge to 2.6 million by mid-2021, it becomes clear that these apparently serendipitous conversations are too important to be left to chance. This is the power of anchor institution networks – the weight of combined resources coupled to an embedded commitment to the communities they serve – is true intent, not serendipity, that changes lives.

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