What I have learnt since September

Polly Trenow, Co-head of Local Programmes at Turn2us, reflects on what she has learnt from working at the forefront of local communities.  

This article is 21 months old


Last September, I was recruited as interim Head of Local Programmes and have been lucky enough to stay on permanently and joined by my Co-Head Jackie Brett. 

Local Programmes is a totally new way of working for Turn2us. We are starting from scratch, building up a new team and on a steep learning curve. If we’re going to try all these new things, then learning must be part of it. What is the point of doing something new unless we will learn about it along the way? We want to learn internally but we also want to learn alongside all the other people who are working to make systemic change in communities. 

  We’ll be publishing monthly blogs to chart our learning and welcome any feedback. So kick things off, here are some of the things I’ve been navigating since September.

 Innovation feels fun - but learning deeply from it requires patience.

It’s always exciting to go towards the new shiny thing over there. What is harder is stopping, slowing down and learning from things. Sometimes that means a concerted effort to ‘do less’ in order to learn more from what we are already doing. 

Sometimes people just don't get it.

So you’ve decided to do place-based work, you’ve read all about it, heard lots from your peers and decided to take the plunge. Just because you have a lot of buzz words doesn’t mean people will connect with you. Some may be resistant to working with uncertainty, others may be indignant that you’ve just “discovered” this, when they have been working in their place for decades. Not everyone is going to want to work with you. And that’s ok. This ambivalent reception to our move to working in a place-based way has been a great motivation to make sure we’re really clear about what we’re doing. 

There is a thin line between finding out about a place and being extractive.

We don’t really know if we’re nailing this one. But once we’ve decided to work in a place, we’re then keen to find out as much as we can about all the amazing work that is going on and how we might add value. But when does ‘finding out’ become a burden? How much time can we expect small community organisations to give us for free? At the same time, how can we know if we can add value to the work that is already happening if we don’t truly know what is going on the ground? We haven’t solved this one, but we’re wary of taking up the valuable time of people delivering front-line services without being sure what is on offer. 

What are you learning from your place-based work? What feels uncomfortable to say? We’re aiming to write a monthly blog on this from our team and our partners so stay tuned and please let us know what you’re thinking. We’d love to hear from you.

Polly Trenow