On the face of it GoodGym combines volunteering with fitness – but, as Alex Kenmure writes, the relationships that it and other similar enterprises build with councils and within communities have an important contribution to make to the resilience of an area.
It feels like we’ve been talking about less money and less resources for public services forever. Councils have less money. The third sector has less money. Residents have less money. But money isn’t the only resource, and unlocking the capacity within our communities increasingly feels like the only game in town if we want improve life outcomes for people in our local area.
To do this, we need to start going beyond the notion of public service. There’s a whole vanguard of initiatives that are being set up and developed with the sole purpose of strengthening individual and communities independently of ongoing public funding. So what do these initiatives look like? Let me set the scene.
Instead of contracting a service, a council helps set up an organisation capable of increasing physical activity, while at the same time improving mental health and wellbeing through new peer support networks. Those networks in turn volunteer to help other local projects that are bringing communities together and building resilience, as well as visit isolated elderly residents, building new relationships and preventing the debilitating impacts of loneliness.
I work for a charity and social enterprise called GoodGym. We match people who want a friendly and accessible way to get fit with volunteering opportunities in their local area. We do this in three main ways:
- Organising weekly group runs where we lead people on a run to a local community project/facility and help out with some physical volunteering (this could be helping set-up a local growing scheme, decorating a community centre or helping a local foodbank);
- Organising one-off runs (we call them “missions”) where a smaller group of runners will help an isolated individual with a task they simply can’t handle on their own (sometimes it is as simple as helping an older person with their christmas decorations);
- An innovative befriending scheme where we match individuals who want a motivation to go out running with older isolated people who could benefit from a visit once a week to improve their health and wellbeing.
We’re currently working with 19 local authorities where our primary aim is to improve health and wellbeing amongst the runners and older people who are involved with us. However this can manifest itself in a whole range of different ways – essentially we create the conditions for people to strengthen their resilience in their local area.
Oddly this can pose a challenge for local authorities in two important ways. The first is how to commission for an outcome like resilience that is unlikely to ever be a clear and distinct service, but something that is flexible and reflects their local area. I think this is where outcomes-based commissioning really come into its own, and where we’ll see a shift in councils from commissioners of services to investors in outcomes.
The second challenge is linked to the first one – if councils become primarily investors in their community, how do they maintain a relationship beyond the financial? While of course we value the resource our partner councils have put into us so far, the real value for us (and many of our peers and groups we work with) is how we continue the dialogue and learn from each other.
The truth is this can be hard when you don’t have a dedicated commissioning officer and you’re contributing to a range of outcomes.
I’m confident that as local authorities and organisations like ours continue to experiment with different ways of working together, we’ll start to create a completely new way of commissioning that’s less about contract management and more about the legacy of the relationships developed and all the rich insights and impact that comes with that.
Alex Kenmure is an ex-local authority strategy manager and now leads the development of GoodGym across the UK. If you’d like to know more about GoodGym, please feel free to drop Alex a line firstname.lastname@example.org