I recently raised funding and delivered a partnership project for Westminster City Council. SW Connects was a partnership of Westminster City Council Services (Libraries, Arts & Culture, Libraries, Health and Sports), local voluntary organisations, businesses and Wellington Barracks. The program ran for 10 months from December 2014 to September 2015
The focus for the project came out of the Armed Forces Covenant; which sets out the relationship between the nation, the government and the armed forces. The Armed Forces Covenant is supported by the Community Covenant grant scheme and the SW Connects programme was funded by a grant from the Community Covenant Fund, matched with Westminster Council resources (staff, venues and IT resources)
Prior to submitting an application for Westminster Libraries & Culture; I carried out extensive consultation with Wellington Barracks and the army families stationed there. The Consultation identified the following areas:
- Lack of local information provision for Barracks families
- Lack of join up between local services, voluntary sector organisations and the Barracks.
- And the particular need to support army wives and families. Army families are frequently on the move, sometimes as often as every few years, and this makes it difficult for army wives to access training and job opportunities. The Army Families Federation Families Concerns report for Quarter 1 2014 (Jan-March) stated that 128 families had contacted them about employment and training issues which was a 31% increase from the previous quarter. Particular issues are: accessing funded training so that spouses can get back to work after a long period of absence – usually due to posting overseas.
The SWConnects project aimed to support a closer relationship between the Armed Forces families and the surrounding community in Westminster. We planned to achieve this by:
(A) Encouraging soldiers and their families to access the complete range of both council and voluntary sector services in their locality, which will enable them to:
- Take part in creative activities (reducing isolation and anxiety / depression; helping parents engage in their children’s learning)
- Take part in sport & fitness activities (clear physical benefits as well as wider wellbeing)
- Access training and skills to support personal as well as professional development
(B) Developing a sustainable partnership group of council services and voluntary sector partners to ensure that the initial pilot is built upon to achieve a long-term relationship in the borough – working to support army families
Additionally as a group of partners we agreed to the following aims
- To demonstrate the benefits of cross-sector partnership working
- To raise the profile of the Army Communities based in Westminster
- To encourage local organisations, council services and army services to collaborate for the joint benefit of residents/army personnel
- Highlight and share good practice and identify learning opportunities that have emerged from the project delivery.
SW Connects acted as a catalyst to develop partnerships in South Westminster for the benefit of the armed forces community. During the 10 month period partners delivered activities and events that were focused on the needs of both local residents and on the needs of servicemen and women and their families. These activities mainly took place outside of the barracks in libraries, schools and community venues to support further interaction with the local community and services.
Case Study: SW Connects Project Activity
Pop Up Photography Studios from June – September 2015, the SW Connects project in partnership with Photofusion (the UK’s largest independent photographic resource centre) produced 3 Pop-Up Photo Studios.
- at the SouthWestFest, an annual community festival;
- at Wellington Barracks, located near Buckingham Palace
- at the Churchill Gardens Children’s Centre
- and a family photo workshop with Dad’s and their kids at Pimlico Library
Participants were encouraged to take part in group photos as well as individual portraits, all taken by professional photographer, Andy Barker. Each participant was given a free copy of their portrait and the images also appeared on the SW Connects project Facebook page.
The Pop ups created an opportunity for us to visually show what the community of South Westminster actually looks like. The portraits from all these activities show a cross section of local residents, council staff, voluntary sector representatives, army personnel and families based in South Westminster. The Pop ups themselves also became platforms of collective, community activity – raising the profile of Wellington Barracks to local residents and ensuring that we were promoting the project activities to residents and army personnel alike.
We chose to hold most of the pop up studios in places that are key community resources, such Libraries, Children’s Centre and the longstanding community festival SouthWest Fest – to reinforce that standing as places for continuing community and social engagement.
The portraits from all these activities show a cross section of council staff, local residents, army personnel and army families – giving us an opportunity to challenge preconceived notions about what we think people look like – who is an army family? Who is a Librarian? Who is an officer? And by inviting them all to take part in the pop up studios we were able to create a platform for engagement – army and local residents alike – in the work of the SW connects project.
The portraits were exhibited at Victoria Library, Pimlico Library and Churchill Gardens Children’s Centre and Westminster City Hall. To see some of the exhibition images go to the SWConnects Facebook page
As a pilot we have delivered on our initial aims and we are pleased that all the partners can see the benefit of sustaining our partnership working. We exceeded our initial targets for engagement. Our target was to reach 500 individuals (a mixture of army families and local residents). Our final figures showed that we reached 5,076 people with 20% being army families and service personnel, this is represents a 9 fold increase on our target figure.
Working with the Army has been a learning curve for all partners as there is a great deal to learn about the pressures that servicemen/women and their families are under as well as the staff that are supporting them. The Partners aim to continue the work of the SW Connects project by:
- Supporting the existing partnership working between council services and the voluntary sector
- Encourage new partnerships, encouraging local organisations, council services and army services to collaborate for joint benefit for residents/army personnel
- Continue to jointly promote partner’s activity to local residents and the armed services community
- Advocate for the specialized needs of army families in the Borough of Westminster.