NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge: one year, £150,000, be innovative

NESTA today launched their Neighbourhood Challenge programme, which from February next year will offer about £150,000 to each of 10 areas in the UK.
The aim is to explore different methods of community organising, over the
period of a year.
As I wrote earlier, this is the first new money for social action in the government’s Big Society programme, and the Big Local Trust will then “scale up” a programme initially across 50 areas.
Organisations who want to engage are being asked to express an interest within the next month, after which 30 will be involved in helping design the programme. Those selected will be notified in January, and start work almost immediately.
Areas chosen will be those with “low social capital”, which during discussion was taken to mean places where not many people are involved already in local action. The aim of the Challenge – and the Big Local Trust – is to work in the areas that don’t usually benefit from funding.

There was a lot of discussion on Twitter – tag #nchall – of how to measure social capital, and of the nature of community organising. NESTA gives this explanation on their site (see full links below):
“Broadly speaking, community organising is the process of galvanizing people to bring about community-led action. There are many different approaches and methods for community organising, many of which have a long legacy of successful work by many organisations in the UK and internationally.
“Through the Neighbourhood Challenge, NESTA wants to learn about a range of different approaches to community organising and we are not prescribing which approaches will be tested through the programme.  We want community organisations to tell us what approaches would be most effective in their areas.”
It would seem that the Challenge is aiming to explore how to mobilise more local social action in areas where there is not much tradition of this, and to be open about how that might be achieved. I was particularly interested that one of the speakers on the panel, Alan Rosenblatt, was there to play up the role of social media as a way of engaging people rapidly and widely.
I can see how this approach is a good counter to the charge that Big Society will only work in those area where there is a lot of existing community activity and confidence – and that poorer, less organized areas will lose out.
What I’m less sure about is how possible it is to achieve much in 12 months … unless the intention is to continue support through the Big Local Trust.
As I understand it, the chosen organisations are going to have to engage with local people in their area, explain what’s on offer and expected, invite proposals, allocate funds, support action, and show results.
It is tough enough with the more usual three-year funding: first year getting organised, second doing things, third looking at how to keep going.
However, it is good to see NESTA planning to involve organisations in co-design of the programme, and I’m sure that as an innovation organisation they will bring their own fresh ideas to the programme.
Big Society has led to a lot of understandable complaints from existing community and voluntary organisations that their past work and success has been under appreciated. I guess NESTA is, in effect, saying OK – but now let’s work in those areas where past approaches haven’t been so successful.
If you do things in them same old ways you get the same old results.
I’ll put up further links as other people blog about the event, and NESTA provides video.
Previous post on Neighbourhood Challenge
Previous post on Big Local Trust
Twitter #nchall
Will Perrin on modern community organising
@mikechitty offered this primer on community organising via Twitter
Amplify’d from
The Neighbourhood Challenge is a new programme from NESTA, working with the Big Lottery Fund, to support community-led innovation. It aims to show how community organisations – when equipped with the right skills, practical tools and small, catalytic amounts of money – can galvanise people to work together to create innovative responses to local priorities, particularly in neighbourhoods with low levels of social capital.

Community organisations across England are invited to apply to the 18-month programme. NESTA will select ten organisations and provide them with funding to trial an approach to community organising that reflects their own vision for what will work best in their area.

We will provide the practical tools and high-quality training needed for participating organisations to help people in their communities create local campaigns, innovative community projects and new social enterprises that address their passions and priorities. We will also provide micro-finance to support the development of local projects and establish local challenge prizes to incentivise community-led innovation.
The Neighbourhood Challenge will deliver tangible impact and powerful case studies in local areas. At the same time, it will be rigorously evaluated to inform the Government’s thinking about how to make the Big Society work for all communities in the UK.
You can find out more about The Neighbourhood Challenge and how to get involved by reading our programme overview (PDF 0.2Mb).
If you have specific questions about the programme and how it will work then please check our Frequently Asked Questions page.


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