The Neighbourhood Challenge projects all came together at a workshop event in the autumn, which was focused on learning. The event took place in Birmingham at Fazeley studios, a great space for working in small groups, sharing news and socialising at tea breaks.
I often hear the comment that 'tea breaks are the most useful part of an event', and would tend to agree. Tea breaks can be a great opportunity to meet new people, share ideas, be yourself, and to speak frankly about your opinions and concerns. They are an opportunity to make a real connection with other people, which may last beyond the day.
We tried to tap into the serendipity of the tea break by using insight collated across all of the projects. We did some simple things like setting up table plans to enable those with common issues to meet, and framing the broad themes for discussion - whilst leaving space for their own questions and comments to be aired.
In short, we tried to set the tone for the event as being one of an 'ideal tea break' where you just might happen to meet the people who can offer you insight or assistance, and you just happen to talk about things you have in common.
This kind of semi-structured workshop is really important to the programme as it has been one of the ways we have tried to create an atmosphere where sharing successes and failures is encouraged.
Learning informally from one another as a peer group has been part of this, and we have encouraged projects to visit one another after the event, as well as continuing their blog diaries online and reading one another's updates from time to time.
Overall, people reported back that they really enjoyed the opportunity to share stories with each other, and to get support and advice from peers on tackling challenging issues they were facing. However, they are also so busy getting on with delivering projects on the ground that it is hard to carve out dedicated time for learning and development. We're learning about how funders and support agencies can help this happen.
Over the coming months, it will be interesting to see how projects feel about the value that learning and connecting with others has given them as they look back on all that they have achieved, as well as prepare for how they will move on from the final phase of the programme in the spring.