The evolution of a neighbourhood management service

London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

This article is the first in a series that will follow the progress made by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham towards a new, borough-wide neighbourhood management (NM) service.

Here, we look at the initial stages of the service's development. We consider the factors that led to the creation of the service, and the lessons learned during the pilot phase.

The focus then shifts to the development of the NM strategy, and how the council and its partners set up the service. Finally, we summarise successes achieved so far, and describe problems encountered along the way.

We hope this case study will provide some useful pointers to other councils who are thinking of developing similar services in their neighbourhoods.


Barking and Dagenham is an outer London borough to the east of the City of London.

The borough covers nearly 14 square miles, stretching from the banks of the Thames in the south to Collier Row in the north. It is bordered by Newham to the west, Redbridge to the north and Havering to the east.

According to the 2001 census, nearly 166,000 people lived in the borough. It ranks as the 11th most deprived local authority out of 354 nationally in the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004.

Barking and Dagenham has experienced a great deal of social and economic upheaval in recent times. The Ford Motor Company that once employed 60,000 residents, now provides work for just 6,000. This is symptomatic of the borough's industrial decline.

Since the council's formation in 1965, it has always had a strong Labour majority. However, following the local elections of May 2006, a new opposition emerged that included 12 British National Party councillors.

The council went through a major structural reorganisation in 2006, and is currently undergoing other fundamental changes. It has moved from being a two-star authority deemed by the Audit Commission as ‘improving adequately' in 2002 to a three-star council that is ‘improving well'.

Who was involved?

The neighbourhood management strategy for Barking and Dagenham was initiated by the borough's chief executive, Rob Whiteman. Development of the strategy was overseen by Nina Clark, the council's Assistant Chief Executive.

As the strategy began to take shape, it was brought into the council's adult and community services department. Heather Wills, Head of Communities, Libraries and Heritage, took over managerial responsibility for the strategy. This arrangement continued after the new NM service was up and running.

Many existing local ward-based partnerships were involved in developing the NM service. Involvement also came from borough-wide groups, such as the Tenants and Residents Federation and the Barking and Dagenham Council for Voluntary Services.

Council staff got involved in the rollout of the service through staff briefings and training sessions. Councillors could also take part through development workshops.

Local residents were invited to take part in a total of 14 launch events held throughout the borough.

Micah Gold, an independent consultant, led the initial evaluation of the NM pilots, the development of the strategy, and the rollout of the new service.

The problems and how they were tackled

Fewer people taking part in community forums
Attendances at area-based forums had been falling for some time. Following a review to find out why, the forums were disbanded because people felt they were not effective at tackling local issues. The report promised an approach to neighbourhood working would be developed to fill this gap.

Police teams often worked in isolation
Safer Neighbourhoods police teams were operating in all wards of the borough. However, they worked in relative isolation from other locally based services.

Local people felt they lacked a voice and influence
Residents did not feel listened to, or that they could express their feelings. They felt local issues were not getting systematically resolved and that they did not have enough influence on local services. This was borne out by the local election result, the findings from the borough's residents' survey, and also a major consultation exercise that was carried out when developing the borough's community cohesion strategy.

How the pilot schemes were run

Previously the council had run two neighbourhood management pilots, using Neighbourhood Renewal funding. The two pilots ran concurrently, but were quite different in scale.

The first, in the Barking area, covered three wards - Abbey, Gascoigne and Thames - with a total population of 28,000 people. This area was known to have a higher proportion of ethnic minority residents compared to the borough as a whole.

The second pilot focused on a smaller area that much more closely fitted the traditional idea of a neighbourhood, the Marks Gate Estate. This was home to about 6,000 people.

The evaluation of the pilot schemes found that the Marks Gate model was perceived by stakeholders to have been more effective in delivering change. The findings concluded that the philosophy of ‘small is beautiful' held true for neighbourhood management.

What happened next

The council was concerned that there was no forward strategy in place for these pilots. There was a real fear that any momentum gained could quickly be lost.

To ensure this did not happen and to tackle the problems described above, the chief executive went ahead and developed a NM strategy for the whole borough.

An important part of this thinking was the chief executive's desire to make service delivery much more localised. There was a strong belief that this should be achieved through a process of cultural, rather than structural, change.

The first major step along the path to developing the strategy and service was a scoping exercise. This work, carried out between September and October 2006, looked at the evidence and good practice that was available nationally.

Part of the scoping project involved interviewing 14 key local stakeholders. Each of these had a keen interest in the way a neighbourhood management approach would be developed. Among this group were representatives from several service areas in the council, and its partners, including:

  • housing
  • regeneration
  • community safety
  • children's services
  • democratic services
  • community development
  • tenant participation

Views were also canvassed from the safer neighbourhoods police team.

The scoping work found that:

  • an ‘influencing' model of NM was preferred to a service devolution model
  • co-location of staff in neighbourhoods should be considered where appropriate
  • residents should be encouraged to engage with the NM process through various support methods, including informal neighbourhood partnerships
  • councillors should play a central role, and be supported in doing so

The scoping work also concluded that because deprivation was widespread the entire borough should get some kind of NM service. A more intensive approach should be focused on the wards of highest need. A ‘lighter touch' approach, building on the safer neighbourhood policing approach, should be developed for elsewhere.

The report suggested that financial support should come from:

  • the housing revenue account
  • the council's Adult and Community Services department
  • through external funds

There would be, however, an overall funding gap that would need to be met by redirecting resources allocated to other areas of work. This could be justified by the fact that the NM service was seen as a high priority by the council.

Adopting a mixture of approaches

The scoping work also developed a methodology to propose neighbourhoods. This would be used to determine which neighbourhoods and wards would be candidates for the intensive NM approach.

The methodology used a weighted set of criteria to ‘score' individual wards or neighbourhoods. These were, in descending order of weighting, as follows:

  • the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004, published by Communities and Local Government in 2007
  • British Crime Survey data, and ‘known to police' hotspots
  • youth offending data
  • housing data, including nuisance, anti social behaviour, graffiti and vandalism
  • concentrations of public housing
  • evidence of visible signs of environmental degradation.

The scoping report was taken to the council's executive in November 2006. The aim was for members to ‘buy in' to this emerging direction, and to sign up to the methodology that would be applied to identify the wards for the more intensive NM approach.

The decision making process for choosing the neighbourhoods that would get more resources could have been difficult. Taking the scoping report to the council's corporate management team and executive helped to make sure that there was support for the recommendations later on.

Outcomes and impacts

A borough-wide NM strategy was developed and adopted by the council in March 2007. This defined:

  • the wards for the intensive NM approach, and the timescale in which the service would be phased in
  • the model of NM that would be applied to both the ‘intensive' and ‘lighter touch' wards
  • the staff and financial resources that would be allocated to each approach
  • how governance, service planning, problem solving and reporting would work
  • how success would be measured

The ‘intensive' NM approach was shaped by national evidence from the NM pathfinder model. It was also developed and refined by seeking the views of national experts on how far that model could be reduced, while still expecting to achieve similar outcomes.

The ‘lighter touch' NM approach was based on a model developed by the London Borough of Bexley. This model had been shown to strengthen neighbourhood policing through the use of neighbourhood coordinators.

Seven borough wards were selected for the intensive approach. The remaining 10 got the lighter touch treatment.

The project team

A project team was set up to support the development and roll out of the new NM service. It was drawn from teams in the council and partner organisations, including:

  • property services
  • communications
  • human resources
  • community safety
  • police
  • community development and tenant participation
  • partnerships and information teams

The project team was managed by an independent consultant, Micah Gold. Team members proved they could work together to deliver change.

Strong leadership from Rob Whiteman, the council's Chief Executive, and the Leader of the Council, Charles Fairbrass, ensured everyone was aware the new NM service was one of the borough's main priorities. This helped to make sure that all team members were strongly committed to the project.

The NM team included a total of 27 staff. They were recruited in two phases to help ensure that enough staff of the right calibre could be found.

Neighbourhood management offices were set up in wards where the ‘intensive' approach was being used. These were co-located with existing community or service provider facilities.

The community safety partnership agreed on a management protocol for neighbourhood coordinators delivering the ‘lighter touch' approach. This reflected the fact that these staff would need to work very closely with the safer neighbourhoods police teams.

Terms of reference were drawn up for neighbourhood virtual teams and neighbourhood partnerships. Some changes to the council's organisational structure were made.

The housing tenant participation team was brought under the management of the NM team, and plans were drawn up to further integrate their roles in the team.

At ward level, links were also created between the neighbourhood teams' work and the local area agreement (LAA) reward targets and key service plans. This was done by preparing guidance material for the neighbourhood action plans.

The first set of action plans was published in January 2008. The timing of this meant that the plans would be able to influence the annual service planning and budget setting cycle.

A Neighbourhood Management Advisory Group was set up to help clear blockages and to commit resources to the action plans on behalf of service directors. This group was made up of the council's heads of service.

Getting the message across

The next stage involved raising the level of public awareness of the service, and making sure that local people knew what it was for.

Among the main elements of the communication programme were the launch of a dedicated ‘neighbourhood management' section on the council's public website, and the launch of a logo and visual identity.

Newsletters announcing the service were published in each of the 17 wards. A series of launch events helped spread the message. These also provided an opportunity for engaging and consulting local people.

A learning programme was then developed. The aim of this was to ensure that people throughout the council and the partnership knew about - and understood - the new way of working, and were aware of the culture change that accompanied it.

Development workshops were held to make sure councillors were well versed in the new approach, and that their concerns could be dealt with.

A programme of meetings was held to introduce all councillors to their neighbourhood managers and to establish the ‘ground rules'. An intensive induction was delivered for the new neighbourhood management teams. This ensured that they were introduced to all relevant service teams and managers across the council and the partnership.

A full programme of consultation was carried out, including surveys of about 100 people in each ward. These helped to give the team a better understanding of local concerns.

Early successes

It will take some time for the outcomes of the NM work to become clear, and for its longer term impact to be felt. However, the early signs are encouraging.

Already, hundreds of local residents have positively engaged with the NM teams. This has helped the teams to achieve a much better understanding of local issues and the different needs of different wards and neighbourhoods.

The NM teams were able to swiftly win the confidence of their local communities by immediately reacting to local issues, and dealing with them quickly. Examples of ‘quick wins' so far have included:

  • clamping down on illegal motorbike scrambling on wasteland in the Thames ward
  • dealing with a persistent burglary problem, due to poor quality locking windows
  • repairing a touch-screen computer system used for choice based lettings that had been left unrepaired for six months - after the NM team got involved, the system was up and running again within two weeks

What could have been done better, and next steps

With the NM service in its early days, it is still too early to identify what could have been done better.

However, the implementation of the service in a short space of time presented a considerable challenge to all partners, particularly for local councillors and the NM team.

One of the biggest challenges involved simultaneously delivering launch events, carrying out initial consultation in all wards, giving full inductions to team members, and setting up offices and systems.

It takes time for neighbourhood management services to ‘bed in' and for longer-term outcomes to be felt. We will update this case study over the coming months, as experience with the service develops. Among the questions we will seek to answer are:

  • How are the neighbourhood partnerships and virtual teams developing?
  • What have been the benefits of having neighbourhood action plans, and how have they influenced mainstream service planning?
  • What are the relative benefits of the ‘lighter touch' versus the intensive approaches to neighbourhood management in the borough?
  • How has the operation of the neighbourhood management advisory group helped the implementation of the new service?
  • How has the neighbourhood management service generally, and neighbourhood action plans in particular, been linked to performance indicators and priorities chosen for the council's next LAA?
  • Has the new NM service been instrumental in helping all services ‘localise' their delivery?

Similarly, it is perhaps too early to pick out the critical success factors from the council's experience with neighbourhood management services.

What is clear, though, is the need to make sure that:

  • there is strong leadership and commitment, both political and managerial
  • a ‘whole organisation' approach to change is taken, with strong emphasis on investing in communications and cultural change
  • political buy-in is secured when settling on a method for prioritising neighbourhoods
  • change is delivered in stages, rather than everything in one go - be sure to ‘bring people with you'
  • the change process is being led by people with the right qualities to make it a success - such people need to be either freed up from other tasks or brought in from outside

More information

Charlotte Shrimpton
Group Manager, Neighbourhood Management
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
telephone: 020 8227 2994

Micah Gold
Micah Gold Associates
telephone: 020 8090 4613