Worthing pier before a storm

Even when we are way beyond school age summer feels like a time of transition and this summer more than ever. It seems both endless and goes in the blink of an eye. Time has been distorted by our year of pandemic and I am feeling that sense of summer transition more than ever. I also feel it because I think we are in the eye of the storm, between pandemic and a post pandemic world, and we need to use this time to recover from what has happened and get ready for what comes next.

I think we are all finding ourselves balanced between response and recovery, between old and new worlds. Part of this is the pandemic and part of this is the moment of transition that we are living through at a larger and more profound scale – beautifully articulated by Cassie Robinson here and then reflected on by Jonathan Flowers recently. I reflected on this in my last piece (warning – long read warning) which was oriented around the question as to whether we are hospicing the old system or designing for the new.

The balance between response and recovery is hard – it demands a lot of people to hold both those realities and even harder as we embrace the idea that recovery is about moving into a different world to the one that we left last March. So perhaps less about recovery and more about regeneration and renewal.

I am also in the middle of my own transition as I am stepping into the interim CEX role here at Adur and Worthing and its making me reflect on what is needed to help our system and our places step into whats coming next.

But so far so theoretical – and district councils are anything but. We are where every kind of policy collides and we have to make sense of it in real places. It’s messy and its imperfect and while a model or a theory helps you you really just need to be doing the work in the best way possible. I have to say I love it – living the balance between thinking and doing.

Recovery isn’t a static, linear, thing and what I hope we are doing now is weaving that work into our mainstream with the hope of shaping that different world – or at least our small corner of it. This is how I hope we can move from recovery to renewal. Here are just some of the threads we are weaving:

  • We have a renewed focus on the what I think of as the minutiae of place – the small stuff that makes a big difference to how people feel about and relate to the places that they live.
  • This feels like an important foundation for the community mapping work, which is just finishing its first phase and will move out of the desk research into the field research and community working next
  • At the end of last year we commissioned some research from Policy in Practice and we can see from that thats the economic impact of Covid is going to hit out most vulnerable residents hard but being sighted on where this falls hardest is crucial to us being able to do something about it. The proactive work we started from that feels very strong and is starting to get traction internally and externally
  • In the same period our Climate Assembly gave us huge energy and possibilities around how we can work with our communities to address the climate emergency.
  • We’re starting work on new updated Public Health strategy and thinking about everything we have learned over the last year about what helps us stay well both physically and mentally – and in the short term that is giving us a focus on getting people outside to appreciate and use our green and blue spaces
  • We have appointed two fabulous women to job share our participation lead in post and we have appointed a data lead – these are both really important in terms of getting the team in place
  • We are moving into the delivery phase of our affordable homes strategy which includes in it some of the immediate work needed to be ready for the end of the eviction ban
  • We are about the launch something we have been working on to support the renewal of our town centres which I will write about separately as am hugely excited about what we are doing with this

This is without talking about the work we are doing around economic development or really touching on our sustainability agenda.

Its a long and I think impressive list and honestly – it doesn’t feel enough – and at the same time it feels like a huge amount for a team that is also delivering business as usual brilliantly. I fear that as we ‘finish’ the pandemic at some point this summer (we hope), the next wave of it, the end of the evictions ban, the end of furlough, the issue of universal credit uplift risk being lost and becoming part of an ongoing battle against inequality rather than a focused response to the pandemic.

Right now the focus feels like its on the end of Covid restrictions and the additional Covid cash in the system is creating a real and valuable buffer – but we really do need to be mending the roof – or building a more sustainable roof – because we are heading towards a deeply uncertain economic future with the knowledge that that Covid cash needs to be paid for from somewhere. We have a window of opportunity and we should use it.

This is why over the summer we will be doing some work as a leadership community to make sure that we have our focus in the right places and that we are set up to meet what is coming in a way which reflects our strategy and the ambitions of our residents. We started this work this month and it felt like the right conversation at the right time as it gives us a place to process and hold the change thats going on internally and externally and work collaboratively to navigate.

Like many organisations, the last 15 months have shown how adaptive and responsive we can be as an organisation. We now need to make sure that we are also resilient and able to sustain this kind of effort and so our work now is to build that into the organisational fabric so we can be ready for what comes next.

For me personally this work is to lean deeply into systems thinking and leadership, not accept boundaries as barriers but instead as opportunities to connect. I believe we should always be striving to shift closer to being properly in coproduction with our communities and part of the work of summer is to look at how we need to be as an organisation to be best able to work with our partners in other public sector bodies or in the local economy as well as treat residents as partners in place. And at a very basic level – we can’t be the best possible partner externally if we are not able to partner and work across boundaries internally and this is something we need to work on.

We are starting to see the shared focus of the last 15 months dissipate, we are getting back to business as usual but in a very changed context. It feels right to spend some time to refocus on what is important and absorb the learning from the last 15 months because we have a small window as we enjoy the relief of restrictions ending and before the additional funding in the system starts to dissipate. This could sound depressing and exhausting but I choose to think of it as optimistic and energising we have, collectively, achieved so much over the last 15 months – what will stop us continuing to do so?

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