Community Commissioning in Balsall Heath

We had a fantastic meeting last night where the Balsall Heath community commissioning panel got together to consider proposals for arts and cultural projects in the neighbourhood and decide which to fund.

This meeting was the culmination of two months of running around by Arshad, who has been working closely with all the subgroups since the panel was formally brought together in early January, to help them take ideas and form them into deliverable projects. The main outcome of the meeting is that all of the projects proposed were approved by the panel (subject to some negotiation over details in one or two cases):

  • Beginner’s pottery sessions in the Sun Dragon Studio
  • West Indian debating society and events
  • Football tournament and CV checking sessions for 16-22 year olds
  • An oral history ten years on from the Balsall Heath tornado
  • Museum visits in London, including the V&A
  • Balsall Heath Heroes campaign
  • Residential trip to the Lake District including photography and sculpture
  • Balsall Eat food festival

Now that the projects and the budgets have been agreed, the next stage is for panel members to actually make these events happen. Some will be fairly straightforward, working with existing cultural intermediaries in Balsall Heath and Birmingham to deliver the projects, with panel members determining how the projects should run and who is targeted. Others will involve more work from the panel members to shape and organise the activities. The debating society is exceedingly exciting in this regard as panel members will be putting together their own schedule of talks and activities.

Of course this brings up lots of questions about new skills to be learned. None of the panel members who presented project proposals last night had ever done anything like this before – pitching their ideas to a group of people. The presenters did a great job and it was a really supportive environment, with lots of enthusiasm for the ideas, even where other panel members had questions about aspects of what was being proposed. As the projects develop there’ll be other new skills people will need to pick up such as organising publicity, managing a budget and thinking about how the projects’ success will be evaluated. This brings interesting comparisons to what Birmingham City Council have been doing in their cultural co-commissioning pilot where a lot of the energy of the intermediaries involved has been on upskilling the communities being worked with – the kind of work that organisations like Reel Access and individuals like Matt Daniels have been doing for years. It will be really interesting to compare our approaches as we go through this phase of the research.

It’s going to be a busy few months, but we’ve got a great team of people working on the projects, so I’m more excited than scared about how things are going to go.

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