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The power of a leaderless approach: Rossendale’s response to coronavirus

In the second part of his update, Ken Masser, the chief executive of the Rossendale Leisure Trust, talks about Pennine Lancashire's response to Covid-19.

16th July 2020

In early 2020 many of Pennine Lancashire’s local delivery pilot (LDP) workstreams were progressing at a fast pace, then of course coronavirus (Covid-19) hit, and things have changed.

Whilst many of the workstreams have adapted and changed, it’s been amazing to see how many of the things we have been working on as part of the LDP have influenced the coronavirus response.

In Rossendale we launched the Rossendale Connected initiative as a collection of statutory partners, and a diverse range of third sector organisations who came together and divided up the work.

A banner dedicated to the nation's key workers

Council colleagues were incredible at ‘giving away’ power and enabling and facilitating those best placed in the heart of the community to respond to local need.

Rather than a statutory response, we built a sustainable ‘micro-community’ approach with a focus on neighbours looking after each other and community-led solutions. By pairing a volunteer with a family/person in need, we rapidly reduced demand through the ‘hub’ as we created support networks.

Several foodbanks rallied together, sharing resources, expertise and approaches. And hundreds of volunteers were co-ordinated through community organisations who had the connections to get things done.

We have seen ‘leaders’ everywhere, the huge presence and power of local leadership has been so common that it’s almost been like there are no leaders at all! It has been so rewarding to reflect on the fact that many of these principles and approaches have been fostered through the system-focused learning and influence of the LDP.

Whilst the Rossendale Connected coronavirus response is a powerful one, it’s important to recognise that the story started a couple of years before.

System-wide approach to primary care networks

Early on, primary care leaders recognised the important part community partners could play and, from the moment primary care networks (PCNs) were announced, Rossendale’s clinical directors factored this into their PCN structure.

The primary care community network was established, which tagged a health-focused community partnership meeting onto the end of the clinically-focussed meeting, and I was asked to chair the group. The two groups have very much blended into one, tackling local issues such as excess winter deaths and suicide prevention.

Importantly, the PCN was the designated governance group for the Together an Active Future (TaAF) project. When coronavirus came, we had the foundation of a network that knew how to work together across the system on a place and person-centred way, and the network sprang into action. Weekly calls with 40+ organisations coordinated the work with input from council officers, community partners, GPs, the clinical commissioning group, public health colleagues from the county council and many others.

What have we learned?

As part of our Rossendale Connected initiative, like most places we’ve pondered the things we’ve learned and the ‘take-aways’ from this awful pandemic. I’ve reflected on this and these are the top five things I’ve learned:

  1. Connection beats control. In Rossendale our coronavirus response was leaderless, everyone was a leader. We all allowed each other to do the thing we were good at and focus on connection rather than control. The council was responsible and played a crucial role in being accountable, but collectively we demonstrated the principle of distributed leadership brilliantly. Our greatest power comes by recognising the power in others.
  2. Authenticity is absolutely vital. It’s a non-negotiable characteristic of a leaderless approach. Our group of 40+ local people with a passion for place were constantly scared together, kind to each other, worried together and at times were openly bewildered. But we admitted mistakes and sought collective solutions.
  3. Be thankful. Through our Rossendale Connected initiative, our currency has been gratitude. We’ve paid our way in collective ‘thank yous’ and ‘well dones’. There have been few conversations about contracts, service level agreements or transactions, but incredible continued expressions of thanks and appreciation for each other. This has been the currency that has driven our collaboration.
  4. Build bridges not tunnels. If you are taking a journey together with a group of people, it is so much better to go over a bridge than through a tunnel. The difference is not the destination but simply that everyone can enjoy the view and see where they are going. Determining the vision together and communicating effectively so that everyone can ‘see’ what is vital.
  5. Compassion is the compass. As an accountant I find it hard to get away from numbers, and cash, and figures. What I’ve seen in Rossendale is decision-making based on compassion for people and a passion for place. Being guided by compassion as the compass has led to great decisions.

We have combined a leaderless, connected approach with gratitude as the currency and compassion as our compass. Our relentless focus on self-sufficient micro communities has yielded unimaginable levels of neighbourliness, care, concern and support on almost every street and in almost every home.

My hope is that the connections we have forged will result in a sustainable change to the system that we could only have dreamed of before the pandemic; and that it will lead to healthier, happier and more active lives for people within our towns and villages for generations to come.

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