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Sycamore Street

Working with the capabilities of the individuals in a single community, to make their aspirations a reality.

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In 2009 Swindon Borough Council, Participle and a number of local families developed and prototyped a highly successful framework to support ‘families in chronic crisis’ to build new lives. The result is the LIFE programme. An integral part of this work, in order to understand the lives these families can grow into, was to develop an understanding of other categories of families, families we call ‘families on the brink’, ‘families just surviving’ and ‘families surviving.’ This gave us a unique insight into a whole range of families in any given community.

Sycamore Street (most UK towns have a Sycamore Street) is a project that is taking one small community within Swindon, examining the capabilities and aspirations of the families in that community, and supporting a social movement that uses those capabilities, and achieves their vision. This project started in January 2010, and is a partnership between Swindon Borough Council, Participle, and most importantly, the residents of Swindon.

It is difficult to talk about something, yet to be created, but whatever we build to support the community will start by creating the kinds of relationships with people that meet them where they are at, see life through their eyes, capitalise on their resources, develop their capabilities and open them to new opportunities. It must have an emphasis on both the individual and cultural transformation.

We will build something – a ‘vehicle’, a platform, a network, a new social organisation – that that feels accessible to people, that people themselves own and have a stake in, that is connected to wider resources, systems, and enterprise opportunities. It might be owned and run by people themselves, Swindon Borough Council or a partnership between the two. It will be a relationship builder, connector, idea generator, resource gatherer, opportunity builder - not just waiting for people to come with ideas but developing small groups to be in a position to create opportunities for themselves; a social version of an enterprise incubator, that is not just about enterprise but capability-building too.

We do know that it would almost certainly have the following elements:

  • Openness - A way of inviting people that exposes them to new possibilities;
  • Relevance - A way of identifying what interests, aspirations, opportunities and challenges people relate to most, and what is most likely to bring about change in their lives;
  • Appropriateness - A way of mapping and understanding people’s capabilities, values, strengths, resources and skills in order to make the process and opportunities relevant to them; e.g. if a value is immediacy, then systems will be set up to ensure immediate results;
  • Practical support - New kinds of secondary services relevant to people’s life conditions, e.g. transport, childcare, that will enable them to participate;
  • Operational support - Space, facilities, new health and safety agreement, new community hire agreements, support for marketing.


  • Systems for investment and ownership, e.g. ways for the wider community to have stakes in the outputs or to invest in the initiatives, donate time etc.;
  • Fast access to resources, assets and grants. Eventually the vehicle should be able to build up its own resource pool, but initially it’s likely that a small floating financial resource will be made available to support activities as it gets started;
  • A bank of ‘ready to go’ opportunities, enterprise ideas, developmental experiences so that people experience something with real momentum immediately;
  • Direct support – Coaching, idea development, active advisory & problem solving roles;  Connections to local business, specialists, knowledge, expertise;
  • A shut down process for things that are not working;
  • Barrier removal – senior support to push aside blocks to progress;
  • Built-in evaluation of both hard measures and self reported outcomes.

We think the best way of learning how this should work is to prototype it, live with the people who will use and own it, so that they are able to shape it to be relevant to their circumstances. From previous work we can already identify some characteristics of social/community relationships and behaviours that will shape its initial design. Although we don’t know exactly what people will want to develop, we expect activity to cover some of the following areas:

  • Economic – developing capabilities, contribution and employability, e.g. engaging in using strengths and skills, paid and unpaid work, starting new enterprises and volunteering. This will be a capability focus for the project, taking a broad resource (not just financial) view;
  • Social – We know that residents have the capacity to radically change the community they live in. We know that this doesn’t happen enough, or radically enough. We expect some activity to address this. In addition to a capability focus, this will be a peer-to-peer social network focus;
  • Health and Care – The different health services provided to these families could have a more user-centred and preventative approach. We expect the prototype to provide insight and activity related to different types of universal health services.

Progress on this project will regularly be updated in our Families blog

For more information on this project, please email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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