Ian Treasure is the Programme Lead at Blackpool Fulfilling Lives. In this blog he reflects on the work of the programme over the last 7 years and how the system has, and still is, changing.

Blackpool is famous for illusions. Similar to the visual and kinaesthetic feast of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, System Change relies on redesigning those first few seconds, the moment of truth, when a customer comes into contact with a service. ‘System Change’ is the latest Baader-Meinhof frequency illusion, seldom heard but now thankfully ubiquitous. In order for system change to occur, it’s a back office job. That customer shouldn’t be troubled by how it is a good experience, just be happy that they are being treated well, regardless of how they present or how they feel about themselves. Yes, you read the last bit right. How they feel about themselves. Systems can do a lot to influence the effect they have on the feelings of people experiencing multiple disadvantages. If your customers are destitute, weary of being degraded because they are homeless, troubled psychologically and take drugs and drink all day to escape a crap life, with regular arrests thrown into the mix, then they may just get annoyed easily without a different approach to the moment of truth. Wouldn’t you? And of course, aggression normally leads to being asked to leave somewhere, being re-traumatised, and so the cycle continues.

Osmosis will assist System Change, but partnerships of hearts and minds and action will drive it. True systemic change leaders believe in coproduction with lived experience and making it happen, recognising that system change begins with them. An agreed vision or definition of what system change really means and people with lived experience holding that system to account is also business critical.  Of course, system change will not occur unless there is collaboration. If you are a lone voice kicking the can down the street, keep kicking it. After all it’s the fourth person that gets up and starts dancing, not the first one, that creates a movement for social change. By 2020 we had other agencies feeding back what they had done to meet the Blackpool definition of systemic change, and what had changed, and I could admire them, whilst resting my weary feet, albeit briefly.

The National Lottery Community Fund launched the Fulfilling Lives programme in 2014. Blackpool is a local authority that’s service infrastructure had been ravaged by (at that time) five years of austerity.  Poverty is a lack of access to things; basic needs, quality of life, and also, I propose, a lack of access to tangible hope. In Blackpool an eye watering £10m over 7 years provided many hundreds of disadvantaged people help to find connection and a sense of purpose, but more importantly, access to hope.

Of course, the temptation to invest £10m in an impoverished town where austerity had left huge gaps in provision would naturally suggest using it as service poly-filler. This would achieve great things and we would all feel better, but what when the money runs out? Where is the sustainability? The funding came with one overarching aim, a short phrase which took a few years to digest: “…must achieve systemic change.”

Like all other Fulfilling Lives projects, Blackpool invested in many frontline workers (navigators) to find people to help. Services in Blackpool are very good, but the most disadvantaged 1% of people, with chaotic lives, found services hard to access. Navigators and a Lived Experience Team helped identify what the barriers were to the most disadvantaged 1%.

So, has Blackpool Fulfilling Lives changed all systems in Blackpool? No. But it has started. Tenacity is the key. It took 60 years before clear evidence of tobacco smoke harms led to smoking bans indoors, so with the evidence base of effectiveness for helping disadvantaged people still emerging, it will take a generation to truly implement. The unconvinced should take note, as the economic arguments are unequivocal. The new Changing Futures programme uses much of the learning from all 12 Fulfilling Lives areas in its guidance, which is heartening to those of us committed to leaving a lasting legacy.

So, if you are a senior tactical person working to influence leaders or a leader trying to influence your peers, keep kicking that can up the street. People will be dancing with you before too long.