Will Cole, Programme Director for One Southwark shares what they have learnt from setting up the giving scheme seven months ago and where they’re going next. 

One Southwark was launched in January 2022 and it’s been quite a journey!  It is the ‘giving scheme’ for this very dynamic but very unequal south London borough.  Like several other areas in the capital, Southwark is characterised by both wealth and poverty, and life chances are not evenly spread. One of the groups most affected is young people, with a shocking 40% growing up in poverty. Too often, young people from poorer communities cannot access the opportunities that others take for granted.  So, we set up One Southwark to help level the playing field by finding ways for Southwark’s resources and opportunities to be shared.

Unlike many other giving schemes, we made an early decision to work directly with young residents rather than act as a funder of other groups.  This is so we can understand what is holding them back and what the rest of Southwark can do to help remove those barriers – for longer-term change. No pressure then!

What surprised us most when setting up the scheme?

This was simply the huge amount of work involved. We were pretty much starting from scratch, and we had to build everything from the ground up.  Sometimes it’s easy to underestimate how much time and detail goes into that. Having previously worked on established programmes, I had the luxury of inheriting some assets that could be used to support the progression or development of programmes, but when establishing a new initiative (and with a one-person team!), it is your responsibility to develop those assets.

Another surprise was how multi-skilled you need to become as a one-person team, and you have to develop specialisms that would often be held by different departments.  For example, the creation of a brand identity, logo and promotion on social media. This was something I had never done before and had limited experience, however with the support of the team and coalition members we have created a strong brand and great logo.

The Coalition supporting One Southwark

One Southwark is driven by a Coalition of 10 community stakeholders. This includes representatives of businesses, housing associations, funders, statutory agencies, and charities. They believe the status quo can be challenged to make Southwark a fairer place.  They play a pivotal role – a central cog to the system we are trying to build as they are using their resources, connections and influence to instigate change.

Having recruited our first cohort of 20 young people in May, we are drawing on the Coalition to help remove barriers to and support them to move forward with their chosen pathways.  So the Coalition is actually developing in response to what the cohort need.  For example, they are:

  • Providing opportunities and connections for young people on the programme such as facilitating meet and greet sessions between staff and young people, connecting young people to businesses within the borough and donating essential equipment such as Chromebooks.
  • Leveraging their contacts to draw in other assets and support
  • Demonstrating how it is possible to implement changes in systems and practice to the benefit of young people.

In essence, the Coalition is a demonstration of effective collective action – organisations working towards a common goal.

Our ambitions for the programme

It is of course that we will transform lives and opportunities of under-represented young people through collective action. We hope to do this by:

  • Breaking cycles of poverty
  • Stimulating changes in behaviours and practice of community stakeholders (businesses, funders, charities, and residents)
  • Increasing cross-sector collaborations
  • Facilitating more equitable distribution of resources and assets within the borough.

Fundamentally the success of the programme will be determined by the diverse experiences and ambitions of the young people involved.  It’s still early days so we are working incredibly hard to ensure the individual needs are met, which is no small feat.  We’ve been so impressed by the resilience of the young people on the programme. Despite the many challenges and setbacks they have faced, there is a unanimous determination to change their current circumstances – which is just incredible.

What we’ve learnt

The journey of setting up the One Southwark programme has been challenging, mainly because of the speed at which we were able to transition from concept to delivery. That would not have been possible without the support of the Coalition, our community partners and the young people who put their trust in a new initiative.

I have always believed in the potential of Southwark. Despite its many challenges, it is a borough with a wealth of untapped resources. I have been gratified by the number of community stakeholders that have reached out to ‘give’ something to the programme.

The first seven months of the programme have been very exciting but we are just at the start of this journey.  We want to bring young people and local institutions together, to learn from each other and find new and pioneering ways to remove barriers that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds find are in their way and thereby create a true ‘One Southwark’.