Julian Wadsworth: National Partner Manager at the Active Communities Network

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As Director of Shaping Portsmouth, Stef Nienaltowski has had the pleasure to meet some truly inspiring people, and Julian Wadsworth is amongst the top of that list. Julian's commitment and contribution to the people of our city and region is simply brilliant.

Julian is passionate, committed and dedicated, and this interview is only a small snapshot of what he and his organisation, the Active Communities Network, are achieving.

Stef Nienaltowski: Good afternoon, I'm sat talking to Julian Wadsworth, who's the National Partner Manager at the Active Communities Network, and he has direct responsibility for the Hampshire Area. Good afternoon Julian.

Julian Wadsworth: Good afternoon Stef.

SN: Julian, the website says "Tackle poverty, create opportunities, inspire change". Who is this aimed at, and practically how does your organisation do that?

JW: So, Active Communities Network, over the last 11 years, have always delivered work in areas of high deprivation, in the UK indices of multiple deprivation, so we do our research, we look at the need, we go into areas where there is poverty, increasing issues for the community and young people. So, we operate at the moment in London, Manchester, Northern Ireland Belfast, Havant, and Portsmouth. And the way we operate is, it is about consulting with young people, consulting with the community, consulting with stakeholders, understanding what is already being delivered, looking at the themes and the needs, and then delivering a co-produced activity programme, leading to positive pathways for young people, building relationships, and I can't emphasise how important that is, about building relationships, offering sustainable delivery in the communities so it's not a drop-in, drop-out delivery model, it's there for many years.

But, it's developing young people primarily from 9 through up to 25, supporting them through any type of learning pathway that they want to explore, developing employability, work readiness skills, raising aspirations, but increasingly also developing increased resilience which is very important in our local communities, and some of the issues that young people have to face in communities at this moment in time.

SN: Wow! I mean, an amazingly broad spectrum. I guess that leads me to ask, what would be the challenges in keeping the service running, and what do you need doing in the future to protect that level of service?

JW: The thing with Active Communities Network, we're quite proactive in that we're in a mixed economy in terms of our income. One of the things we're very keen on is to share best practise; releasing academic research, reports to shape and influence the sector. Coming from a youth and community with a big focus on support for development. That's really important for us, not to keep hold of our evidence but to share that. But that also supports us in terms of developing partnerships with a range of national grant funders, business, corporate, local authorities, Police & Crime Commissioners offices, so it's not just focused around one particular income generator really. And in terms of for the future, again I think what we're very clear that it's quality over quantity. If we can influence the sector through our training curriculum and our manual, that goes all the way from a pre-level 1 qualification now all the way to an undergraduate degree, which we saw was a gap in the particular sector that we work, that would be our ability to help shape the work in other geographical areas of the UK. But our main piece of work is to make sure that we have a sustained high-quality deliver, utilising partnerships both local, regional, and national to achieve outcomes for the community and young people.

SN: Wow. You are, and we've met a few times I know, and I use this word guardedly, but with you it actually sticks, you are an inspiration, you are so driven in what you do, but tell me how did you all get started here, how did you personally get involved in this, and where do you want to see this in say 2 or 3 years’ time?

JW: So, my own story was, in terms of work around youth work, and youth work is the prime thing that we always go back to, we talk about Sport for Development but you've got to have key youth work skills, as a young person I was only interested in sport or the military. Unfortunately I had an illness, I had to give up that dream, but I still had a massive interest in sport, and I worked in terms of children's homes, I worked for the Local Authority, local charities, and just develop that awareness around a whole range of different agendas, from youth work to youth justice, sport, and put that all together really, and got involved in the Government's Positive Futures programme which was a Home Office initiative started about 1999. I ran one of the pilots at that time working for the Local Authority, but it just went from there really. Working for the Local Authority in a couple of different departments, working for the football club, the community department at the football club, and then other local charities. And Active Communities Network, they've been operating for 11 years. I've been involved with the founder, and some of the founders of ACN about 15 or 16 years in terms of the work they were doing in London.

We worked in partnership, best practise, learning, joint training, and the charity that I was operating about 3 or 4 years ago it was a small charity, it just made local sense to merge the charity and Active Communities Network as you can imagine, because we've got this academic research and this training module, quite a number of small to medium organisations that operate nationally, are part of our partnership, adopt our training methodology, and also it is a two-way thing, because if we are looking to do a piece of work in say, South Wales, or the North East, we know there is a quality assured partner there, that will operate to the standards that we expect. They will share our value in terms of CPD [Continuing Professional Development - Ed] training for the workforce, but they really do get youth work and Sport for Development strategy. So, for me, it was a natural movement. For me personally at this moment in time it's really difficult, in terms of where we are, in terms of services. There are bubbles across the UK where there is still quite a lot of resource for young people, but there are gaps in the UK. There's also increasing external issues that affect our local communities as well, so I would like to see a lot more collaborative working from the strategy level, and local authorities and government, all the way down to local City based organisations, including statutory, voluntary sector, utilising government funding, local authority funding that may come from the government, but also grant funding and working very closely with business.

Because, I think that without the support of business, and we're not just talking about hard cash here, we're talking about learning, we're talking about peer role models, we're talking about raising aspirations, we're talking about apprenticeship programmes, but also Universities as well, so education in a University model plays a massive part, so again, you can sometimes get pockets of numbers of those organisations to work in a certain geographical area, I would like to see that spread over a wider sector. You know, being a Portsmouth lad, growing up in Portsmouth, I've got to say that Portsmouth has so much to offer; the cultural, the increase in tourism, the development of art space and cultural services, Portsmouth is such a thriving community, we need to sell that, we need to sing from the rooftops about that, but at the same time what we can't do is bury our heads in the sand around some of the other elements that are a threat to that community, because in some way, if we don't counter that, it could take away from some of the positive stuff that's going on in our community.

SN: I'm just amazed at the amount of work that you get through, in your relatively small organisation as you say. If people want to get involved in the ACN team, how do they do that?

JW: So, we've got the website, the Active Communities website, we're based at the Victory Business Centre in Portsmouth, which is just by Asda Fratton, which is a City Council enterprise.

SN: Julian, thank you, thank you for your time, and I look forward to working with you as we go forward.

JW: Thank you very much Stef, much appreciated.

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