People Powered: In conversation with Billy Watson & Christine Owen
Last month, Big Hearts gathered close charity supporters and partners as part of a special evening announcing the charity’s strategic plans. At this occasion we sat down with Big Hearts’ Chairman Billy Watson and Christine Owen at Nesta, to talk about the outcomes of their ‘listen and learn’ approach.
Billy Watson is the Chief Executive Officer at the Scottish Association for Mental Health. He was appointed Chairman of the Big Hearts’ Board in December 2016, after joining as a Trustee in 2014. Billy has played a pivotal role in establishing the official charity of Heart of Midlothian Football Club as a trusted non-profit working closely with local organisations and football fans to create positive social outcomes across Edinburgh and beyond. Under his leadership, Big Hearts recently launched an ambitious 2021-2024 strategy focusing on social connections, positive mental health and equal opportunities.
Christine Owen is Senior Manager at Nesta, the UK innovation for social good agency. Christine leads their People Powered Results work in Scotland. The PPR Team is a Nesta specialist enterprise which have been pioneering new approaches to achieving change and innovation in complex systems since 2014.
THE PEOPLE POWERED APPROACH
Early in 2021, the Big Hearts’ Board and the Nesta PPR Team came together to review the charity’s work during the pandemic and identify key-learnings to build their future strategic plans.
Billy Watson: “This important piece of work with Nesta marked a moment in time for Big Hearts, a vital stage of reflection for us as an organisation to help us shape the next three years. Big Hearts has seen a significant growth in most recent years, and the number and diversity of stakeholders increased too. It was important for us to get a trusted third party to engage on various levels with volunteers, beneficiaries and partners. Nesta is respected and knowledgeable when it comes to people and communities. We share the same values. Their team brought a fresh perspective to review our previous plans and look to the future.”
Christine Owen: “The People Powered Result team from NESTA is working with Big Hearts’ leadership team using our Listen & Learn programmes. This approach shapes recommendations for the future by supporting organisations to explore and understand the world through the perspectives of people delivering and experiencing services. With Big Hearts, we gathered insights from about 200 individuals through a detailed survey and online workshops. These included programme participants, community partners, staff, volunteers, Hearts fans and local authorities.”
BW: “I continue to describe Big Hearts as a grassroot organisation: we are driven by people and communities. As a Board of Trustees, we want to see progression for Big Hearts, but we want to stay grounded. Nesta’s experienced methodologies helped us stay close to our stakeholders. As part of the Listen and Learn approach, Nesta and the Board came together to review the research and look at the findings. Then our Trustees took the analysis into a decision-making process, leading to our new strategic priorities towards 2024.”
MAIN LESSONS & OUTCOMES
Through the People Powered approach, Big Hearts got the opportunity to hear feedback and perspectives from a wide range of stakeholders – on what the charity had done well before and during the pandemic, and what mattered the most for the people in the local community.
BW: “Going through all the data was insightful to take our next step, knowing this was the right decision based on what our community told us. There were three type of findings:
– The first was about the DEPTH of our work. Mental health, for example, was a new area of work back in 2018 and we know our project for men of middle years is going well. It was interesting to hear that people in our local community were asking about the many other aspects of mental health. It showed that Big Hearts needs to do more.
– This work also reminded us about FOCUS. There is support that we’ve been providing for quite a long time, such as the Kinship Care programme initiated in 2015. We know what part Big Hearts plays in supporting these families, but we need to unravel the broader world of kinship care.
– Measuring the IMPACT of our activity is something we can be even better at. There are indicators of measure in all Big Hearts’ programmes, but Nesta opened new ways for us to get quantitative and qualitative data. We can improve by listening and learning more from participants and people across the community.”
THE ROLE OF COMMUNITY ANCHOR
During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, Big Hearts was designated ‘local community anchor’ by the Scottish Government. The charity became a facilitator for local groups and grassroots organisations in the Gorgie-Dalry community, providing crisis grants to help them continue support residents most vulnerable.
CO: “From what we have heard during the process, the appeal of football plays a significant part in the way residents and local organisations see Big Heart as a first point of contact. Being recognised as the community anchor organisation for the community surrounding the Hearts’ Stadium is a testament to the relationships they have built for years and the network of local people who see Big Hearts has a reliable partner, particularly in times of crisis. I think the organisation’s approach to supporting people is different from other services. Their work is incredibly valuable and really taps into the needs of individuals and families, meeting them where they are at, what really matters to them first.”
BW: “During the pandemic, we’ve initiated a subtle shift in our approach to people’s needs. It was not just about delivering programmes, but overall see how we could bring the right help to the right people, wherever it came from. We were facilitating resources and sign-posting people to other services in the community. Our role as local community anchor helped people see Big Hearts in a new light: as someone to partner and collaborate with. Going forward, we want small grassroots organisations and volunteer-led groups to look up to Big Hearts and know they can learn and get assistance form our team. Coordinating community resources is now an integral part of our mission towards 2024.”
PEOPLE WITH BIG HEARTS
A people-centred mindset remains at the heart of Big Hearts’ strategy for the next three years. The Listen and Learn approach confirmed that joining forces with services experts, local authorities and football fans alike is the way to stay grounded as an organisation and adapt effectively to any changing situations.
BW: “The business model that runs Big Hearts has been about working in partnership, from the very beginning. The pandemic shone an even bigger light on that. It has changed people’s perceptions on what Big Hearts does in times of needs. That’s something that will last. We want to continue listening and learning from the communities we aim to serve. One of the main lessons from the past year is that conversations are essential. We learnt so much about people’s real circumstances when our staff were delivering parcels and having a chat with families on their doorstep. Getting to hear experiences of people at times of need is intelligence that is hard to get in normal times. Our Board and Staff team want to build on this trust and conversations to see how we can adapt, how we can get the support that is needed and ultimately make a positive difference to many lives”.
CO: “What is really exciting for Nesta is Big Hearts’ commitment to use the listen and learn approach to continue to hear from those around them and to validate their approach & areas of work. We know how football opens doors to different conversations that are not possible for example, in statutory service delivery. Their strong connections and how they engage with families and volunteers have led to outstanding work around mental health or food poverty, and most recently supporting refugees and asylum seekers recently arrived in Scotland. I am really excited about what the future holds for Big Hearts as a community anchor organisation and a real force for good in Scottish football.”