Building a movement

LocalMotion is a collaboration between six funders and six local communities. Kathleen Kelly shares what they have learned so far.

Kathleen Kelly
Director of Collaboration, LocalMotion

LocalMotion is building a social, economic and environmental justice movement.

A funder visit to Living Cities, a US collaboration, inspired six UK funders (Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, City Bridge Trust, Lankelly Chase, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Tudor Trust) to ask what might be possible if they worked together to get to the root causes of injustice, and build on shared expertise.

That visit ignited our desire to challenge the typical power structures and hierarchies that become barriers to progress, and hold communities back – and our goal to be ‘by communities, for communities’ in everything we do.

The movement is about bringing people, organisations and institutions together. The six places we are collaborating with are Carmarthen, Enfield, Lincoln, Middlesbrough, Oldham and Torbay.

We believe that connections create change. Much of our time so far has focused on building relationships between people. We are learning together and taking the next right step with the six places, learning and iterating as we go.

Our vision is to create spaces that inspire new ways of tackling common social, economic and environmental injustices, so that communities can thrive and flourish. We hope to build on places' existing strengths, to achieve our goal by:

  • Connecting and sharing learning and resources between people, communities, organisations and institutions
  • Challenging the way systems, power dynamics and hierarchies usually work
  • Ensuring communities are the ones taking ownership of the decisions that matter to them.

At their heart, 'systems' approaches are about the inter-relationships between people and organisations that create the outcomes we see – and often want to change. Funders have got involved in places and challenged themselves on what they can do differently. As we all learn together to see greater value in different (and often competing) perspectives, it is sometimes a bumpy ride. That’s a totally normal experience when changing existing power dynamics.

What has made the most difference? The openness of the relationships we are building. I visibly see the “Aha, they do mean what Kathleen is telling us!” after every contact between funders and places. Moments where people realised that we genuinely mean what we say about creating LocalMotion together and listening to what matters to communities.    

Activities so far include convening local cross-sector groups, connecting people to inspiration on approaches like systems thinking, co-production, activism and local wealth creation. Trying consent-based decision-making and deep democracy, to learn how to include all voices more effectively in our decisions. Places are keen to invest in new leaders that can imagine a different way of doing things and transform the status quo, so we’re working on a programme of learning and skills development.

The strength of the funders’ shared ethos has been crucial here. We can’t wait to know all the answers before we do something, but we can learn from what we do, and iterate from there.

A portrait photo of the author
Kathleen Kelly
Director of Collaboration, LocalMotion

Two years in, it is still a learning curve.

Setting LocalMotion up during the height of the pandemic meant that we pivoted to a two-year development phase. This is allowing places more breathing space to try ideas and create a longer-term plan that will come back to funders for a funding decision in 2023.

These are my reflections on what has been most impactful so far.

1. Relationships are systems change

Bringing together people in places and with funders has been key. I would do this earlier and more often if I had my time again.

2. Including funders' Trustees in the work is invaluable

Their perspective is crucial to re-imagining philanthropy.

3. A ‘failing forward’ ethos of taking the next right step together

This has offered the most security to places in chipping away at the risk-averse ethos of being certain something will work (and that all your outcomes are nailed down) before you approach a funder about it.

The strength of the funders’ shared ethos has been crucial here. We can’t wait to know all the answers before we do something, but we can learn from what we do, and iterate from there.

4. Transparency and a curious mindset go a long way

We’re always trying to get under the surface of what’s going on, uncovering hidden dynamics and building the trust to handle powerful conversations more openly.

5. Capacity challenges abound

The 'radical everyday' way to maintain momentum lies in challenging ourselves, at least as much as we challenge others, to be different and to change – what outcomes are we contributing to that we want to change? The ‘shiny and new thing’ is often about connecting existing work and ideas to build on them collaboratively.

6. Make the impossible possible

We’re working on big structural challenges that can feel overwhelming. So connect people to ideas and inspiration often. Bust those myths! Communities can be trusted (and inventive) on big structural issues. You can create change, even if you don’t have everyone you would like in at the start. If it feels too big, make it smaller and take that next right step.

We’re acting our way to the future here, so ultimately I don’t know how successful LocalMotion will be. We have strong relationships, big ideas and the connections to create change. I hope that LocalMotion will connect with other programmes to build a network of people who can mentor, coach, and support each other in a more ‘open source’ way.

Ultimately my advice is: connect with people, ask questions, share your learning. I am always humbled by the time and expertise people have given me. It’s a privilege to be able to learn, ask questions and try things out with those who have been on, and those who are travelling, a similar journey. Thank you!

Inspired to collaborate?

Explore the Hub to find collaboration opportunities that relate to your interests as a funder.