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Amanda Jones recent Blog - Looking to the Future

19 Aug 2015

Amanda Jones, Project Manager for Together For You writes about Together For You’s sustainability planning in her most recent blog.

“When the Big Lottery Fund contract to deliver a mental health and emotional wellbeing promotion project was awarded in August 2013, it was expected to run for three years from September 2013 to September 2016.  However a period of time was required at the start of the project to progress legal aspects of the funding arrangements, recruit staff and for some partners to establish entirely new programmes of delivery.

For example the Together For You project provided the opportunity for some partner organisations to deliver already evidenced programmes in new trust areas, to develop entirely new types of interventions and support, and of course to develop new ways of working together which would maximise the benefits of the partnership. This level of innovation takes time to implement and grow.

In an ideal world, this time would have been included in the contract before the requirement for beneficiaries to be engaged.  This time would have allowed for recruitment, appointment of a project evaluator, development of reporting systems, promotion of the project and agreement on monitoring and evaluation systems which would be used by all partners to ensure reporting against common indicators. It is clear both from the partners and the funders perspective that a lead in time in this type of innovative delivery would also have supported planning and development of internal processes and external networks.

Lack of this lead in time obviously impacted on everyone’s ability to hit the ground running with service delivery. It is a welcome development then, as detailed in the 2nd annual evaluation report produced by RSM McClure Watters, that a 3 month extension to the contract has been approved by the Big Lottery Fund, resulting in service delivery running until April 2016.

The Partnership are delighted with this extension period as it offers the opportunity to ensure service delivery is maximised and allows for over delivery on the original projected outcomes. I have been meeting with each of the partners recently to consider how the extension period will impact on their service delivery and beneficiaries, and a comment frequently made is how we are now “in our groove”! The data collection systems are implemented and operational, the new services are well established and relationships are strong, trusting and productive.

Statements like this also emphasis how much stands to be lost if the partnership and the project are to end when the contract ends. There is a real concern that the learning which has been gained could so easily dissipate into the ether as the core people involved move on or have less contact with each other.

The project also has a commitment within the contract to influence commissioners, decision makers and the future of Mental Health services. Recommendations from the evaluator in this instance are to support the partnership to ensure we can evidence the strengths in our partnership and how it has improved our organisations and the services we provide for beneficiaries. Ultimately it is the implementation of these recommendations which will allow each partner individually, as well as jointly, to continue to use the learning gained and ensure the knowledge amassed is passed on and used, resulting in a lasting legacy.

It is the opportunity to maximise this legacy that has also, more than ever, sharpened the partnerships focus on sustainability. Whether that is in relation to campaigning and lobbying for more equality in funding for mental health, or as a minimum, exploring the potential to continue with the partnership processes and protocols established in the case that funding cannot be secured to continue with the service delivery aspect of the project.

Our evaluators have this ever in their mind too, as we look towards the end of the project. The 2nd Annual report published last week made recommendations to develop a sustainability strategy for Together For You. The first stage of this will involve the steering group working with CollaborationNI to identify options for sustaining the partnership and processes, and of course we will seek adviceand guidance also from our external stakeholders including the TFY Expert Project Reference Group.

So although it is disappointing at the height of service delivery within the project to be talking about exit strategies, it is important to reflect on the amazing achievement made to date, with 21,000 beneficiaries reached in the last year alone. And also to focus on the exciting opportunities and endless opportunities for the partners of Together For You to provide a lasting legacy for Mental health services in Northern Ireland. 

 For more information on the background to Together For You click here or contact Amanda Jones, Project Manager on 028 9032 9150.

<Image Credit: Sally Sanders.com>

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