‘FANCY going for this?’ - These were the unforgettable words which would change my life and my career.
My Programme Manager had sent me a link to the Local Government (LG) Challenge, which aims to find the ‘best and brightest local government officers.’ So imagine my confusion that he had sent it to me, someone who works for a programme team in Leeds City Council; implementing new case management and information systems in Adults’ and Children’s Social Care.
Well, confusion led to excitement and I soon spotted the previous years’ challenges had been filmed and put online. Far from the world of systems implementation, I realised the challenges had been designed by the Local Government Association to test the candidates in an Apprentice-style competition; pitting two teams against each other to tackle issues from frontline service delivery, to media engagement, innovation and finance.
Inspired, I completed an application form and was delighted when I was invited to an assessment centre in London. I have to say it was both taxing and exhausting and for the first time I had to do a short three-minute on-camera presentation. I challenge anyone to do that that without stuttering!
I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the 10 competitors on this year’s challenge. It was a bit of a whirlwind from that point on. Over the course of five months we undertook five 24-hour challenges in different host local authorities.
The challenges were testing in their own unique ways. From considering change management in a period of significant uncertainty in Bournemouth, to looking at how Northampton could gain maximum value from the proposed relocation of its university.
I particularly enjoyed the more practical challenges, such as looking at reducing accidental fires for vulnerable adults with London Fire Brigade. Having worked as a support worker and a carer in a residential home, the huge importance of this work really struck a chord with me. We were so privileged in each challenge to be able to contribute to real life issues.
The challenges were demanding and our teams were often seen huddled round a flipchart past midnight desperately trying to come up with innovative yet practical ideas for the host local authority. One thing I learnt was that there is no problem that can’t be tackled by a team of committed people, within 24 hours, using three sides of A4 and a 10-minute presentation!
After five challenges worth of blood sweat and tears, I was thrilled when my name was read out as one of the three contestants going through to the final to be held at the Local Government Association Annual Conference. As finalists, we were each given a stall to promote how we would use the £10,000 Bruce Lockhart Scholarship, with delegates voting for the idea they thought should win.
The ideas were then assessed by a judging panel, to which we submitted a written proposal prior to a very daunting presentation. It was an intense three days, but I relished the opportunity to talk about a project about which I was so passionate. Thinking back, the secret of my success was probably not my colourful and eye-catching posters, but maybe the Don’t Buzz The Wire game which so many MPs, chief execs and directors jostled to get to the top of my leader board. It was a great way of drawing them in.
It was incredible to hear the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt calling out my name as the winner at the close of the conference. With a feeling of disbelief, I walked onto the stage to shake his hand and receive the award. My winner’s montage was playing on the big screen behind the stage and afterwards at the champagne reception held in my honour. It was an incredible moment and I think for the first time all that I had achieved in the past five months, finally hit home.
Almost two months on, I have just about come back down to reality but the adventure for me is only just beginning. In the next six months, I am going to use the scholarship to implement my proposal, Corporate Social Responsibility Plus (CSR+); a toolkit to help local authorities promote localised CSR to businesses. It’s about better engaging with businesses, utilising local networks, and focusing on shared values while seeing CSR as an investment rather than a gift.
I will attend the International CSR Communication Conference in Denmark this September and undertake a course at the prestigious Harvard Business School in March, entitled Investing in Sustainable and Competitive Cities. The idea is for the toolkit to include best practice case studies from across the UK, USA and Europe. So along with other successful companies, I have arranged to meet the Danish Confederation of Industries and visit Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company which last year received the top ranking on Corporate Knight’s list of Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations. The toolkit will be piloted in Leeds next year and then shared with local authorities across the UK.
If you are interested in the CSR+ project, please follow my progress on twitter @lanacsrplus.
I would like to thank everyone at Leeds City Council from my Programme Manager, who sent me the original email, to my Chief Executive. Everyone has been very supportive every step of the way. There were even posters about my success in the lifts the day I returned to work.
Overall, it has been an incredible experience and I would encourage anybody passionate about local government to check out the website and apply! www.local.gov.uk/lgchallenge