Derbyshire County Council: Thriving Communities

Derbyshire County Council's holistic approach to supporting communities means that support for harder to reach young people is embedded within several wider schemes or programmes of support. This includes through the Thriving Communities programme.


Background and context

A significant proportion of Derbyshire is rural with the Peak District National Park covering approximately a third of its land. The county has a diverse business sector with regionally significant post-industrial towns and a strong network of local centres and market towns. Nevertheless, deeply embedded deprivation challenges persist within the County.

Derbyshire County Council’s approach to economic, employment and skills development includes the needs of harder to reach groups embedded within everything they do. A whole system approach underpinned by coordinated local and community-based activity is being delivered to help residents gain the relevant skills, knowledge and experience to enter, achieve and progress in education and work and draw together the various partners involved in employability and skills.

The proportions of 16-17 year olds in Derbyshire that are not in education, employment or training (NEET) or non-known are lower than national averages. However, Derbyshire’s NEET population includes a disproportionate number of young people with disabilities and other barriers to engagement.

Description of activity

Derbyshire’s holistic approach to supporting communities means that support for harder to reach young people is embedded within several wider schemes or programmes of support. This includes through Thriving Communities.

In 2011, organisations across Derbyshire came together to decide where they could have the greatest collaborative impact by working together and agreed to focus on the cost to lives and services, of the consistently unmet needs of families with chaotic and complex lives. To realise better outcomes for the lives of families, approaches and solutions were required that worked to transform whole communities and local places. It is focused within specific community groups in deprived areas, addressing the needs of harder-to-reach adults and young people.

The Thriving Communities model comprises “10 Ways of Working” that connect and support communities. The concepts most relevant to supporting young people and building pathways towards education and employment young people include:

  • Spaces and places: Open access and welcoming buildings and spaces that are designed with communities; to be places that support their shared aspirations and build positive connections
  • Facilitation: Practical support to help people connect, set-up and sustain creative and innovative ideas.
  • Connected Teams: Collaborative, self-managed teams from organisations and sectors working together to respond to local opportunities and challenges.
  • Coaching: Engaging with people flexibly, working toward people’s aspirations, building on people’s natural networks, and helps them through a holistic, life-course approach.
  • Ambassadors: Champions ensuring the workforce positively influences the community. They work to build and share a positive and achievable story about people, places and a better future for staff and community.
  • Derbyshire in Partnership: A single cross-partner approach that brings together strategic decision makers to work together around a shared vision to realise the greatest public value for Derbyshire.

Thriving Communities helps the Council to understand complex challenges at the hyper-local level, and to test new solutions (co-run with people and communities) supporting risk of NEET young people and preventing them from falling into crisis. 

Challenges and barriers

Challenges facing the county’s harder to reach young people are as follows:

  • The digital divide, which has become more evident during the pandemic, exacerbates the issues and result in higher levels of disengagement for significant numbers of young people. The three key digital challenges are access to broadband, kit and the skills to use technology.
  • Limited transport options, including poor bus services, particularly for rural parts of the county which present significant barriers for young people seeking access to education, training or employment opportunities.
  • The overall low number of residents from ethnic minorities within parts of the County can serve to further disengage and isolate those young people from ethic minority groups. 
  • The lack of recognition within Government funding options of the specific challenges faced by rural areas, which are distinct from those within cities.

Impacts and outcomes

The types of activity grounded in the model and subsequent impacts can be illustrated through a number of case studies, outlined below.

  • Spaces and places: As a result of creating a flexible, friendly, open and accessible space in Shirebrook, a young woman was supported to build her confidence and test out her cooking and hospitality skills. Invited guests were used as a vehicle to try out menus and to taste and critique the meals that were prepared. This resulted in a growth in confidence, expertise and understanding of customer needs. The experience helped her gain employment as an assistant manager in a new food outlet in her town.
  • Connected team: The community drop-in is a session in Shirebrook supported by various people from different organisations each week.  People and organisations come together and help with issues and/or opportunities that present themselves and sessions promote valuable networking in the local community. One young man had secured an apprenticeship but could not get to his new place of work due to lack of funding or resources and was thus looking for support. A member of the local connected team went through his options with him. The Connected Team member advocated for him at a meeting with the bank which resulted in an immediate interest-free overdraft being offered. This was a great outcome for him, which illustrated the benefits and added value of working collaboratively and flexibly as a Connected Team.
  • Coaching: One man was supported and coached over a long period of time, both directly and indirectly. He used to attend a youth group and lacked confidence and had a low perception of himself. Through extensive coaching sessions and providing opportunities for him to try new things and take on responsibilities, his confidence grew and realised the potential that he had. His first step into employment was volunteering but this led to a full-time career in health and social care. 

Successes and lessons learnt

Despite the challenges posed to face-to-face, community-led delivery due to the Covid crisis in Thriving Communities areas, there has been the continuation of community events and local initiatives which help to respond to local need.

Working directly in open dialogue with community members has brought about cultural change within ICT, legal, finance and corporate property teams and influenced the development of plans and strategies, including the production of a cross-departmental Business Case to invest in improvements to the community space in Shirebrook.

There has been a knock-on effect of increased workforce confidence to build relationships with communities, explore problems together openly from the outset and create solutions which are of benefit to both community and system. Work on homelessness has begun. Staff have been trained to undertake ‘day in the life’ ethnographic research. This will help to understand the support needed for adults and young people with chaotic lives (often with history of trauma) who cycle back into high-cost services over again.

Ashbourne and surrounding areas provide the chance to look at issues around rurality and the role of market towns in servicing the surrounding isolated people and villages. Langley Mill will show how the system can support thriving volunteer-led support currently operating in isolation, from the local church.

Connections with activity on the Hurst Farm Estate in Matlock will also help to understand the public sector role in helping to grow community enterprises.