Walled City Partnership - a journey to sharing premises and services

This case study examines the formation of the Walled City Community Partnership. Organisations with a shared ethos, all facing financial challenges worked together to create shared premises, develop shared services and ensure their survival.

Reasons for collaborating

There are several reasons why this partnership was developed. There were natural links between three organisations (The Junction, Peace and Reconciliation Group (PRG) and Holywell Trust). One of the basic principles of these organisations is the idea of collaboration and cooperation. Each organisation strives to work with other organisations to improve services on a continuing basis. Another reason for the formation of the Walled City Community Partnership was to ensure survival of these three initial organisations.

“The conversations started over the continued need for survival.”
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

These organisations were in receipt of core funding from the Community Relations Council (CRC) and at the time there was a recognition that organisations funded under CRC needed to work more closely together. In addition, these organisations virtually had the same address. Initial conversations took place between the organisations and focused on how core funding could be secured long-term for a single entity. As a result the Junction and Holywell Trust merged their Community Relations Council core funded activities and PRG are actively considering how they might do likewise.

The collaboration process

The partnership began in 2005 when the Holywell Trust, Junction and the Peace and Reconciliation Group began to consider the issues both organisations were facing as a result of having the same core funder; Community Relations Council (CRC). Following on from these conversations the Director of Holywell Trust, Eamonn Deane, contacted CRC and discussed the future of community development work in relation to the budget available for this work. As part of its services the Holywell Trust runs weekly lunchtime events and invited other organisations and businesses to attend and present at them.

“We saw the similarities of services and what we could learn from each other and realised that there was an opportunity for us to work together.”
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

Through running these lunchtime events and wider links, eleven organisations became engaged in discussing how they might begin to share resources, ideas and contacts so that they could be more effective. This led to discussions on sharing premises. At that time the Department for Social Development (DSD) established a new funding stream, namely the Modernisation Fund, and called for applications. The partnership, now named the Walled City Community Partnership, was already working along the lines which the Fund was hoping to encourage. It was decided to put an application in to DSD for the Modernisation Fund, with Holywell Trust as the lead partner, for resources to conduct a feasibility study in January 2006 for formal partnership working in the area of community relations. The application was rejected, however, the partnership agreed to explore the concept fully.

“We didn’t understand where we went wrong with the application however we were informed of a second round and given some advice to focus on the partnership of the 11 organisations.” 
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

Prior to making a second application to the Modernisation Fund in 2007, members of the partnership developed much greater understanding and insight into the work of each of the organisations. Representatives from each organisation went on a residential and examined a number of areas in which they could work together. Initially the organisations were going to use an outside facilitator but decided they could facilitate the residential themselves. The residential was very informal but was structured and an agenda was agreed in advance. During it each partner organisation agreed to:

  • develop an innovative collaborative culture; new models of working together
  • commit to partnership working; explore amalgamations/other possible arrangements
  • jointly manage the new resource
  • share facilities including administration and finance
  • record the our process as an innovative model
  • work towards the development of the Diverse City within the Walls through the partnership
  • spread the Walled City Community Partnership model to other communities

The organisations focused on ongoing partnership development and regular meetings were held after the residential. During these meetings a decision was made to reapply to the Modernisation Fund. The feasibility study undertaken by the partner organisations informed the second application in 2007 to the Modernisation Fund alongside applications to the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) under the Community Based Economic and Social Regeneration Programme and Peace III Shared Public Spaces Programme. In 2008 - 2009 IFI and DSD agreed to take the project to economic appraisal stage whilst Peace III rejected the partners’ proposal.

After the completion of the economic appraisal the IFI was the first funding body to commit, agreeing to award £1.8million in legacy funding for the refurbishment/rebuilding of the two buildings at 10-14 Bishop Street on condition that the Modernisation Fund commit to substantially grant aiding the purchase of the buildings from the Inner City Trust. This was eventually achieved in 2010 with DSD awarding the organisation £1.4million. In 2010 Walled City Community Partnership purchased the premises on Bishop Street and appointed a design and build team.  A management committee was elected for the new organisation. On 11 March 2010 Margaret Ritchie MLA, the then Minister for Social Development, officially handed over the keys of the project to the Chairman of the transition management committee, Holywell Trust’s Willie O'Donnell. The renovation work on the new premises will be completed in 2013.

Challenges

Members of the partnership found the economic appraisal process to be very long. 

“We were apprised twice and it took an elected representative to assist in moving the process along. Each appraisal reviewed the same things, not a great use of time or resources and it was very stressful for the partnership.”
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

Another challenge is in relation to the new premises.  There are several regulations on the listed building and this has led to challenges in relation to a layout which is suitable for the partnership and what is deemed acceptable in way of altering the building. This is an ongoing problem, the consequence of which is that the building will not be ready on schedule.

“If we take the wall down the building will be deemed as demolished even though the outer walls will not be affected.”
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

In addition there is an archaeological survey being carried out on the building which is delaying the renovation work resulting in the partner organisations staying longer in premises which are full to capacity.

“We have 65 full-time employees and 35 part-time so we now have 100 people involved in the partnership. We look forward to moving to the renovated building which will meet our needs and have more space.”
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

What went well?

The members have found that their funders have been straightforward and very supportive.

“Funders have been very clear and direct with us in relation to what they will fund, what is negotiable and their views on the partnership working.”
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

Eamonn Deane also stated that one of the things that went well for the partnership is that all the members knew each other in advance which meant that time wasn’t needed for individuals to get acquainted resulting in the partnership being established with relative ease.

“We all knew each other; we didn’t have to learn about each other which saved time.”
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

Advice

Some advice from Eamonn is not to listen to gossip about other organisations that you are potentially thinking of going into partnership with.

“Gossip can be destructive and can impact greatly on relationships. It is not always justified and it can be hard to manage at a local level.”
Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

Also Eamonn says that it is important to enjoy the process. 

“There are always issues but the process can be enjoyable, especially designing the building.” Eamonn Deane, Director, Holywell Trust

Every effort is made to ensure that the contents of this document are accurate, but the advice given should not be relied on as a definitive legal statement.

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