28 May 2019
Language is one of those tricky things. It can be used for harm or for clarity; in this case, I am trying to do the latter. Unpack this mystery term known as ‘partnership working’ that everyone seems to throw around and means different things to different people. But in practice, what does partnership working really look like? Hopefully through my experience as a Partnerships Officer I can demystify the term and highlight why it is important.
My name is Lydia. In my spare time I am known as a Creator, Connector, Collaborator, which suits my day job as a Partnerships Officer. Over the past year and a half I’ve been working to support four diverse youth organisations as part of London Youth’s employability programme Talent Match Croydon. We apply a youth work approach and a partnership framework to delivery; meeting young people where they are, breaking down barriers and enhancing their employability skills by leveraging key relationships.
Collaboration is an attitude that was ingrained in me a long time ago by virtue of growing up in a village and in a large family. The old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” was a very real concept for me, so I had to love to learn and share. This to me is the basis of partnership working.
Working in a programmes team with a dual function of commissioner and support, it was difficult at first getting the right balance, but the ability of the programmes team to navigate the complex relationship structure was strengthened by the solid foundation we had nurtured and continue to develop. So, as we approach the final quarters of Talent Match Croydon and London Youth looks to the future of employability with Future Talent, it makes sense for me to reflect on the journey of the partnership; learning and legacy being a major part of how we work.
I came into this with a vision of what I wanted the partnership to be like, bright eyed, full of ideas of how I would run the partnership. Rearing to go, I then got a rude awakening. This is not a process, a computer, or a mission I must accomplish: these are people with their own experience. Prior to my involvement I hadn’t really taken this into consideration when thinking about how I would implement my vision. I realised through trial and error, consultations, being observant, asking questions, building authentic relationships and exerting some humility. I learnt that partnership working, as I had initially theoretically understood it, is far from how it really plays out. This became clear as I began to understand the programme, the individual partners, what works and what doesn’t. I learnt that partnership working is on a spectrum and there are different ways in which the partners demonstrate their ability to collaborate. I had to be flexible in my thinking and first understand the partnership as individual moving parts that make up a whole. They each have their own identities, their own perspective and way of doing things, their challenges, frustrations, ideals and some had history. So, I needed to first do the work to understand their individual pain points, areas of development and their overall identities before thinking about my approach.
Play Place x London Learning Consortium are both amazing examples of partnership working in action. They both showed up and showed out! They exemplify the importance of focusing in, breaking down barriers and building partnerships authentically. They took the opportunity that the flexibility of Talent Match Croydon’s ‘test and learn’ approach is built on to understand their pain points, their growth areas and how to address these. This has culminated in such a meaningful way showing that when you are open, honest and truly believe in the benefits of coming together, you are able to achieve incredible things. Play Place and London Learning Consortium have understood one another and together they are developing Play Place’s CABS programme to become City & Guilds accredited. Leveraging their relationship, they have experienced mutual benefit; to me, that is the power of partnership working.
In my partnership journey, I have been optimistic, confident, proud, confused, challenged, but most of all, I have learned that once I let go of power and instead, began to pay attention to what partners were doing well, I was reminded by Play Place and LLC of the definition provided in the beginning; a partnership is a collaborative relationship between two or more parties based on trust, equality and mutual understanding for the achievement of a specified goal; CABS. Partnerships involve risks as well as benefits, making shared accountability critical (World Health Organisation), and understanding this has been my ‘Journey Of Change’.
– Lydia Mangeni-Stewart, Partnerships Officer for Talent Match Croydon
Talent Match Croydon began in January 2018 and is a two year programme that aims to tackle the high levels of youth unemployment in the borough using a youth work approach. The programme is delivered using a partnership approach; including diverse youth organisations, statutory and voluntary services.
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