The Capacity Community: Rotunda College, Kirkdale
By Christopher Graham, Chair
I’m excited to be back in Liverpool as independent chair of the Board of Capacity - The Public Services Lab. For me, it’s a joyful return to the city where I was a university student all those years ago - and also, briefly, a member of the City Council and its education and Social Services Committees.
Capacity - The Public Services Lab focuses on unlocking the potential of the VCSE sector to help to deliver services that work better for people. We’ve established our structure over the past few months and are now getting down to business, building the team and working on specific projects. Already, we are making a difference, working with both service providers and commissioners in the Liverpool City Region.
A key part of our work is working with, and understanding, Liverpool’s VCSE sector.
Last week, I spent a morning at Rotunda College in Kirkdale, seeing the good work that the best community ventures can deliver. The Chief Executive of Rotunda, Maxine Ennis, has just joined the Board at Capacity. Maxine will bring an independent voice, and a lot of local experience, to our work, and will be helping with the Lab’s community engagement.
From the driver of the number 20 bus to the helpful lady walking her dog, everybody seems to know about Rotunda. It’s a valued community resource, serving a part of the city that does not seem to have benefited from the investment in, say, the Liverpool One shops and apartment blocks less than 20 minutes away. The cruise liner passengers visiting the Albert Dock or the Beatles tourists celebrating the Summer of Love will have little thought for the modern day Eleanor Rigbys on Stanley Road.
Rotunda offers so many important services. A second chance for kids excluded from mainstream schooling. Adult education with a difference. A nursery. Alcohol and drugs rehabilitation services. Counselling. A business centre. A really good cafe. And a beautiful urban garden.
The variety of services and facilities provide opportunities for employment or volunteering for local people on a range of programmes. Opportunities abound for learning of all kinds, from the storytelling walk in the garden, with its reading chair and listening toadstools, to bespoke GCSE programmes, designed around individual passions and aptitudes.
When I was a member of the Education Committee all those years ago, I don’t recall worrying myself unduly over the 5% of young people who were being excluded from school for whatever reason. The authorities focused on the 95% whose education was safeguarded by the absence of the chaotic 5%. And yet early intervention and services that really do address the complex needs of hard to reach families make a huge difference for everybody.
Rotunda calculates that every £1 spent on their early interventions saves £52 elsewhere in the public services - in saved hospital beds, A&E appointments, and GP visits, for example.
And the flexibility and agility of Rotunda’s offer provides a vision, in microcosm, for how the Lab sees the future of public services. For example, Rotunda can deliver counselling or rehabilitation services more or less on demand - access which might involve weeks on waiting lists where services are delivered in more compartmentalised, less joined up ways.
Rotunda is housed in a fine Georgian terrace that has been saved and renovated with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The brightly coloured wild flowers blooming on the verge outside added to the feeling of optimism and growth - a feeling I certainly shared. And the positive note was underscored by the enthusiasm of the trainee gardener who had just been authorised to start a similar wildflower border in an unloved patch bordering the busy main road. Let a thousand flowers bloom - and remake public service delivery in the process!