Do Compact Champions really make a difference?

Cath CookI certainly think so - but as a previous winner of the Compact Champion of the year award, some may say that I am biased…

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, Compact Champions are simply people who are charged with raising awareness of their local Compact, spreading the word about its uses and helping to ensure it is understood and used locally.

I am sure that Essex County Council - who nominated the current Champion of the Year Jackie Sully for a Compact Award - also feel that Jackie made a huge difference to Compact working in the area. She increased awareness of what it means to be ‘signed up’ to the Compact, and set up implementation groups within each district of Essex to oversee the development and delivery of Compact work plans.

In my role as an Engagement Development Officer I have facilitated several training sessions on the role of Compact Champions. Being able to talk about the history of Champions, how they are recruited and the impact they have is one thing - but having first-hand experience of the role really helps to provide a useful insight. I am often asked how I became a Champion and whether they really are effective.

Three and half years ago, I didn’t know what the Compact was never mind who Champions were or what they did. I was told by a former colleague that I was to be the lead Champion for Oldham and that I would be overseeing the development of a new Compact and its supporting codes of practice. “A Champion of what?” was my first question. The second was “What is a Compact?”

That was in October 2008, the following year Oldham launched its new Compact and had recruited 36 Compact Champions to help spread the word about what the Compact is and how it can be used. The Champions were at varying levels within their organisations and took on different roles. For example one set up a stand-alone website for the Compact and others made sure the Compact was a regular agenda item on meetings. Some Councillors and the Mayor became Champions and always promoted the Compact at meetings and publicity events.

It should be stated that not all areas use the name ‘Champion’, some are known as ambassadors or representatives and not all local areas have Champions at all - but getting back to my initial question…

In Oldham, I set up a network to enable Champions to get together to share ideas, information and experiences, which helped to generate greater understanding of the Compact, and resulted in it being used and referred to more. Oldham became an area of good practice and was given a green flag award; however Oldham couldn’t have achieved so much without its team of Champions.

The role of Champions may have evolved since they were first appointed in 2006 but the effect they can have has remained the same. Not only can Champions help to embed the Compact into mainstream structures but they can also help to make links between the sectors – for example at network meetings and forums where they may not have otherwise met. They can help to build an evidence base by gathering information on how the Compact is useful and on areas where implementation needs to be strengthened.

In Surrey, for example, numbers are less important than level of engagement: however, Surrey is an area that has successfully delivered both. With over 300 Champions spanning both sectors and a dedicated independent support worker who facilitates engagement and training, Surrey is at the forefront of Compact Championing.

Anyone can be a Champion: there are no set requirements and areas recruit Champions in different ways. Redcar and Cleveland asked for people to be nominated from all partner organisations which worked well and ensured that both sectors were represented. Some people become ‘de facto’ Champions through their job role - such as senior managers in CVS’s or Council Officers with specific responsibility for the voluntary and community sector. In Oldham the Champions were initially recruited on the spur of the moment at the launch event for the renewed Compact.

Having visited many local areas as part of my role, I have learnt the following: Compacts that have Champions in both the statutory and voluntary sectors (regardless of numbers) are more often than not very effective.

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