Leapfrog is working with Lancashire County Council on its proposals to develop a number of Neighbourhood Centres across the county which will see a range of services come together in multi-​functional buildings.  The council is currently consulting on these proposals as set out in the Property Strategy.  One of the first steps in the Leapfrog Neighbourhood Centres project brought together Lancashire County Council professionals across libraries, Wellbeing, Prevention and Early Help Services, Asset Management, Facilities Management and the Public Service Integration Team. This full day event was designed to gain an understanding of their roles, the services they deliver and the challenges and opportunities that the transition to multi service Neighbourhood Centres will provide. Leapfrog were keen to stress at the start of the workshop that we will be working together, drawing on the County Council’s expertise to co-​design new, adaptable tools to help each Neighbourhood Centre develop into an effective team. Teams with their own identity and own solutions to their particular challenges and opportunities.

From discussions during the first activity it was clear that many libraries across the county are already operating in a similar manner to the proposed Neighbourhood Centres as they share services and spaces with other services and community groups. Even with this, the transition from 74 libraries into 37 fixed libraries plus a further 7 satellite libraries remains a huge logistical and cultural challenge for County Council employees and communities. What also became quickly apparent was a diverse range of perspectives on the implications (both practical and cultural) of this shift across the range of services who participated in the workshop.

When exploring how to avoid the best and worst scenarios for the transition into Neighbourhood Centres there were many common issues and themes. These ranged from practicalities such as shared ICT and room bookings systems and training so all staff understand one another’s services and can signpost effectively. Car parking, building security and confidentiality also came up many times as important issues to consider. In any shared space practicalities such as storage and who buys the milk, tea and coffee play a big part in creating harmony and avoiding conflict. There was also a very strong commitment to making services better for customers /​ service users as a result of bringing services together. The group also felt that staff training to interface seamlessly with other services was one of the critical criteria for success of a centre.

The group could see many advantages to shared spaces and also highlighted the need to consider the different requirements of age groups from toddlers to teenagers and older people sharing the same space. Equipment, noise levels, room design and even room temperature all need to be negotiated. Some of the groups that currently use libraries see it as ‘their space’. This can be a point of tension as other groups can feel they have taken over the building and require careful management and understanding between groups.

As some staff will move locations and others will stay put there was an insightful discussion that staff and volunteers will need to be mindful of the language they use with colleagues so it is no longer ‘my building” but becomes “our centre”. One of the key insights was how critical good communication and leadership will be to ensure teams and services buy into integrating/​ working effectively alongside each other and avoid duplication of services. Enabling community groups to take ownership of the centres so they are driven by community needs and a strategy to communicate to the public what services they can access and when.

All of the above commonalities, tensions and challenges will be explored in the next stage of the project as we move into the co-​design phase. The group who were all extremely motivated to take part in the project agreed that they would like 3 full day co-​design workshops throughout July, August and September in various library locations across Lancashire.