keep the conversation going

I have been talking to Surrey County Council for ten years now about working together. there have been lots of days when i – and i am sure they – have scratched our heads as to why or what we were trying to make happen. i have, on occasions cursed them – usually i admit because they are different from me and work differently. But, but, but something has finally flourished.

For the past couple of years Surrey County Council has had a freeze on appointments across the authority, which has meant they haven’t had someone in a part time role within the Arts Team. When the opportunity came for them to reappoint to that post the head of the arts team came and asked if we would be interested in a conversation about turning the part time role into a full time post that might accommodate a shared ambitions. It became a conversation not about money but about purpose. About what the two organisations are trying to achieve. Which has resulted in us creating a Surrey Performing Arts Officer post, based with us, working across the County. This role will look to support the County’s independent theatre makers, strengthening a venue network and identifying opportunities for people to participate in making their own performance. If we succeed then we both feel we will have made a real contribution to our own ambitions and to the place we work. Sharing a post means we have expanded our sphere of influence, grown our networks and will have more resources to call upon. More than this, the process of developing the partnership has helped us both to reaffirm our own purpose. Which surprised me.

As i say we have been talking regularly over a few years about how we might work more collaboratively. Which is the first lesson I guess. It takes time and there will be occasions when you will think nothing is ever going to happen. But the world changes around us and, eventually, the moment will occur when something becomes possible because agendas have aligned. So we should keep the conversation going way past when you might stop at a party.

When it came to it, we realised that both of us were going to have to give power away in order to get to somewhere new. I think this is particularly hard for Local Authorities who are used to setting agendas and contracting services. And we know the partnerships based on putting aside differences to get to the money never last past the money. What this became has been a case of finding the things we share that we could both invest in. What we ended up with something different from what both of us started with. it required us not to have an obvious solution.

As always it has taken trust and care to get to a point when we were both prepared to take a risk on each other. And there is still a hint of taking a risk. but its worth it.

We will be advertising the new role in arts jobs and on our website from 18th September.

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