Anchor Networks in Practice:“Why?” to “How?”

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This is the first in a series of blogs exploring the mechanisms for anchor institution networks to deliver on their aspiration to create and reinforce local economic ties. View the second blog

Conrad Parke, Birmingham Anchor Network Coordinator, explores the mechanisms of turning buy-in into action. This blog was first published on the CLES website

Getting buy-in for a new anchor institution network is rarely a problem. After all, why would any institution’s chief executive turn down the offer to be a part of something that will help them to employ local people and support local businesses? The real difficulty is turning that buy-in into action. To this end there are (at least) two main problems:

  1. Strategy fatigue

Too often, the lengthy processes involved in devising and writing comprehensive multi-organisational strategies can kill the initial momentum of the idea it seeks to service. Similarly, a strategy that is too broad can dilute impact, as it seeks to “do all things for all people”.

  1. I got 99 problems but the anchor network ain’t one

In most cases, it is not the people who sign up to an anchor network who have to turn membership into action. This responsibility frequently lands on the desk of officers who already have 100 other problems to manage. In other words, being in an anchor network is making their life harder, not easier which runs the risk of making them “progress-stoppers”.

In the Birmingham Anchor Network, we have tried to overcome these two problems by adopting a “specific action” led approach, as opposed to strategy led, with those actions aimed at solving problems for institutions rather than creating more work for them.

Case study: From hospitality to health


When I took up my role as the Co-ordinator of the Birmingham Anchor Network, I met with senior managers from each of the seven participating institutions. One of the questions I asked them was “what problem can the Birmingham Anchor Network solve for you?”

For the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust, the problem was staffing shortages at all levels of the organisation, particularly in the face of a second wave of Covid-19 and forecast winter pressures.

For Pioneer Housing Group the problem was the threat of redundancy for many of their tenants because of the impact Covid-19 was having on certain sectors, particularly hospitality. There was an obvious match to be made. The problem was that the employment team at the Trust were unfamiliar with delivering targeted neighbourhood based recruitment, while the employment team at Pioneer were unfamiliar with the language, processes, pathways etc required for entering the NHS.


The two institutions are now working together on a “hospitality to health” project, combining their strengths and experience to deliver pre-employment courses for the NHS in the Pioneer neighbourhood. The scheme just welcomed its first 10 participants.

While helping 10 people may not sound like a lot in the current crisis, the benefit of adopting this “specific action” approach is that it is already leading to other changes. For example:

  • The Trust is now reviewing its whole employment process to make it easier for people to switch careers into NHS
  • Pioneer Housing Group are now adopting this partnership approach to work with three other major employers in Birmingham for the benefit of their

By moving from a strategic approach of “why we should help” to the specificities of “how we can help”, the Anchor Network in Birmingham has created a strong pathway towards economic recovery that serves some of the most vulnerable in the city. And crucially, it serves to highlight that progressive change is contingent not just on the strong intent of local leaders but also on the presence of people on the ground who can knit things together and drive the exchange of knowledge and practice for greater social, economic and environmental good.

This blog was written by Conrad Parke, Birmingham Anchor Network Co-ordinator. 

Further information can be found in the how-to guide for Growing Anchor Institution Networks in Place, published by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) in December 2020.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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