The funding place-based systemic change project includes a series of case studies from places and organisations that are learning to change systems. The framework for place-based systemic change describes five approaches to change.

This case study describes approach 5: local organisation evolution

Local organisation approaches are designed by a funder or are explicitly led by the resource. They build off or spark some practice locally (which could be anything from a community group to a local institution), but the role of the funder shapes how it is understood. This can give a programmatic feel, but it can also bring the significant potential for system change.

Summary approach and learning

Centre 33’s work with young people is about trust and relevance. This is achieved by teams of local workers (including volunteers) who have driven their success in five different places.

About Centre 33

Centre 33 was established in 1981 in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to provide advice and support that helps young people to fulfil their potential. On referral around 76% of young people face at least two issues and 86% come with a mental health need.

It is a well-known charity, particularly in Cambridge. They have invested in an environment and culture that allows them to work with young people in a supportive and trusting way.

Place-based work

In recent years, the charity has established four hubs in Ely, Wisbech, Peterborough and Huntington, alongside its long-standing Cambridge office, giving it roots in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Centre 33’s aim is to have a locally relevant place for young people to come to and get the help that they need in a place that makes them feel safe. The rootedness and relevance are built through a large team of local workers, networks and supporters.

Relationships, resourcing and operating

Centre 33’s team includes counsellors, guided self-help workers, housing specialists, employment specialists, and many others. There are around fifty paid staff and fifty volunteers. The volunteers come from each of the five areas and bring knowledge of the context of the place with them.

‘We understand where we work, and we know the differences about what we do and don’t work with. That means working with the local mosques and faith communtiies in one place, and taking a very different approach in how we support young people in the traveller community in another place. They have very different experiences, and we work to understand them through our work and volunteers who are from those areas.’

Some people who have used the service move on to become members of staff, volunteers, or supporters.

“There is an ownership by the community. It’s what I aspire to.”

The charity runs on a self-referral model but young people are often signposted by professionals. They get lots of GP referrals because they are well known for their model and their focus on mental health.

Centre 33 is funded by over 40 different funders including two local commissions, National Lottery Community Fund, Department for Health as well as some local trusts, businesses and individuals. The charity finds it challenging to fund the quality the young people value most – a welcoming place for them to come and feel safe, before discussing the reasons that have brought them there.  

Local commissioners are now looking to commission either a very medicalised model or to consider place-based commissions for young people’s mental health service. 

Looking ahead

The relationship Centre 33 has built with the places and communities it works with has taken them a long way and resonates with the people they serve.

Centre33 has come as far as it has despite earlier local commissioning decisions but the upcoming decision will shape what the charity becomes. This demonstrates the power of local finance in shaping how far organisations can push their place-based thinking and ambitions. 

Could strategic changes to funding and resources support this place-based model to grow and allow them to engage in more systemic questions in the places they work? Or, how can they use their approach and the strength of their model to do more in the places they work?

Register for the webinar

John Hitchin will be presenting the learning from the Funding Place-Based Systemic Change project with the chair of the project steering group, Natsayi Sithole of Save the Children UK, in a webinar 12.30-2pm on 4th November.

Read learning papers 1, 2 and 4