We’ve talked a lot in previous blogs about how Team Socius supports its employees to give back, pay forward and to maximise all of life’s opportunities. It’s this positive workplace culture that encouraged Head of Engagement, Liam Ronan-Chlond, to request to take part in a secondment placement, in his hometown of Sheffield, this summer.
We caught up with Liam, following his experience at the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) to find out more.
Q. Tell us your top five reasons for taking up the secondment opportunity at SYMCA?
1. Support my home region and ‘give-back’ to the county where I grew up and where much of my family still lives.
2. Gain up-to-date experience of working directly in a policy and public sector environment, which I haven’t done since I left the London Borough of Camden as a policy officer in 2014.
I was also keen to work in a combined authority setting, which didn’t even exist when I previously worked within local government!
3. Strengthen existing relationships. I was excited to work alongside some old friends and former colleagues, who now either work within or are connected to the SYMCA.
4. Build new networks. Creating strong networks is an important part of my role at Socius and I was keen to engage with new talent, who I will likely work alongside again in the future.
5. Increase my knowledge and understanding of the challenges that local authorities are facing. This will support future conversations and engagement activities, which form part of Socius’ pre-planning consultations for our mixed-use development projects.
Q. Did the opportunity match up to your initial aims and expectations?
A. I have found it really useful to update my experience in local government; a sector where I spent several years serving three councils across England (Sheffield, Brighton, Camden).
It was my first time at a combined authority, but culturally there were many similarities to other local authorities and thankfully I was made to feel very welcome.
Q. What did you learn throughout your summer secondment in Sheffield? And what skills and experience did you pass onto SYMCA?
A. My secondment at the SYMCA has been a real insight for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it has reminded me how busy local authorities are. Every day presents a new challenge, whether its responding to changes in policy and personnel in central government; or reacting to shifting market forces. In the meantime, there is the elected manifesto and local strategies to be delivered.
There is a real skill in trying to balance the proactive with the reactive; providing day-to-day public services and delivering on the local democratic mandate, in an ever-challenging financial environment.
Furthermore, as a public-facing organisation, there is a strong focus on people, and relationships, whether they be local residents, strategic partners or service users. This can be quite complex at times and requires thorough management.
It’s been enlightening to hear different ideas, fresh perspectives and experience new ways of doing things. It’s good to take yourself out of your comfort zone every now and then and I feel like this has been a great opportunity for me to do that.
I’m pleased that I have been able to provide some added value and share my experience with my home county’s combined authority over these past three months. This has included support with planning future stakeholder engagement activities; introductions to new methods of consultation and sharing some inspiring case studies on social value, regeneration and sustainability.
Q. How will you apply your experience to your role at Socius?
A. With a clearer understanding of the pressures faced by local authorities, I feel better equipped to engage with them in future conversations and consultations about Socius’ plans for local development. This knowledge and understanding will enable me to be more mindful in my approach. I will also ensure that our plans take into account local challenges, emerging policies, and that Socius is fully aligned and up to speed with local authority priorities.
I also plan to liaise with the team about how we can proactively present viable solutions to shared challenges, in order to strengthen our future proposals even further.
Q. What would your advice be to anyone considering a secondment?
A. Be conscious of resource and time management. Have a regular set of dates to work to in your secondment, so you can get your head in the right space and stay focussed. I split my weeks between Socius and the SYMCA, so be prepared to mentally make the switch from one role to the other during the week. It’s important to plan-ahead, because you will obviously have less time to complete your core activities. Furthermore, ensure that colleagues and clients are aware that you are on secondment, to help with resource management.
Finally, make the most of it! I knew I wasn’t going to be at SYMCA for long, so I made the most of my time there. Getting to know people, introducing myself, asking questions and offering my expertise where appropriate.
Socius is proud to put people at the heart of our business, and its this ethos that helps to grow our team, strengthen our projects and support the communities in which we live, work and socialise.
We don’t have any current projects in Sheffield or South Yorkshire, but we know it’s a place close to Liam’s heart. Giving him the opportunity to take part in this experience has positive benefits for everyone involved and we look forward to seeing the long-term impact of these outcomes.