Awesome CIC: Innovative play


Islington Play and Youth Services, a team within Islington Council, run 6 state of the art adventure playgrounds across the borough.  To safeguard free, quality playwork provision in Islington for the future, council commissioners and adventure play workers came together to explore transitioning out of local government as an employee-led mutual. Play workers and young people then came together to choose its name, Awesome CIC. A proposal was worked up and Cabinet support to spin out was given in 2014, setting staff on the path to become the first play service team to mutualise in the country. Islington Council supported the mutual model because it would retain the core play service local families valued, whilst also allowing employees to develop and sell new services to local communities and businesses. Commissioners believed that this approach could foster innovation, protect services and livelihoods, and enable the council to achieve savings that nationally had seen a third of play services close. Islington Council appointed Baxendale, following an open quote process, to provide hands on commercial, engagement and governance support between March-July 2015 to prepare staff working at these 6 adventure playgrounds for transitioning out of the Council.

Solution and outcome

We leveraged our experience helping over 80 organisations spin-out into employee ownership, as well as our network of experienced mutual leaders, to advise Islington’s commissioner and Awesome’s prospective Managing Director on how to ensure the new mutual succeeded. We did this through a programme of co-design workshops run with staff and families using the play service. The outputs were used to develop a detailed 5 year business plan identifying income generation opportunities, transition costs and appropriate governance structures for the mutual, underpinned by a dynamic financial model and communications and engagement plan. This work was tailored to prepare Awesome’s team to spin out into a new independent enterprise and operate in a financially sustainable position for competitive tenders.

Surveys at the beginning and end of the 2015 engagement programme showed staff engagement across the Islington Play Service workforce measurably improved with Baxendale’s support. In July 2016, Awesome CIC was recommended to be awarded the play contract until 2019 by Islington Council. Baxendale continues its involvement with Awesome CIC as a non-executive director on the Board.

“So much has been achieved working with Baxendale. Their team demonstrated real commitment and rigour throughout the engagement programme. I could tell they were personally invested in the mutual being sustainable long term and provided invaluable commercial support to the Head of the Play Service as well as expert advice to myself as a Commissioner, especially in light of the updated procurement rules”.
– Christine Lehmann, Commissioning Manager, Play and Youth Children’s Services, Islington Council.


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