A joint piece written by me and Neil McInroy from CLES
With less public money around for regeneration, there’s growing pressure on public services. Combine this with sluggish economic growth and the buffeting of global crises and it’s hardly surprising that many of our communities are in peril. Throughout the UK, life for families in communities faced with longstanding problems of unemployment, poor health, environmental degradation and poverty is fairly grim. However, we must not give up. Now more than ever we need to dig deep and create new ways of addressing these issues.
That is why the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), Urban Forum, Tudor Trust, Salford City Council and Manchester City Council, have come together to research and implement new ideas and ways of working. We think our new ‘community resilience’ work in Cheetham Hill and Broughton, in inner-city Greater Manchester, offers a potential way forward to rethink how public services, commercial activity and the local community can work together to tackle systemic local problems. We hope, this and follow up work in other communities, will herald a new era for local economies, community and local place development.
Our work is informed by recent efforts at neighbourhood renewal and community regeneration, but we also recognise its deep flaws which meant worthy ambitions and some successes were all too often bedevilled by bureaucracy and resistance to transformative change. We know there is a real appetite and opportunity to support communities to lead improvement in their localities. This does not, however, mean we are prepared to accept the government’s assertion that hard pressed communities, cash strapped public sector bodies and socially responsible commercial organisations will merrily step in to fill the gap left by public spending.
Instead, building on work CLES’s on place and economic resilience and Urban Forum’s experience of community led action (as highlighted in our recent community resilience), we believe the key to a successful and enduring community and local place is the networks and bonds within it. This network whilst having the community at its core, it is also about how the community and the ‘social sector’ more broadly, connects with public and commercial sectors, including new service behaviours, different types of interrelationships and a more direct bond between local commerce and local people.
To achieve this we will be doing do some initial research, based around our 10 community resilience indicators which show us the relative brittleness or resilience of key local relationships. Collectively, this gives us a picture of what things make the community ‘tick’ or not. We call this ‘community DNA’. From this initial assessment, we will work with the Local Authority, public agencies, commercial sector, local people and community and voluntary groups, to develop new and augment existing networks amongst all sectors, including local social assets, capital and seek new behaviours within the 3 sectors.
We believe we must aim for a ‘co-produced community’, where responsibility is shared across public, social and commercial sectors. For the community this means unleashing any latent community power and strengthening social capital and community assets. For the public sector, this means adopting new ways of working and being open to new behaviours in how they go about delivering public services. For the commercial sector, this means growing the local economy and supporting the place in which they do business. Only when these things are combined can we hope to see traditionally deprived communities becoming genuinely resilient and able to address the future challenges they face.
The lessons from great and enduring communities is that success is predicated on relationships. We seek a systematic way of assessing and building them.
Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and Toby Blume, Chief Executive, Urban Forum