Report on #FutureCommunities highlights building connections and social infrastructure

The launch of the Local Trust’s report on The Future of Communities this week produced a strong consensus on the challenges for towns and neighbourhoods, and broadly what’s needed to address them. It didn’t offer much practical guidance on where next – but that may come from another event in London next week.

One of the strong themes was the need to build connections and social infrastructure … something we focus on in Networked City, and in plans for mapping and network building in localities like Thames Ward, Barking, that I reported earlier.

The report – based on 18 months research by IVAR – highlights challenges of Poverty, Transience, Fragmentation, Isolation and Democracy. You can see a recording of the event live stream here produced by socialreporter John Popham.

The Local Trust is funded by the Big Lottery Fund to work with 150 Big Local communities throughout the UK. Although the Future Communities report is rather downbeat, there are plenty of good stories about how each Big Local communities is investing £1 million each, and sharing ideas, as you can see from their newsletters, and from this recent event.

From the selection of tweets I’ve gathered, below, people felt that:

  • The conclusions of the report are, unfortunately, sound … and not new. Things are not getting better.
  • People in marginalised communities do not feel they have a voice, and engagement and support by power holders continues to be problematic.
  • Powerful communities are those that are well connected
  • The social infrastructure of people, places, groups and organisations is as important economic or physical infrastructure
  • Campaigns are often what gets people talking and doing
  • There is a lot of experience and expertise in building stronger communities, but a lack of organising at national level to provide support.

As Billy Beckett from Big Lottery said in a tweet:

Main reflection from #FutureCommunities launch is the talent on show in this room – and a growing consensus on the challenges to communities – but a frustration about how to coordinate

At the end of the event I asked Matt Leach, chief executive of the Local Trust, about the purpose of the report, in the light of comments about “nothing new”. He explained that the idea was not to produce ground breaking new primary research, but to get a real sense of what collectively people were saying about the challenges facing them.

He explained that while the challenges may not be new, we have not had a national conversation about them for some 10 years … and in the light of his remarks I can understand the need to build consensus before moving on.

As Matt said, a lot of reports are highlighting the importance of social infrastructure. Next week we have an opportunity to explore where next in building social infrastructure at an event organised by Matt Scott and the Community Development Network London: Empowered Communities 20/20: supporting community development across London.

Promotion for the event says:

Local Trust is planning to invest significantly in new, community focused knowledge and learning over the next 3-4 years. This will include:

  • Policy-focused materials aiming to inform and influence debates around supporting communities and place-based approaches to delivering change
  • Research aimed at increasing understanding of place, spaces and power in the context of community, drawing on experience in Big Local areas and beyond
  • Practical tools, training and events to support those working in communities, taking advantage of the critical mass provided by the Big Local programme

Whilst this may not amount to a replacement for the likes of CDF and CDX as a dedicated resource for community development workers, there is clear value in our seeking to inform and influence their thinking around how to implement this.

Matt Leach will set out emerging plans, and hopes to draw on the ideas, priorities and aspirations of community development practitioners attending the event to help inform the continued development of Local Trust’s thinking, and ensure that it is grounded in real experience delivering support in communities, both within and beyond Big Local areas.

Tweets from the launch of The Future of Communities