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The Future for Communities: Perspectives on power

How are people living in our most disadvantaged communities going to change their lives for the better as we go into the 2020s?Many have tremendous assets but they have been at the sharp end of change. Who and what can support them in the future? What needs to happen for them to feel and be more powerful?

We heard from more than 800 people over this 18 month research project commissioned by Local Trust with additional funding from the Community Development Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

 

Local Trust logo

 

 

For blogs and reports published throughout the research project, visit
Local Trust’s website

New report

Future for Communities report cover.jpg

Research reports:

The Future for Communities: Perspectives on power

Leila Baker, Marilyn Taylor


How are people living in our most disadvantaged communities going to change their lives for the better as we go into the 2020s? Many have tremendous assets but they have been at the sharp end of change. Who and what can support them in the future? What needs to happen for them to feel and be more powerful?

Three premises

Three dialogues

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170+

People spoke to us about 
issues and ideas they
care about that may affect
the future for communities across the UK

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550+

People spoke to us about
the future for communities
in their nation or region

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100+

People spoke to us about 
the future for their local community in East Cleveland Villages, Merthyr Tydfil, Milton Keynes and Rotherham

Five themes

Advocacy & campaigning for social change

1/6

Five themes

 

1. Poverty

2. Transience

3. Fragmentation

4. Isolation

5. Democracy

Advocacy & campaigning for social change

2/6

Poverty

 


 


Poverty makes it difficult for communities to become powerful. 

Advocacy & campaigning for social change

3/6

Transience

 


 


Population movement is part of life. However, increasing housing insecurity is making it difficult for communities to become powerful. 

Advocacy & campaigning for social change

4/6

Fragmentation

 


 


A powerful community is one where people feel they belong and where everyone can contribute. 

Advocacy & campaigning for social change

5/6

Isolation

 


 


When people in communities are isolated and lonely it makes it difficult for them to become powerful. 

Advocacy & campaigning for social change

6/6

Democracy

 


 


Already marginalised communities find it hard to see how they can become powerful through the formal political system. 

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People living on estates just accept their lot. They are not empowered to have a voice and even if the were they are fed up with being consulted and nothing ever changes’

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Poverty

 

Poverty makes it difficult for communities to become powerful. 

 

The pressures of poverty, including in-work poverty, affect people’s capacity to engage with their communities let alone to collaborate, plan and deliver change – their energies are consumed in the struggle to survive. 


Communities are doing interesting and positive things to sustain their communities. But without a viable economy and access to jobs, it is difficult to achieve lasting change. How do we best support communities who are always at the sharp end of economic change? 

 

Transience

 

Population movement is part of life. However, increasing housing insecurity is making it difficult for communities to become powerful. 

 

Private renting has grown as a proportion of the housing market. It can be a positive choice, but where people have short-term leases and move frequently, it is difficult for them to feel they below, or commit to local activities. In rural areas, families and low paid workers find themselves priced out of the housing market by second home owners and incomers from more affluent areas. 

 

A powerful community is one where people choose to live, where they feel connected and where they feel safe. Community campaigns are having some success in improving conditions for private tenants and some communities are experimenting with community land trusts and community based housing associations, but these are still small scale compared with the size of the problem. It is difficult to see this insecurity changing in the future without a significant shift in housing policy including reform of rules on tenure, as well as an increase in house building and, in some areas, better affordability. 

 

Fragmentation

 

A powerful community is one where people feel they belong and where everyone can contribute. 

New arrivals can bring positive energy into a community. However, major population change in already stressed communities also brings challenges in relation to identity and people’s sense of security. When differences within communities – age, race, class – create divisions, it is hard for them to find common cause and become powerful. Divisions exist and persist but they are not inevitable if the economic stresses that feed them are addressed. 

There is considerable experience to build on. Activities like community arts, food and gardening are building bridges and understanding between different groups but the media needs to play its part. And where population movement and migration increase demands on already stretched services, external investment is needed to ensure that communities can live and work together successfully. 

 

Isolation

 

When people in communities are isolated and lonely it makes it difficult for them to become powerful. 

 

The infrastructure that supports social relationships – the spaces where people meet formally and informally – is wearing away. This is due to public sector cuts and market forces – the decline of high streets and the closure of local facilities from pubs to post offices; and the fact that we do more online. Fear of crime, whether justified or not, and heightened security measures in our housing and schools, affect people’s willingness to go out and make them feel unsafe. All of this can lead to loneliness, isolation and stress. 

 

A powerful community is a well-connected community. Social infrastructure needs to be seen in the same light as economic infrastructure – investment is essential in the spaces and activities that help people to connect. Social media may create new spaces and has potential to connect people, but only if everyone is supported to access and use it – and it is most effective when combined with opportunities to meet face to face. 

 

Democracy

 

Already marginalised communities find it hard to see how they can become powerful through the formal political system.

 

Alienation from traditional politics and the democratic system is fuelling a politics of blame. Many communities are tired of consultations that go nowhere. 

 

A powerful community is one where people can debate their differences, organise and can stand up for what they believe in without fear. We need spaces where difficult conversations can take place. Crucial to the development of informed public debate is effective political and civic education and an understanding of how power works. Change also needs to come from beyond the community. Power holders – in the public sector and business – need the will and the skills to work effectively with local communities. 

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