Improving wellbeing in the community
From a report by the Carnegie Trust
Carnegie Trust's report, Turnaround Towns UK celebrates nine towns from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who are working to improve their community wellbeing. The report highlights key factors in the journeys of these places, illustrating the importance of towns recognising their existing assets, as well as the importance of an enabling environment and external support.
While each town is very different – in size, location and character – their journeys were enabled by common factors along the way. When learning about the ‘turn around’ towns, they were struck by a number of things – including their imaginative approach to problem-solving, their commitment to action, the deep emotions that connected them to their sense of place, and their long-term vision for change.
They found that towns across the UK are imagining and building new futures for themselves. In many of our towns, local artists and creatives are at work challenging preconceptions about their town – from people who live there as well as those of us who hear more about ‘left behind’ or ‘dormitory’ towns than vibrant cultural ones. In towns like Morecambe and Dumfries, the artistic community is a hub of action and playful risk-taking, challenging the community to create ideas and take action on issues such as housing affordability and poverty – that might otherwise seem outside their ability to change.
In other towns, the power of imagining a different future is shown in a new direction for commerce in the town – Grimsby’s commitment to renewable energy, or Portrush taking its place on the international golfing stage – or a new style of governance, as in Wigan. People’s willingness to be creative about their place is tied to a recognition that the way things were just isn’t working anymore. It is time for something new.
In Todmorden, two community champions led a group of local activists to revitalise their town by reclaiming outdoor spaces for food growing. Motivated by the urge to create opportunities for connection between people in the community as well as to make the most of public space for the environment, Incredible Edible Todmorden has increased participation in community activities; led to spin-off local initiatives such as equipment sharing, and social enterprises; led to the local secondary school incorporating good growing into the curriculum; and even created an appetite for ‘vegetable tourism’.
In all of the towns they learned about, communities, local authorities and local businesses are committed to taking action as a collective, anchored by hub organisations of different kinds as well as by local leadership. Many of these anchoring institutions are in the third sector, not working for profit and instead committed to becoming a regenerative resource for the community. They bring balance to public and private sector interests when taking local action on issues such as high street regeneration, local housing or cultural investment in the town.
Local leaders (formal and informal) act as communication routes for the town, connecting people in different silos to create a whole-town conversation instead of a government one, a third sector one, a business one. Each organisation in the nine towns spoke easily about their pride in place, and the importance of rebuilding a sense of collective worth within their community. Some towns originally built around a market or particular industry are on a journey to renew their sense of purpose. Plans for local development are intimately tied with the emotions people felt about their town, with a rational impetus for change inextricable from their relational context.
In every town, local ingenuity must be backed by government strategy, policy and funding. The balance of bottom-up energy and creativity and enabling support from the top down allows places to tailor opportunities to their requirements, according to the priorities of the community who have most at stake.
The Enabling State approach outlines seven shifts, which are moving us from the state as a provider of welfare towards a more enabling style of governance. Set within a shift in the relationships between citizens, community and the state, the approach suggests that government, alongside driving the performance of public services, should enable communities to do what they do best. Communities, they contend, are best-placed to bring a wealth of local knowledge and collective energy to the decisions that affect them. Moving away from a top-down service delivery model refigures the relationship between people and the state, and offers opportunities for communities to reshape how they interact with all levels of governance.
The seven shifts are:
from target setting to outcomes
from top-down to bottom-up
from representation to participation
from silos to working together
from crisis management to prevention
from doing to to doing with
from state to third sector.
The stories told in this report show the breadth of responses people have developed to transform their towns. Here are some of the levers of change observed:
Community connectors - many of the towns have an organisation that acts as an anchor for the local community. Through design or happenstance, these organisations have developed into a hub within their town. Within this community anchor different relationships and projects intersect, and their multipurpose nature means they work with a cross section of the town with access into different silos of activity. Community anchors have the ability to convene and organise their partners, stimulating local relationships and sparking collaboration.
Spaces for the community - establishing space for people to connect is a priority for many towns - taking active steps to create (or re-create) shared spaces for the community. As well as spaces to meet, communities were exploring spaces of shared ownership.
Imagination and embracing something new. ‘Could we do it differently here?’ In each place there has been a process of recognition that something new is needed – a new purpose for the high street, a new way of organising the economy or a new way of identifying as a community.
The local creative sector is often vital in facilitating this imaginative process, and using playfulness to spark the imagination of the local community and decision-makers within a town. For many places there is a recognisable sense of ‘why not?’.
Celebrating local assets. ‘What is already here that is brilliant?’ Every town in this report has had a reckoning with its weaknesses and strengths, appraising the ways in which the town could make changes. These assets may be unique; however, they do not necessarily need to be. The goal of towns has been to create thriving places where everyone can flourish.
Moving from silos to working together. Within the case study towns, organisations and individuals have been working together from across the public, private and third sectors with the community. United by a shared commitment to their place they have collaborated on shared projects or they have shared knowledge, resources and opportunities with one another.
Kindness: the relational and the rational. For the towns in this report, the process of change has tapped into people’s emotions about their place. As well as the tangible, rational benefits that an improved economy or better housing might bring, people also cared deeply about building a sense of pride in where they lived. These communities had a sense that they had lost something important, a connection to their neighbours perhaps, or a sense of purpose for their town.
Working over the long term. Some towns can track positive outcomes from work begun over a decade ago For others, recent achievements are paving the way for future transformations. Community organisations are often driven by the desire to be financially sustainable in the long run and to provide economic sustainability for their communities: investments in projects such as affordable workspace and community housing have the long-term vision to build the regenerative resources of their community.
Communities are working in the gaps created by the imperfections of the current system – not enough good jobs, no space for the community to meet, not enough money to run public services, poor infrastructure. These can seem like intractable problems. Rather than relying on received wisdom, these towns are crafting local solutions suited to their place. Familiarity can lead to ingenuity, and the knowledge local people have of their place, their assets and their capacity can lead to futures other people wouldn’t think of.
Read the full report here.
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