People make places: rebuilding from the inside out
Written by Natasha Bright, Communications Manager, Power to Change
Understanding how we can build on community goodwill will be critical for authentic and resilient recovery. Power to Change, an independent trust that supports community businesses in England, shares lessons from some of England’s most innovative community leaders to understand how places around the world can work more effectively with their community as we rebuild.
How do you make your place stand out as a destination? As a desirable location for investment and talent? As the world faces the deepest recession in 300 years, what examples are there of places successfully investing in the qualities they already have and how we can leverage this to rebuild from the inside out.
Every place has something unique and incomparable to others: the people and communities that reside and work there. Across England, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), local authorities, councils and tourist boards are working together with their local communities to create a brand and to build pride in their place - and ultimately benefit through growth. What lessons are there for places around the world looking to activate their own community?
Communities are the experts
Communities are tackling challenges, both pre-existing and those created by COVID-19, in a way that no one else would ever be able to. Communities are the experts in their area, with the local knowledge and skills to help shape the future of their own places.
Community businesses are locally rooted, community-led, trade for community benefit, and make life richer and fuller for local people. In England alone, the sector owns assets worth £890m and comprises 9,000 community businesses who employ 33,600 people. (Source: Community Business Market 2019).
Community businesses create innovative and exciting products and services, providing employment and training, as well as transforming lives. Run by passionate people who are dedicated to making the area a better place for those living there, they have an unparalleled understanding of local issues, alongside ensuring accountability through consultations and community engagement.
By their nature, community businesses are quick to adapt, with 89% changing their activities to support local people through COVID-19; whether by offering their services remotely, providing a new service or delivering products directly to those who needed it. (Source: Impact of Covid-19 on Community Businesses – Community Business Market 2020).
In Hartlepool, England, a team of community organisers delivered medicine and goods, making sure that vulnerable people were not isolated and keeping the community spirit alive with a public art gallery on the cemetery wall, featuring local children’s artwork. This was all achieved despite the closure of their incredibly busy community hub. Sacha Bedding, Manager of The Annexe, a pioneering community centre in Hartlepool, describes their approach to supporting local people through COVID as “collective agency,” going on to add: “our approach has always been to ask what people need and when and how they can help us to deliver it themselves, rather than starting something without consultation and having to adapt when that doesn’t meet people’s needs and expectations.”
“The mobilisation of community businesses to adapt and change delivery models to ensure continuity of service was breathtaking and always felt one step ahead of even the most effectively managed and streamlined institution.”
With over 9,000 community businesses across England, and many thousands more around the world, they could hold the key for recovery with their local knowledge, skills, adaptability and services.
Fostering community-led regeneration
Communities have a lot to offer, but are often unsure about how to approach local decision makers to share ideas and begin working together. Community businesses are exceptionally placed to tap into parts of the community that local authorities sometimes struggle to reach. Working together can leave local communities with a sense of ownership, empowerment and confidence.
Community leader, Sacha Bedding, reflected on how we can foster community-led regeneration as we focus on rebuilding after COVID-19. “The prevailing narrative prior to COVID-19 was of a people irrevocably divided […] We were told we lost the ability to cooperate and care - but we hadn’t. We are what we always were; kind, generous and willing to help when given the permission of exceptional circumstances and a time of crisis.”
Wondering where to start? Sacha shared advice with us on how places around the world can create conditions which encourage community participation as equals:
- Accept that we need each other
- Ask what people can offer to make their place better, and recognise that their help is essential
- Don’t wrap things up in bureaucracy for the sake of it
- Be a little more trusting that doing good is generally most people’s motivation
- Allow ourselves to be wrong and sometimes not needed
- Start taking risks
- And start with yes!
People make places
The people that live and work in a place have the strongest long-term interest in ensuring that their community is thriving. Many people are taking matters into their own hands. Organisations are coming together with their local authorities and developing place-based branding; with the aim of improving the local economy, bringing empty buildings into community ownership and increasing local pride. One of these organisations is Abram Ward Community Cooperative (AWCC) in Wigan, England, who developed Made in Wigan, a brand with the tag line: The growth of the local economy, for the benefit of the local community. Their philosophy is that “Everyone has one special something, something they love to do that can be made into something of value to the community.”
The Made in Wigan initiative was started as a local wealth building strategy and marketing brand, originally in the Abram ward area, but is now expanded their strategy borough-wide. Made in Wigan is now a shop in the town centre, providing a place for local people to find out more about community businesses, receive support and buy locally made products and services.
Founder and principal officer, David Baxter says: “Key to starting Made in Wigan was to educate and train local people to develop their own, or support, a community business. By encouraging local people to buy locally Made in Wigan is helping to sustain our community assets and create community ownership. This project is designed to showcase economic benefits of buying local and increase footfall into Abram Ward, ultimately making our community a destination in the heart of the Wigan borough.”
Working together to drive sustainable recovery
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things can be done differently. We have been presented with an opportunity to try a different and more joined-up approach. By bringing together local people with their passion, skills and experience, along with key decision makers, we can make our places better, more inclusive, interesting and unique.
“I think now is the time to come together and look at our places with honesty,” says Sacha Bedding. “So many of the issues which have been glossed over for decades have been stripped back for everybody to see. Citizens and communities have been at the forefront of addressing the pandemic; it’s time for us to put them at the forefront of the recovery too.”
Sacha has created a set of principles which underpins how we could/should behave collectively in the future and apply them so that our recovery from COVID-19 - unlike the impact of COVID-19 - is equitably distributed:
- The citizen is the centre of everything and we listen to what they have to say
- Genuinely exploring upstream decisions that stop us having to spend so much effort and resource mitigating problems
- Every pound of expenditure benefits its place
- Public ownership of assets is the default position
- That special vehicles (incorporating the best of public, private and community business sector) are created when necessary to maximise change
- That sustainable development is not sacrificed at the altar of artificial “economic growth” with a rush to overdevelop.
David Baxter agrees, concluding that to drive sustainable recovery, “we will need to support a community wealth building approach and buy local messages.” AWCC are working closely with Wigan Council and CLES (the national organisation for local economies) to support in Wigan’s community wealth building vision and their aim is to encourage the local authority to purchase more from community businesses, to ensure money is kept locally.
“We need local authorities to co-design services and be there to enable local people to realise their ambitions. We also need to free up more assets for community ownership. In Wigan, Neighbourhood Planning has been a useful tool to show that we can shape our community and assets and work in a trusting and open relationship with our Council.”
Sacha concludes: “we need the courage and leadership to let go of, and share, power.”
Want to find out more?
Hannah Sloggett, Co-Director at Nudge Community Builders, Plymouth, will be joining Brian Dawe CEO at SAFE Regeneration, Liverpool, and Power to Change’s Head of Communications, Charlotte Cassedanne, to discuss fostering community-led regeneration at City Nation Place UK on Wednesday 11 November. You can book your place here.
You can find your nearest community business in England and learn more about how community businesses adapted to support their communities through COVID-19 via the Power to Change website.