Margaret Bolton, Director of Policy at Local Trust, explains why we need a new social settlement post COVID 19 which recognises the power of the community response to the pandemic and strengthens our society for the future. 

We are entering the next stage in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The all-important “R” value is in decline, lockdown is slowly easing and shops and community spaces across the country are starting to re-open. And, we are beginning to tentatively assess what has happened in the past few months and to start to consider what it means for our future. A future that promises to be very uncertain and tumultuous. And yet this uncertainty opens up the possibility of radical change to address power imbalances and provide opportunity to those who have so far lacked it. 

Through our work supporting 150 under-invested neighbourhoods across England as part of the Big Local programme, we have seen how people have come together to support each other. Big Locals across the country delivered food to those in isolation; some invested in software to upskill residents and help them find employment after the pandemic; others used 3D printers to make protective equipment for frontline workers and volunteers; whilst others put together art projects to help protect mental health and bolster community spirit. In each instance, Big Locals have been able to respond effectively to local needs, thanks to their deep knowledge of their areas and the relationships they have developed over time with public sector organisations and businesses.  

It may have taken a global pandemic for many to realise the value of trusting residents to deliver change; but many grassroots community groups have been quietly tackling the most pressing problems of their neighbourhoods for some time. There are countless examples, the apprenticeship scheme in Winterton, the youth outreach work being done in Heston West, the training, education and advocacy on mental health issues in Ewanrigg and the solar farm in Lawrence Weston

But these communities often feel that they are working against the grain of a system that does not value initiatives that are small scale, hyper-local and community powered. Imagine what might be achieved if we created the conditions for them to thrive? This should be a key objective for government as it develops its policy on recovery. We need a new social settlement that puts power and control over resources into the hands of local communities, particularly those that characterise themselves as forgotten or ‘left behind’.  We need the state to act in a new way, to be facilitative and enabling. We need to build capacity in communities to make their own decisions, to build an asset base and to thrive. We believe this is the best way to make Britain resilient for the future. 

Unleashing the Power of our Communities, exploring the case for a new social settlement is a series of 6 digital events running from 25th June. Find out more about them and how to sign up here. 

To explore the need for and nature of this new social settlement, Local Trust is partnering with the Big Tent Ideas Festival on a series of events bringing together community activists and politicians. The series will focus on specific issues – mental health; economic development and the climate crisis, as well as providing insight into ‘left behind’ communities. It will explore how giving residents greater decision-making power can address root causes and generate solutions which are more effective because they are designed by local people and have their support. 

We need to recalibrate the relationship between communities, the economy and the state, finding simple, actionable solutions to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy prosperity in the future. Over the last few months, our communities have been at the heart of the response to COVID 19; they are the key to our future too. 

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