Urgent need to explore new ways to protect communities from the cuts

Communities facing the sharp ends of cuts can be protected from some of the worst impacts by strong local networks of ordinary people, according to a report published today by the RSA. However, local and central government need to invest in helping to turn ‘strangers into neighbours’.

Written by Nicola Bacon, Director of Social Life, the report argues that with no new money for large scale regeneration projects, there is a pressing need to develop low-cost ways to support those people living in places most affected by the collapse of local economies.

The report argues that policy makers, politicians and practitioners are struggling to think creatively about new cheaper approaches towards improving lives and life chances of people living in places under the greatest stress.

The report says that in the coming years inequality is likely to grow, as the amount of public sector investment available to help areas with the most engrained problems will be minimal compared to past decades. “We are now seeing the end of an era of large-scale investments in area based regeneration and neighbourhood renewal initiatives such as the New Deal for Communities”, the report warns.

The report argues that if we examine the legacy of regeneration policy since the 1980s, it is impossible not to be struck by the tenacity of deprivation and the difficulty of shifting it from those places where is was – and still is – most entrenched.

Commenting on the findings, report author Nicola Bacon said:

“The more we strengthen local assets – and people here are key – the more we will equip communities to self-organise, help young people find opportunities, and bridge the vast gaps left by the shrinking state. These programmes cannot substitute for the expensive interventions that are needed to transform local economies, but they can help people weather the recession, which will have the longest consequences for those living in the most marginal areas.”

The report stresses the importance of prototyping new tangible, low cost ways to increase people’s sense of wellbeing by improving social relationships and boosting community resilience. There is a link between strong networks and lower crime and anti-social behaviour, and lower rates of child abuse the report says.

There are strong examples to learn from, and the report cites numerous examples of best practice - such as:

•    WARM – the wellbeing and resilience measure – used by Social Life to assess community resilience in Poplar and Brixton, originally developed by the Young Foundation.
•    The Full of Life programme, a peer-to-peer community based intervention to promote emotional resilience skills piloted in Lambeth and Kingston-upon-Thames.
•    The ‘Circle Movement’, pioneered by Participle in Southwark, is a membership organisation aiming to ‘take care of everyday worries’ for older people.
•    The commitment by Newham Council to put community resilience at the centre of their strategies.

Notes to editors
1.    For more information contact RSA Head of Media Luke Robinson on 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970 or luke.robinson@rsa.org.uk
2.    Nicola Bacon is one of the Founding Directors of Social Life and a Young Foundation Fellow. She was a Director of the Young Foundation from 2006 to 2012, setting up programmes on wellbeing and resilience, communities and local social innovation.
3.    Social Life is a new social enterprise created by the Young Foundation in 2012. Social Life’s mission is to reconnect place-making with communities’ everyday experiences. Social Life is working in the UK and internationally. For more information go to www.social-life.co