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A history of community development

17 May 2021

Our modern era has seen hundreds of experiments by communities taking action to meet their own needs. Some have worked, some have failed, and some hint at a radically different future. This thread of history is barely known, yet offers context for an urgent conversation about the role of communities now.

In a unique project, Local Trust invited the pioneering thinker David Boyle to produce this essay and an accompanying timeline of its events to trace this history and the forces that have affected its course. Together, they provide that historical context for community work, which can be so difficult to see while tackling urgent issues in the present – something David noted in his previous essay for us, Counterweight, in early 2020.

David’s history is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, it draws out and links currents in what we now think of as ‘community development’ over the last near-century, bookended by communities rallying to support each other through the turmoil of the Blitz in London the 1940s and the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 – between some communities have innovated and thrived, and others ‘left behind’.

This ambitious project traces an incredible history of how people have tried to facilitate community development over the course of eight tumultuous decades – and importantly, how the people involved talked about their work at the time. In drawing out and linking these histories, David’s essay shows that, in one form or another community development has always been there – evolving from one generation to the next.

About the Author
David Boyle

David Boyle is the author of a range of books about history, social change, politics and the future. He has been editor of a number of publications including Town & Country PlanningCommunity NetworkNew EconomicsLiberal Democrat News and Radical Economics. He is a fellow of the New Economics Foundation.