Skip to Main Content
Community spirit

2023: Celebrating another year of community-led change

We look back at a year of Big Local stories, and explore what learning from the programme could mean for the UK’s political parties as they prepare for a general election.

For more than a decade, the communities involved in the Big Local programme – which began as a bold experiment, to put money directly into the hands of communities who had previously missed out on Lottery funding – have been transforming their local environments.

To date, Big Local areas have bought, rebuilt or reclaimed more than 100 community assets, and set up dozens of new community-led organisations. Local priorities have included health and wellbeing, creating jobs, giving young people a safe space to grow and bringing thousands of residents together, whether at community festivals, on local history trails, at knit and natter groups or through community events.

And over the last 12 months, as the cost of living crisis has continued, Big Local areas have been showing up for their communities, providing essential support to local residents.

With more than ten years of locally led change behind them, this is what Big Local areas told us the experience has meant to them:


Communities tackling climate change and the cost of living crisis

As 2023 unfolded, we shared the stories of Big Local areas across England. These included Wick Award’s key achievements and their plans for the future in east London, the opening of Ambition Lawrence Weston’s community-owned wind turbine in Bristol, and Grange and Central Jarrow’s proposal for a locally led basic income pilot.

Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen the ways Big Local areas are tackling the climate and cost of living crises and the impact community-led decision-making has had in improving health and wellbeing through the programme.

We’ve explored how civil society can work together to address immediate food needs, while moving towards more resilient local food systems. We’ve asked how funders can facilitate community-led transformation – and shared the findings of our three-year evaluation of the Community Leadership Academy, with conclusions for other community leadership initiatives to take away.

Meanwhile, our changemakers interviews and the second series of our community power podcast have introduced just some of the individuals working behind the scenes of the Big Local programme to make change happen.

“The reason why I became part of [Big Local] was it was an opportunity to make a difference in the area, which no one had ever had the chance to do before as residents.”

Waqas Arshad, chair of Bradley Big Local, Lancashire

Learning from Big Local

Our commitment to learning from Big Local has continued over the last year, as we start to look ahead to the programme’s end in 2026.

As well as putting a spotlight on how social infrastructure improves outcomes, we published two new reports on community governance, Trusting local people and Reforming neighbourhood governance to realise community potential, and set out a framework for reforming the neighbourhood governance system.

We explored what a state refocused around prevention could look like – and what social foundations are necessary to make it happen, and made the case for devolving power to the local level to tackle UK inequality.

2023 was also the year we reflected on the 25th anniversary of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. Local Trust’s CEO Matt Leach joined Baroness Armstrong of Hilltop, the minister responsible for the strategy, in conversation. And we commissioned new research by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research into the effects of past neighbourhood regeneration policy.

“[Birchfield Big Local] will close in March 2024, but they are setting up Birchfield Community Association, a charity that will continue its work. My hope is that I can be a part of that and continue with my passion as a youth worker. It is what I want to do in life. Big Local has given me the room to blossom in it.”

Nyah, Birchfield Big Local, Birmingham

The next steps for a community wealth fund

In September this year, we welcomed the publication of the government’s technical consultation on delivering a community wealth fund.

With the UK’s political parties preparing for a general election, our response to the consultation highlights the importance of investment, entrusted to local people, in restoring social infrastructure in the most ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across the country.

Similarly, the final report from the APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods’ inquiry into levelling up, A neighbourhood strategy for national renewal, published in October, makes a clear case for remaking the levelling up agenda, to put ‘left behind’ areas front and centre.

As we look back on a year of remarkable community-led achievements, and ahead to 2024, we hope that learnings from the Big Local programme will be heeded and help to secure a real commitment to – and investment for – those neighbourhoods that need it most.

About the author
Rachel Crews

Rachel Crews is communications manager at Local Trust.