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Challenge, opportunity and achievement: looking back on 2022

Matt Leach, Local Trust’s CEO, reflects on the successes and challenges of the last 12 months – and the renewed commitment that must be made to local communities in 2023.

It’s traditional as the end of year approaches to look back and gaze forward, attempting to summarise the previous twelve months’ activity and achievements and set out the challenges and milestones that will define what comes next.

It is fair to say that the last twelve months have been memorable for both Local Trust and Big Local. We’ve seen Big Local partnerships continue to bounce back from the challenges of COVID-19, with refreshed priorities, new projects and, for many, increasingly ambitious legacy plans. Like those in Bourne Big Local, whose long-planned community hub opened this autumn, and recently benefited from a National Lottery Community Fund grant that will guarantee its successful operation for the next five years. And Lawrence Weston, whose exciting and innovative community energy partnership is breaking new ground in Bristol.

The first two Big Local areas also reached the end of their Big Local funding programme. CELL Big Local in Northumbria spent the last of their £1.1m of funding over the summer, leaving behind an amazing legacy, which included a fantastically restored 14th Century Pele Tower I was delighted to visit with Local Trust Chair David Warner early this year.

And last week I joined Three Parishes Big Local in Shropshire to celebrate the conclusion of their final plan, which brought together local people from across their area to recognise a decade of activity and achievement in their local communities.

Making a difference when it matters most

Everywhere, Big Local partnerships, alongside community organisations across the country, have stepped up to the challenges of the cost of living crisis, showing the power and potential of communities to make a difference when it matters most.

Big Local partnerships, alongside community organisations across the country, have stepped up to the challenges of the cost of living crisis, showing the power and potential of communities to make a difference when it matters most.”

In Newington, I recently visited some absolutely inspiring Big Local community members at the heart of work to combat food poverty in their community, whose amazing work has helped make the case for the award of £500k of Levelling Up Fund support, to extend the community centre and its kitchen facilities.

Bringing people together to learn from one another has been a consistent theme of Big Local, and it was brilliant to see Big Local Connects back again – bigger and better than ever, with almost 500 people from across the country sharing experience with one another, this year with more Big Local partnerships and workers leading sessions than we’ve ever had before.

Looking beyond Big Local, we’ve seen the conclusion of the brilliant Creative Civic Change programme, demonstrating the incredible potential of creativity and the arts to make a difference to people’s lives in communities across the country.

It’s been an absolute privilege to support this programme, alongside the National Lottery Community Fund, the Esmee Fairburn Foundation and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

There’s been inspirational content and profound learning from a programme whose legacy is likely to inform approaches to funding both the creative arts and community-led change well into the future.

Delivering solutions at a hyperlocal level

Against a background of political turbulence and change at a national level, one thing that has remained constant is the importance of social infrastructure to the national policy debate, and a growing recognition of the need to recognise and deliver solutions at a hyperlocal level.

Something that has been at the heart of Local Trust’s work is ensuring that learning from the Big Local programme is effectively shared with policy makers, funders and practitioners as we move towards the final third of the programme.

We’ve seen a growing number of contributions to the debate on how to build stronger and more powerful communities from across the political spectrum, such as the Communities in Control report from the Fabians and the New Social Covenant Unit’s Social Capitalism manifesto.

But probably most importantly, at the start of the year, the Levelling Up White Paper was clear in its identification of the centrality of social capital to the success of national and local economies. And it made a strong case for particular action to address the needs of communities suffering from both deprivation and low levels of social infrastructure – neighbourhoods that are often referred to as left behind’, even if at times it was low on policy solutions.

With Michael Gove now back in post, the next year will hopefully see more detail added to an important element of the government’s levelling up vision.

The importance of 2023 for communities

In many ways, the coming year, will be an even more important year for communities, both within the Big Local family and beyond. More Big Local areas will be celebrating completing their journeys through the programme, highlighting their achievements, and being proud of the strong legacies they have put in place.

As many as twenty are expected to complete their spend during 2023-24, and we’re hoping that many of them join us to celebrate at the 2023 Big Local Connects.

Nationally, we’d expect to see an increasing focus across all the main parties on preparing for the next election, perhaps no more than a year and a half away. Alongside the Levelling Up White Paper, the publication last month of Lisa Nandy’s book All In: how we build a country that works is another good example of new ideas on power, community and place starting to find a place in the wider national political debate.

At Local Trust, we’d hope that there will be a growing recognition across political divides of the need to develop and deliver hyperlocal solutions, targeting the particular needs of places that are both deprived and lacking in social infrastructure.

Research carried out for the APPG on ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods shows that these neighbourhoods miss out on existing funding programmes and policy solutions, receiving up to 70% less funding than other, otherwise equally deprived areas.

That resonates strongly with learning from the work Local Trust supports in neighbourhoods across the country – that powerful communities are the result of strong community-led institutions; where they don’t exist local people miss out; and that building them requires long term, patient support, not short-term policy fixes.

It’s a point that I’d expect to be highlighted by the much-expected report of the APPG on ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods’ year-long Inquiry into Levelling Up due to report later in the spring.

A mission to strengthen and rebuild

Finally, early next year we are expecting to hear the result of government decisions on the use of the next wave of dormant assets, following their consultation earlier this year.

2022 saw massive growth in support for the campaign that some of this valuable new resource be committed to a Community Wealth Fund, to help fund the community-led reconstruction of the social fabric of some our most ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.

At a time of challenge and crisis, both nationally and locally, strong and sustainable social infrastructure is more critical than ever to local communities.”

Let’s hope 2023 sees those campaigning voices heard. At a time of challenge and crisis, both nationally and locally, strong and sustainable social infrastructure is more critical than ever to local communities. If we are to set ourselves a new year resolution, it should be to commit to a mission to strengthen and rebuild it where it is needed most.

About the author
Matt Leach

Matt Leach is the CEO of Local Trust