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Charity alone won’t help communities that have been left behind

In this piece our Chief Executive, Matt Leach, looks beyond charity and considers how and why a Community Wealth Fund could be the answer to addressing the deep rooted issues that lead areas to be ‘left behind’.

A new report released by NPC shows that communities that are most in need of charitable support are typically those most disconnected from it. This needs to be addressed, but we’ll need more than charity to address the neglected social infrastructure of our most left behind places, and support local people to build the thriving communities they deserve.

Formal charitable activity should play a supporting role in reviving communities, but community life is about more than just charitable endeavour.  It is about the places people meet, the relationships they form, and the micro-level level activity and connection that brings people together and creates a sense of identity and place.  And too often, particularly in places that are sometimes described as being “left behind”, the civic infrastructure that is needed to enable this to happen has been neglected as both the public and private sectors have withdrawn.

Recent research conducted by Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI), commissioned by Local Trust, combined the indices of multiple deprivation with other factors and looked at civil society as one element of a wider Community Needs Index. The research found that alongside charitable activity, there are other key criteria that are vital to securing better social and economic outcomes for people living in deprived neighbourhoods.

206 deprived areas across England, with a combined population of over 2 million lacked places to meet, connectivity – both physical and digital – and an active, engaged community.  It showed that a lack of a thriving civic life seems to be associated with markedly worse socio-economic outcomes in comparison with other deprived areas. They tend to have worse educational, employment and health opportunities, with life expectancy three years lower and child poverty rates 14% higher than the national average.

In places where the shops have shut, the pubs are closed, and the community centre is on its last legs, we need to invest in creating new places for local people to come together.  But we also need to ensure that any new incoming philanthropic investment helps create local capacity and confidence, rather than simply supporting external agencies to deliver projects before disappearing again when the funding runs out. And that any new resource is there for the long term.

Through running Big Local, the radical resident-led investment programme, which provides at least £1m in funding and support to each of 150 communities, we have seen the amazing things people can do when given the tools and confidence to thrive and the confidence that it is there for 10-15 years.

Alongside organisations primarily from the third sector, Local Trust has formed an alliance to champion a Community Wealth Fund to invest in the most ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across England. The Community Wealth Fund – which the alliance suggests could be funded by the next wave of dormant assets – would be a new permanent endowment, capable of long-term investment in community activity at a hyper-local level, resident-led and matched with support to build communities’ capacity to sustain change into the long-term for themselves.

This NPC report, alongside the Local Trust/OCSI research together make a strong case for rebalancing philanthropic activity from central urban areas to areas that have in the past been overlooked.  As the government looks to rebalance the economy and level-up communities that have missed out on the proceeds of growth, there is a need to match this with long term investment in levelling up the civic infrastructure of those communities as well, to allow people to thrive.