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Community spirit Spaces and services

Communities Week: shining a light on neighbourhood spaces

This Communities Week (21 – 27 September 2020) we are celebrating the work of local residents in light of the challenges they have faced this year. Here, communications intern Alice Smith explores why community spaces have proved more vital than ever and how they can continue to flourish in uncertain times.

The internet and social media have played an important role in building robust community responses to COVID-19 and providing residents with the resources to do so. My Community is a brilliant example of this: a single website that brings together the latest tools, tips and ideas residents need to make their neighbourhood a better place to live. Alongside this, physical meeting spaces have also proved invaluable in enabling effective neighbourhood action.

Listening to volunteers and residents from the 150 communities delivering the Big Local programme, we have learned how important hubs are in building resilient communities, breathing new life into areas with low civic activity and creating a strong sense of connection between neighbours.

Despite this, they are increasingly at risk of closure. Some lost vital income when services were suspended during the pandemic, or when volunteers were no longer able to open the doors owing to lockdown restrictions.

Others have found new ways to meet the needs of local residents, often finding imaginative solutions out of necessity.

In July this year, we published a blog exploring the roles that community hubs have performed in Big Local areas during the pandemic and the issues they face beyond the pandemic.

The blog commented on the flexible approach taken in many neighbourhoods, describing that; ‘in some cases, community gardens and outdoor spaces may become the new community hub.’ Examples of community resourcefulness like this are impressive but not without their limitations.

As our research into ‘left behind’ areas has shown, neighbourhoods that lack basic civic infrastructure are far more likely to have worse socio-economic outcomes. Significant funding or investment strategies, such as a Community Wealth Fund, could begin to address these inequalities and ensure the survival of local places to meet beyond the current crisis.

The need for basic funding is evident, but many communities already have the knowledge and expertise to keep community facilities open and thriving.

Making that knowledge widely available gives communities the best chance of ensuring their space will survive and thrive. The Community Hub Handbook, published earlier this year with Power to Change, is a guide for residents with essential advice and resources on running these local spaces. The guide draws on the experiences of some of the country’s most successful community spaces, and includes everything communities need from financial advice, management tips and how to provide services that will engage local residents.

We’ve since been proud to include the handbook on the new My Community website, which pools resources, stories and ideas from 12 community sector organisations to help residents make their neighbourhood an even better place to live. The Handbook enables communities to take ownership over their local spaces and mould them into a community asset that is responsive to local needs and interests.

My Community is full of key resources for communities; resources, like local meeting spaces, without which neighbourhoods cannot flourish. One of the aims of the Big Local programme is to create resilient communities who have more of a say over what happens in their local area and these materials are foundational to this aim.

Take a look at the My Community website to find out more and don’t miss the Community Hub Handbook.