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Power and leadership

Empowered communities are the bedrock of our society

We need to create the right conditions for a greater sense of community responsibility, and make it easy and fun to be part of a wider social life, says Daniel Goodwin.

By Daniel Goodwin, Empowered Communities in the 2020s steering group member and Local Trust Trustee

In a recent interview for Local Trust I said that empowered communities are the bedrock of our society. People should feel proud of who they are and where they live, have aspirations for the future and be able to take decisions about their lives. They should feel cared for by their neighbours and others in their community and in turn look out for them.

In recent weeks, we have all felt battered by terrible events such as the Grenfell Tower fire, and the Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park terror incidents. All were desperately sad for the families of the dead and injured and the communities around them. They revealed the worst forms of criminal behaviour and found some leading public officials wanting in their grip and attitude. Yet we’ve also seen some great community responses.

There’s been examples of deeply moving generosity of individuals, and astounding acts of bravery and effectiveness from people working in front-line public service and charities. All these heroes are focused on rebuilding communities and empowering people within them to be the best they can be. We should remember this important partnership between the community and public services at all times. Public services are not a substitute for healthy day to day community life.

They are at their best when they are focused on building infrastructure, through housing or education for example, or meeting deep need. They are there to help communities thrive, not to replace or squash them. And we need to think hard about how to build communities’ resources and resilience to enable them to function healthily.

I have met many good neighbours, community activists and local politicians who just want to make a difference and build community well-being. They dedicate considerable chunks of time to helping make things happen for the good of others. Such time is at a premium and they can’t carry it all. We need to find ways of making it easier for people to share the load.

We need to enable them to make small positive contributions without feeling that their lives are going to be taken over if they do. To make that happen we need to build a greater sense of community responsibility, and to make it easy and fun to be part of a wider social life. The Empowered Communities in the 2020s project is designed to find out how best to do this in a way which reflects our 21st Century lifestyles. It will look carefully at how to develop a deeper sense of belonging and trust.

Our communities are the foundation of what should be a great country with an open, tolerant and generous society.

This ambition can’t be built from the top down, it needs leadership from everyone in the small things as much as in grand plans. We all need to help create the right conditions which enable people to find common cause at home, in the street in neighbourhoods, at work and in communities of interest and other social networks. This needs to result in shared aspirations and concerted community action.

It looks as though the next ten years will be another decade of seismic change. It’s important that we help communities to feel they can have some control over their destiny. People will need to be able to at least weather the storms and hopefully identify and make the most of opportunities. I think that the 150 Big Local areas are doing a great job to try and make good things happen and I salute all the partnerships for their determination to make a difference and plan for their community’s future, the whole country could learn from them.

The Empowered Communities in the 2020s research will provide an important springboard to help all our communities be their best, the bedrock of a strong and caring society.

Click to explore the Empowered Communities area of our website.