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Power and leadership

Filling the void

New conversations about community empowerment.

By Matt Leach, chief executive, Local Trust

If the past of community and place-based funding can teach us anything, it is that we must create space to explore, share and understand new ideas and practice. Local Trust’s Empowered Communities project will do just that, says Matt Leach.

Yesterday I blogged about the lessons of the Big Society. I argued that as we enter an era in which politicians and funders are again talking about community and place, it’s important that we learn from the past.  In particular, there is a need to ensure that ideas and practice are given the space to be properly explored, shared and understood, providing foundations that are more sustainable than the last time around.

At Local Trust we’re incredibly excited to have the opportunity to provide just that. On the closure of the Community Development Foundation last year, the CDF trustees entrusted us with funds and chose us to take forward their commitment to the development of thinking on the future of community empowerment.

This year, we’ll be embarking on initial work with our partners IVAR, to start to explore what community development and empowerment means in a modern context. We’ll look at current practice and also approaches that have been successful in the past that may provide insight for the future. At the heart of the conversation will be the question, ‘What needs to happen to empower communities, and why?’

It won’t just focus on community development in a narrow context, but also seek to build links to ideas about community economic development, as well as other important areas such as health, employment, housing and transport.

IVAR will be working with a broad network of thinkers, practitioners and communities. To give a flavour, they will be looking at practice in Local Trust’s Big Local programme – one of the biggest ever non-state investments in place-based funding – as well as research supported by Local Trust on the extent to which placing people in control of decisions in their communities has an impact on their health and wellbeing. IVAR will also review wider research and consider the impact of current policies on community rights, community enterprise and community assets and new and emerging thinking on community and the role of place.


The withdrawal of government support for community infrastructure means that many spaces in which conversations about community empowerment and development took place, such as Urban Forum, CDX and the Community Development Foundation, have disappeared. Over the coming months we want to restart and reanimate those conversations.


It won’t be a dry academic exercise.  We’ll be using a wide range of ways of opening up conversations, including imagery, podcasts, infographics, vox pops and facilitated dialogues.  And – with IVAR – we’ll be sharing it all online as much as possible, to enable an even bigger debate to take place and draw on the widest possible base of learning.  We’ll also look to draw on other important thinking taking place at the moment, not least the RSA’s Commission on Inclusive Growth and the ongoing inquiry into the Future of Civil Society being led by Julia Unwin.

In doing so, we’ll be looking to learn from the failures and successes of the past.  Not least the need to ensure that any future radical shift towards embracing community empowerment is based on sound and shared ideas and practice that are capable of sustaining it in a changed and changing world.



Find out more: Visit the Empowered Communities area of our website.