Along with the release of Local Trust’s strategy to 2026, chief executive Matt Leach offers his thoughts on what the next six years will look like for the organisation and Big Local communities
A popular framing of great global crises – whether pandemics, famine or war – is that they represent turning points in history: established orders fail, viewpoints change, paradigms shift, and new settlements emerge.
There’s been a sense of that over recent months, as whole societies have ground to a halt and governments across the world have implemented financial measures to rescue economies. This would have been inconceivable as part of the political programmes of any mainstream political party in normal times. In parallel, civil society, think tanks and policy forums have gone into overdrive, advancing new policies and approaches – whether Universal Basic Incomes or Decarbonised, Decentralised Economies, intended to help us #BuildBackBetter.
An alternative take on crisis is that, when it comes, it doesn’t bring outright change but rather an acceleration of trends and forces that were already present in society, highlighting issues and exposing fragilities that already existed, but have become more stark and immediate as the stabilising forces of “normality” are stripped away.
We are coming to the end of the Long Boom, driven by global trade, cheap Chinese manufacturing and digital commerce. It promises a long period of economic challenge and disruption as a new global settlement emerges, made more stark by the economic disruption and scarring caused by COVID-19; whilst the limits of globalised supply chains were brutally exposed as multiple nations across the world struggled to secure adequate PPE.
At the same time, and pre-dating the coronavirus, there is a growing consensus that current systems – political, economic and social – are not working.
Significant parts of our nation, particularly those located on the periphery, feel that their needs have been ignored – perspectives brought into focus in the Brexit referendum and recent general election. More recently, the Black Lives Matter protests remind us that structural injustices persist in many parts of our society.
It was that latter view of crisis that informed Local Trust’s thinking when – at the end of March, and with lockdown just announced – trustees signed off a new Strategy for the organisation, setting out our priorities as a funder, enabler and influencer through to the end point of our funding programmes in 2026-27.
The Strategy represents the culmination of a year of work involving trustees, staff, representatives of the communities we work with, and a much wider consultation with stakeholders, experts, futurologists and trend analysts. The aim was to ensure that in setting our long–term goals and ambitions they reflected the best possible understanding of the context within which our communities were operating now, where they might be in 2026, and how that might prepare them for a future beyond that.
In many places – particularly those areas that have been “left behind”- the social infrastructure that underpins the relationships, connections and trust that contribute to building and sustaining thriving community life have significantly declined or are increasingly at risk.
Strong communities need shared places to meet, whether pubs, places of worship or community halls.
They need active and engaged residents, with strong local leaders who know their neighbourhood and are capable of bringing people together. And they need good connections – to jobs, services and wider sources of opportunities.
We know from the current crisis that where this social infrastructure exists, communities have been able to respond quickly and imaginatively to the crisis, often as first responders before local government got its own response up and running. We also know from our experience of working with Big Local areas that where this sort of infrastructure has disappeared, rebuilding those important components of successful community life often requires significant and sustained investment, hard work and support over many years.
Local Trust believes that as we move out of the current crisis, and start to recover and rebuild, if we are to put communities in a position where they can survive and thrive in the face of a world in the process of tumultuous change, there must be a willingness on the part of those who hold power now to trust local people. And put more of that power and resource into the hands of local communities to support the development of local civil society and civic infrastructure, as part of a commitment to building the resourcefulness and resilience of our nation. In areas that have been left behind, we believe a long-term commitment of funds, accompanied by patient, nurturing, asset-based support can help achieve that, where other models of funding and support have failed.
This new strategy takes us through to 2026 – the final years of the Big Local programme. This period will see Local Trust continuing to support Big Local areas, whilst at the same time extending our ambition to contribute to a fundamental rebalancing of the economy and society. To achieve this, we have set ourselves the following big goals. By 2026-27 we want to ensure that:
- The Big Local programme has been successfully delivered and Local Trust has provided the support necessary for Big Local partnerships to put in place their plans for legacy and sustainability.
- The approach and principles that underpin Big Local – that funding for communities should be long-term, resident-led, patient, place-based, non-judgmental – are mainstream across civil society, private and public sectors.
- There has been a structural change in our economy, society and politics, which leads to greater devolution of power, with local people and communities having more control over resources and decision-making.
- There has been a tangible improvement in the social and economic capacity of ‘left-behind areas’, as a result of new community-led investment in rebuilding social capital and civic infrastructure, alongside the increase in public investment to deliver economic change.
We recognise that success will depend on partnership – these are big ambitions. We are realistic that we can only play a part in their achievement and that our primary role will always be to successfully deliver the Big Local programme, as an exemplar of what can be achieved through the approach that we embody and promote. But we are looking for partners on our journey, and welcome those who want to join with us. The world is changing rapidly; the current crisis has brought those forces of change into clear focus. We need to respond, together.