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Power and leadership

The evolution of community development

Drawing on his 35-year career working with communities, chair of Local Trust, David Warner examines how personal histories intertwine with the evolution of community development in this response to David Boyle’s essay and timeline.

Big Local is one of the most radical and exciting grant programmes ever launched by a major lottery funder. Between 2010 and 2012, the National Lottery Community Fund identified 150 areas that had historically missed out on lottery and other funding. Each of those areas was allocated £1m of Big Local funding. This could be spent in any way they chose, provided residents organised themselves locally to plan and manage that funding, involving the wider community in the decision-making process.

This bold new approach to supporting and enabling community-led change is part of a much longer story. As chair of Local Trust, it is important to me that we hold the flame for community development while we deliver the Big Local programme – not just through enabling change in the present, but by telling that wider story our work is part of.

This ambitious essay by David Boyle, and the exciting timeline that accompanies it, aim to provide that context, which can be so difficult to see while tackling urgent issues in the present – something David noted in his previous essay for us, Counterweight, in early 2020.

Community development has always been there, evolving from one generation to the next.

David’s history is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, it draws out and links currents in what we now think of as ‘community development’ over the last near-century, bookended by communities rallying to support each other through the turmoil of the Blitz in the 1940s and the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The timeline and essay help us see how people have tried to facilitate community development over the course of these 80 years – and importantly, how they talked about it at the time. They show that, in one form or another community development has always been there, evolving from one generation to the next.

Countless personal experiences run through the long history of community development.

Through all these movements run individual stories. For me personally, the defining year was 1981 – the peak of Thatcherism and the community-architecture-focused ‘technical aid’ movement in the timeline. I had just turned 18 and was working for Marks & Spencer, where I was quickly realising that a career in retail management wasn’t for me. Four years later, against the backdrop of the miners’ strikes and uprisings in inner cities, I was working in a thousand-bed hostel for the homeless in Camden Town that had been compulsory-purchased from a private landlord by the council, and passed on to a housing association to manage.

Explore a history of community development

This realisation that I wanted to work in something resembling community development – informed so much by what had come before and was taking place around me – started me on a 35-year career working with communities, eventually taking me to Local Trust in 2019.

Countless personal experiences like this run through the long history and evolution of community development. But all too often, individual stories go untold or are forgotten – lost to news archives, personal photo collections or the depths of Google searches. As a result, common threads in community development work can be missed.

In producing this history with David (and others who offer different perspectives on the history, whose accounts are being published alongside this essay) Local Trust aims to provide communities and those supporting them with a longer view of who and what has come before us – to help locate today’s efforts in that longer story, and provide a resource for work to come.

About the author
David Warner

David is the chair of Local Trust. He has over 30 years experience of working in civil society, starting as a front-line support worker working with the homeless through to running a multi-million pound national charity.

A network weaver, David has extensive experience of bringing together and creating alliances of usual and unusual suspects to create change and make action happen. Through investing heavily in network and relationship building, the resulting alliances have profound impact and outcomes.