Empowered Communities: Looking back – to move forward (UK)

The IVAR team are preparing to facilitate a diverse dialogue that will explore the past, present and future of support to communities in the UK.

By Leila Baker, Head of Research, IVAR

The Institute for Voluntary Action Research has been appointed by Local Trust to be responsible for a research project that will ask, ‘What needs to happen to empower communities?’ and ‘Does community development still have a contribution to make?’

We’re excited and not a little humbled to have the chance to work with people across the UK who have important insights and opinions to contribute to this research. What we discover will matter to Local Trust, to IVAR and to the hundreds of people who have already signed up to updates on the project.

A research approach for our times

The withdrawal of the state is leaving communities to do more for themselves, widening the gap between rich and poor, and damaging the infrastructure that supports community action. Cuts and austerity have become powerful drivers for finding different ways of doing a huge range of things – from how we involve people in their own care and wellbeing; to how we finance community building and empowerment. Brexit has sharpened our awareness of division and tensions in communities and subsequent incidents of racism or other prejudice have mobilised and alarmed people across the generations.

So what kind of research is needed? This isn’t a big project. The budget of £40,000 sounds like a lot until you start to break it down across work in all four nations of the UK and with everyone who has something to say. But the money that is available for Local Trust to act on the research is sizeable – a £500,000 legacy from the Community Development Foundation.

Our approach is simple. We want to ask great questions and stimulate dialogue between diverse groups of people. How we do that will vary – we’ll use whatever language, style or approach that will elicit the ‘best’ response. And by ‘best’ I mean one that allows participants to get across their perspective, experience and opinions and that challenges them to think widely and critically. And, yes, we want people to have conversations that they find enjoyable, stimulating and useful for themselves too.

Learning from the past

The dialogues we facilitate will need to connect people with different perspectives, experiences and opinions. That includes creating opportunities for conversations across the generations. Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the number of conversations and chance encounters that I have observed between people of different generations. These conversations hearten and strengthen, but also inform.

Lessons from the past matter. Being ambitious for the future matters too and sometimes that means doing things in new ways. But let’s not forget that if you are poor, hungry, lonely or isolated, good doesn’t necessarily equate to new. We need the past as much as the present to help us do good.

Join the debate:

Share your views on Twitter using #Empowered2020s

Keep up to date: Sign up to the Empowered Communities project mailing list.

IVAR is an independent charity that works closely with people and organisations striving for social change. We use research to develop practical responses to the challenges faced and create opportunities for people to learn from our findings.

Local Trust’s mission is to enable residents to make their communities and their areas even better places in which to live. We do this by helping residents develop and use their skills and confidence to identify what matters most to them, and to take action to change things for the better, now and in the future. We provide a mix of funding and finance to support people to make sustainable change, maximise impact and make the best use of scarce resources. Our major programme in England is Big Local.

Empowered Communities in the 2020: shaping the future of community development in the UK

Empowered Communities in the 2020s is an ambitious new project made possible by a major legacy donation from the Community Development Foundation, which would have celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. The project is about scoping and supporting the future of community development in the UK with a critical eye for what it needs to look like and who it needs to involve in order to be fit for the purpose of empowering communities in the 2020s.

To start the project, Local Trust and their partners at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have commissioned IVAR (the Institute for Voluntary Action Research) to carry out a research project to capture the contemporary value and future possibilities of working with communities to enable them to develop to their fullest potential.

The research aims to enable a conversation with a wide range of people, groups and organisations in the public, voluntary (including faith and community groups) and business sectors who support individuals and communities, build movements, and operate online and offline.

It will do this through three sets of Dialogues:

  • Dialogues #1 – Exploring policy contexts that intersect with community development and empowered communities, such as income inequality, local ageing populations, housing, immigration or climate change.
  • Dialogues #2 – Visiting the four countries in the UK to hear from people who work with communities regardless of whether or not they have a community development remit as such.
  • Dialogues #3 – Conversations in four communities of place, to hear from people who work with, or in some way support communities — regardless of whether or not they have a community development remit.

The research is led by Leila Baker. You can read more about it – and sign up to the Empowered Communities mailing list – on Leila’s blog.

You might also be interested in a blog post by Local Trust’s chief executive, Matt Leach, to see what the funders want to achieve through the research.