The Local Trust supports bottom-up civil society... starting from a glass-strewn waste-ground
Local Trust was established in 2012 to deliver Big Local, a unique programme that puts residents across the country in control of decisions about their own lives and neighbourhoods. Funded by a £217m endowment from the Big Lottery Fund – the largest ever single commitment of lottery funds – it provides in excess of £1m of long-term funding over 10-15 years to each of 150 local communities, many of which face major social and economic challenges but have missed out in the past from accessing their fair share of statutory and lottery funds.
Interesting and relevant to A/UK, for sure. The story told on Civil Society Futures by their chief executive Matt Leach makes their approach come alive:
When Abbas Najib, Abid Zaman and a few neighbours came together to improve a patch of waste ground at the centre of their community in Lidget Green in Bradford, their first thought wasn’t about structures or organisation, it was getting the rubble and broken glass cleared from where their children wanted to play. Some landfill grant helped meet the cost of extracting the concrete and laying new grass, but when it came to getting the last of the rubble removed so that the council could mow the area they dug into their own pockets to make it happen.
On a rainy Thursday morning this November, they stood together at the launch of a new all-weather football pitch and cricket nets on the same site. A well used path across the neatly mowed Spencer Fields connects the nearby school to local houses, with new lighting enabling children to walk to and from home safely on dark winter days. Abbas and Abbid, together with the other members of the Big Local partnership for the area, had decided that a priority for spending their funding from the Big Local programme was to complete the work they started almost ten years earlier.
When we talk about the importance of power, accountability, connection and trust, you don’t have to look far beyond Spencer Fields for examples of what that might mean in practice.
As local residents wanting to achieve positive change in their area, their connection to place was never in question; the changes they were trying to deliver related to land that sat – for some – over their own garden fences. Getting a group together to start to deal with it was as much about convincing neighbours to join in as negotiating with remote external agencies.
If either party is serious about localism and devolution, they will need to do more than simply transfer power from Whitehall to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and local authorities. The hard truth is that, for many in our most peripheral and disconnected places, local government can feel as invisible and disconnected from local communities as the central state; a remote, unaccountable institution, largely irrelevant to day to day community concerns, other than when, perhaps, they exercise their limited coercive powers or announce a further round of centre closures or service withdrawal.
…This new willingness to embrace the value of community as more than just a place that people live, but also a way we achieve change might also help us to make sense of our new post-Brexit national identity. Might it enable us to start to define ourselves through a nested set of positive individual, community and institutional identities?
Being proud of the neighbourhood we live in and working with our neighbours to shape the decisions and commission the solutions that make it better; loving our towns and cities as a bringing together of the dynamic local communities within their boundaries, with local authorities as enablers and partners; celebrating England as a country defined by its resourceful people and the fantastic places they have created?
There are clearly a set of issues around power, affiliation, trust and identity that would need to be resolved to get there; it’s not just something that can be achieved by a bit of short-term investment in engagement and participation. But as we approach a new decade what is unarguable is that we need to find a new way of making the system work better for the people it is supposed, but has failed, to serve.
Perhaps, in doing so, we can help build a new national story, based around connection, collectivism, individual and community agency, radically dispersed power and a renewed sense of shared identity.
Leach points to this report by David Boyle, The Grammar of Change, which measures ‘“the value that comes from harnessing the energy and potential of local people to lead and deliver change for themselves. It isn’t easy, and takes time and patience – particularly in communities unused to being given a share of the responsibility for shaping the places in which they live.”
Fascinating thoughts and practice, which we hope to explore with Matt soon.