Investment at neighbourhood level is key
Investment at the local neighbourhood level in social infrastructure must therefore be a key part of any vision for revitalising our towns
This report is an important contribution to the growing debate around how we improve and ‘level up’ social and economic outcomes for residents in those parts of the country that have in the past been overlooked or forgotten when it comes to Government priorities and investment. Its focus on towns, and exploration of factors that can hold an area back such as multiple deprivation, being less connected or experiencing visible decline - reflecting a depletion of civic assets which in turn can make it harder to foster social capital – is to be welcomed.
Local Trust in its work supporting the Big Local Programme, and more recently in its research into ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, recognises many of the challenges that our communities face and which the report draws attention to. As an organisation committed to empowering communities and supporting resident-led change we agree with the importance of identifying localised policy solutions and interventions “that allow residents to shape the direction the community takes”.
We also agree that towns are certainly not a “proxy for left behind”, and that there is the need for a “towns moment”. However, we would also argue that for those communities on the periphery, including many of the 225 neighbourhoods across England identified by Local Trust as being ‘left behind’, the centre of their nearby town can often feel a long way away. Town centre-focussed funding and planning isn’t enough to help turn the tide in these areas. Investment at the local neighbourhood level in social infrastructure must therefore be a key part of any vision for revitalising our towns.
This is essential in supporting stronger and more resilient communities, particularly in their attempts to rebuild following COVID-19. Our most recent research for the new All Party Parliamentary Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods has highlighted just how vulnerable these areas are in terms of health, economic and social risks. It also shows how a considerably lower level of response by local voluntary and community sector organisations has left them less prepared or equipped to be able to ‘build back better.’ That’s why one of our key policy proposals is for a new £2billion Community Wealth Fund, endowed through the second wave of dormant assets, and dedicated to building foundational social infrastructure in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. It’s investment of this scale and scope, targeted at the right geographical level and the communities that need of it most, that will help address wider social and economic problems and sense of disaffection and abandonment, bringing hope and building resilience for the future.
Daniel Crowe and the Local Trust Policy team