‘Us and them’: A mindset that has failed our communities

‘Us and them’: A mindset that has failed our communities

A good time to ask a big question

An essay by David Boyle and Steve Wyler, commissioned by Local Trust

THIS ESSAY IS ABOUT an important question: why have the last three decades of community development initiatives left us with so many ‘left behind’ places and so much inequality?

We feel this is a good time to ask that question. Certainly it seems that not enough people do – whether in national or local government, or among the multitude of agencies caught up in the latest headlong rush into one policy initiative after another, each one promising to make the big difference in our communities.

All too often so many of us – whether government officials, communitarian think tanks, independent funders, or community activists – have put our faith in the ‘one more heave’ scenario. But somehow the promise has never been realised; we tend to think we are on the brink of success when we haven’t been. And when all the excitement has died down, and the latest round of funding has petered out, the people who live in the poorest communities are still there, their hopes once again disappointed, and with an even greater mistrust of anyone who claims to have their best interests at heart.

But over the last two years, amid all the frantic efforts in the pandemic, there has been a chance to think afresh. This has been a time, like never before, to question what is going on. And as we look around we see very different things. It is hard not to be shocked by examples of mismanagement on a national scale. The deep disparities and injustices that disgrace our country are everywhere evident. At the same time there have also been reasons to feel pride, in what we are capable of achieving at our best. And it has been possible to see glimpses of a kinder, more connected society.

Indeed as we look forward it is surely a hopeful sign that there has been so much talk of building back better, of building back fairer, of levelling-up, and even of community power. But if our history teaches us anything, it is that all these fine words, these good intentions, could so easily turn to dust.

So now is a good moment, we think, to pause, and to reflect on what has gone before, and what has been happening around us, and take a deep breath before we leap headlong into the next big push.

‘Keep out’ notice on a boarded up building in Whitley Bay. Photo: Jessie Powell


Why, despite all the efforts, do we have so many ‘left behind’ places and so much inequality?

Here is our answer: those who run the country, who design the social interventions, who oversee the regeneration programmes, and – in many cases – those who run the frontline services, have a tendency to regard people who are poor and struggling in their lives with an ‘us and them’ mindset.

As we will describe below, this mindset manifests itself in various ways. It takes the form of top-down vertical interventions, a dehumanising ‘tickbox’ culture, and large and impersonal institutions. It produces a calamitous failure to appreciate the resourcefulness that exists within communities themselves, the potential for people to contribute to improvements in their own circumstances, not least through human connection, mutual aid and enterprise.

Above all, as we shall see, this is a mindset that undermines the best of intentions. It is characterised by an assumption of superiority and a fatal need to control, and just below the surface we can sense toxic undercurrents of contempt and fear.

“We are dealing with people who have no initiative or civic pride,” said Newcastle’s chief planning officer, outrageously, in the city plan for 1963, referring to those living in the city’s slums as “almost a separate race of people with different values, aspirations and ways of being,” and setting out the council’s ambition to “break up such groupings”.[1]

We are experiencing the fallout from this attitude today, as those more thoughtful people in local authorities and other public sector institutions struggle to re-animate people’s battered spirit of self-help, aware that formal services can no longer cope with the demand. These workers face a formidable task, with relationships with residents deeply tainted by decades of mistrust – a mistrust produced by the instinct of those in power to look down upon the people they are supposed to be serving, and see them as not like themselves, but somehow as ‘other’.

So it can hardly have been a surprise when, for example, Grenfell survivors spoke of the contempt they experienced from their local authority, before and even after that dreadful calamity. The ‘us and them’ mindset has been years in the making, and is with us still.

The dominance of top-down interventions

When we reflect on our country’s recent history the first thing that comes into view is that nearly all the effort and resources intended to tackle problems in the poorest communities have been applied through professionalised charities, top-down services, and above all through programmes controlled by governments.

In the case of the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) programme, which was launched in 1994 and ran for six annual funding rounds, only 31 (3 per cent) of the 1,028 partnerships were led by community organisations. The prevailing view was that “local people did not always possess the knowledge, skills and administrative resources to be effective partners and/or lead on regeneration.” Yet it was also noted that budgets for capacity-building were small and “in any event lead partners/accountable bodies tended to retain this element of the funding.”[2]

Subsequently, when the New Deal for Communities programme was launched, claims were made that the community would be “at the heart” of the initiative,[3] but community involvement in design and decision-making was usually restricted to a few so-called community representatives appointed to partnership boards or committees. In most cases, the local authority was nearly always firmly in the driving seat.

About £55 billion was spent from 1999 to 2010 on the New Deal for Communities programme, and at the end of the programme its supporters were able to claim that it broadly achieved its ‘closing the gap’ goals: the gap between the NDC areas and the national average was reduced in 18 of the 24 indicators where comparisons were possible. Yet, when the NDC areas were compared to similarly deprived areas, which never got the large-scale investment, the results were disappointing. While there were some health and crime benefits, there was no positive change in relation to worklessness, and the gap in educational attainment actually got wider.[4]  

By the end of this period, in the years 2009/10 and 2010/11, about £10 billion a year was being spent on regeneration, but only £35m (0.3 per cent) was explicitly on community development.[5]

The fact that these vertical interventions persisted year after year, despite the enormous expense and disappointing outcomes, indicates the persistent views that those in power seem to have held about local communities: that they are not capable; that they are not to be trusted with significant resources; and even that they do not know what is good for them.

And so, deep-rooted assumptions of community incompetence, combined with an underlying fear of the ‘other’, and intensified by a desire of governments and institutions to centralise, have produced year after year a continuing need to control, to impose from above, seemingly regardless of the results. Despite all the rhetoric in recent years about devolution and localism, when it comes to the poorest communities, top-down vertical interventions have continued to be the default reaction to any perceived problem. Top-down is still very much the business as usual.

The growth of a tickbox culture

‘Tickbox culture’ is a term coined by one of the authors of this essay in January 2020. It means a culture characterised by an overzealous focus on rules and regulations rather than issues and people, and is associated with slow, dehumanised decision-making in organisational settings.

Tickbox culture tends to render processes less effective and more costly, while lying behind disasters and injustices from Grenfell to the targeting of Windrush migrants by the Home Office. It is a way of doing things that became widespread in the wake of the New Public Management, which emerged in the 1980s with a promise to bring efficiency into public life and which introduced targets and key performance indicators (KPIs) in corporate governance and a whole paraphernalia of official bureaucracy. But tickbox culture is more than just bureaucracy; indeed, it can even take the place of bureaucrats, because it is now possible to use IT to automate it.

The overall effect of tickbox culture is to intensify the ‘us and them’ mindset, especially in the interactions between welfare professionals and people who happen to be living in difficult circumstances. Its malign effects are obvious to those who are subject to it. The only people who are blind to it tend to be people at the centre: senior civil servants or ministers, senior managers, IT consultants and similar.

“The overall effect of tickbox culture is to intensify the ‘us and them’ mindset, especially in the interactions between welfare professionals and people who happen to be living in difficult circumstances. 

In practice, tickbox culture has been widely criticised in social and criminal justice work, but seen little pushback in most sectors. The NHS is an example of a sector that has – at least until the advent of COVID-19 – been particularly prey to it. Even the community sector, which has to administer much of its income by way of grants and contracts, has been infected by the tickbox – though finding increasingly that its real work of building human connection and enabling people to flourish in their lives can only take place outside of it, in the spaces between the set rules and outside of the targets laid down by the funders.  

The illusion of efficiency at scale

There is still a widely held view that big social problems can only be tackled by large organisations operating at ever-greater scale. And yet so much of the evidence of the recent years points in the other direction. In some cases, the evidence is so overwhelming that even national government has been forced to think again, as has been the case with the 2021 re-nationalisation of the probation service.[6] This was part-privatised in 2014, with contracts let at a scale that only a small number of very large private sector companies could compete for. By 2019 it had become clear that this system was, in the words of the chief inspector of probation, “irredeemably flawed”. Eight out of 10 of the private contractors were rated as inadequate, and the same chief inspector pointed out that “probation work is skilled with a large amount of professional judgement in each case and it’s just proved very difficult indeed to reduce the essence and ethos of probation to a set of measures”.[7]

Indeed, those organisations most afflicted by the tickbox – both public and private – tend to be the bigger ones. Too many corporates have transformed themselves into dysfunctional one-dimensional machines, designed to do one thing only – in this case provide profits to CEOs and to boost their share price and therefore their share earnings and bonus. This problem afflicts public sector organisations as much as private ones, where larger organisations have little interest in the broader welfare of society, and prefer people (especially, perhaps, in marginalised communities) to stay quiet and passive so that they can process us easily.

Poorer communities have appeared more dysfunctional, in part at least because of the overly large organisations dealing with them, the leaders of which tend to be the last to recognise that economies of scale are very rapidly overtaken by diseconomies of scale. In other words, as things get bigger, they also get more complex and difficult to manage, and so more and more layers of administration are introduced, resulting in increased costs, reduced efficiency, and more impersonal ways of operating. This is at least as big a source of alienation as the more direct economic ills.

If the organisations that process us care nothing about us, there are also psychological and spiritual costs.

The failure to appreciate the resources within communities

As we have described so far, the evidence has been accumulating over many years that interventions that are planned centrally, imposed from above, managed though impersonal target setting, and operated at a scale, don’t work – because they generate inefficiencies, fail to connect with the reality of people’s lives, and generate a profound and well-deserved mistrust.

So what is the alternative? The clue that potentially modernised the idea of voluntary action, since its pre-Beveridge days, emerged in Chicago. It was there that Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel prize-winner for economics, was asked by the Chicago police to tackle a particularly confusing question for them: why was it that, when they took their police off the beat and into patrol cars, and gave them a whole range of hi-tech equipment that can help them cover larger areas more effectively, the crime rate would go up?[8]

This itself remains a problem, and not one that is confined to policing. It lies at the heart of why public services become less effective on the ground as they become less personal and more centralised. Ostrom’s team decided that the reason was because that all-important link with the public was broken. When the police were in their cars, the public seemed to feel that their intelligence, support and help were no longer needed.

Nobel Prize laureate Elinor Ostrom delivers a speech at the Climate Lecture 2010 in Berlin, Germany, 22 June 2010. Photo: Rainer Jensen / Alamy Stock Photo

Ostrom called this joint endeavour that lies at the heart of all professional work ‘co-production’.[9] It explained why doctors need patients, why teachers need pupils, and why politicians need the co-operation of the public if they are going to succeed.

Chicago was also the city which Robert Sampson studied in the mid-1990s with his team from the Harvard School of Public Heath, trying to get to grips with the social factors behind violent crime. They split the city up into more than 800 different neighbourhoods and found, to their surprise, that none of the factors that are traditionally supposed to make a difference to crime – poverty, for example – really seemed to be key.[10]

What did make a difference was whether local people were willing and able to come together and take action themselves. It was, for example, whether they were prepared to intervene if they saw people acting suspiciously or aggressively. Sampson called it “collective efficacy”. He described it as a “shared willingness of residents to intervene and social trust, a sense of engagement and ownership of public space”.

These are important findings, pointing to the all-important and largely missing sense of ownership that communities need before other kinds of involvement are possible.

The implication is that professionals could be vital to the survival of neighbourhoods, just as it explains why generally speaking they are not. It implies that professionals and local services need their clients as much as the other way round, and that service users – who are often imagined as dead weight on an exhausted public service system – are also assets, miserably wasted by the current system. This is one of the key contributions of the social innovators Edgar Cahn and his wife, Chris Gray.[11]

The proposition here is not that service users are in the same category as public service professionals. It is that they are a potential resource of human skills and support that service systems find quite hard to provide, but which are enormously important for their effectiveness; befriending people, listening to them, coaching them perhaps, or just being there, for example.

The other implication is around the concept of a ‘core economy’, a phrase coined by the economist Neva Goodwin.[12] This is the notion that all local activity – parents bringing up children, looking after older people, or making neighbourhoods work – is not some magically inexhaustible resource outside the economic system. It is what makes the rest of the economy possible.

Those are the basic assumptions of the set of ideas that make up the idea of ‘co-production’, which has become widely discussed on both sides of the Atlantic. However, it is a slippery concept, taken on and rendered meaningless by senior managers in the NHS and a number of Whitehall departments. Asset-based community development (ABCD), another American import, which also means that the people we serve may be assets in the process, is perhaps more difficult to render meaningless.

As is so often the case with buzzwords, ‘co-production’ tends to become hollowed out by some of those who adopt it and by some policy makers who don’t really understand it. It is simply not enough to see co-production just as a way of involving citizens in a design process. Making co-production actually transformative as public policy depends upon two key words: it is about delivering services, and it is also about doing – in other words, joining forces to take action beyond the constraints of what are usually thought of as public services. The purpose is a shift in the power relationships around services, philanthropy and charity.

One of the peculiarities is that the establishment appears to have forgotten this part of the history of community development entirely. Somehow, we need to persuade the elite that rebuilding community goes some way beyond participative decision-making.

Politicians are not good at understanding this because they have spent their whole lives getting their place at the table and making decisions, and often fail to see how the procedures which have evolved for this tend to exclude people whose skills are less suited to reading long reports or engaging in discussion by committee. That is not to downplay the importance of consultation – just to suggest that other forms of involvement are important too.

It means that services should be able to build a much broader range of activities, where clients, and their client’s friends and families, are supported to make things happen in ways that are productive and meaningful for them. And indeed, they are then no longer just clients, but become managers too.

Of course, this doesn’t need to be the only way of doing things. Sometimes it is enough for a service user to be simply a passive recipient of a service, with little or no expectation that they would play a more active role. But when the passive service model becomes all that is on offer, with no scope to ever go beyond that, then the services that are provided, however well-intentioned, start to undermine the ability of people to deal with life’s difficulties, and to develop their own agency, individually and collectively. This is why reciprocal services matter so much where people are encouraged to give something back, to discover ways in which they can support others. With that comes the respect that goes with being more equal partners in delivery, and this can be transformative in the lives of individuals, and of whole communities.

This has implications for public services. It implies that social networks are critical to people’s ability to thrive, economically, socially and mentally, and that public services can have a role in stitching them together again. Community policy has usually failed to learn these lessons.

The failure to invest in community-building infrastructure

Practising co-production and asset-based community development in a meaningful and sustained way is not something that happens of its own accord. It goes so often against the grain of dominant practice.

One of the difficulties for those testing out these solutions is that they often seem to conflict with the way services have been developing over the past generation. They rely on face-to-face influence when the trend has been virtual; appeal to general skills when the trend has been towards specialism; and believe in ordinary skills (amateur in the best sense) when the trend has been increasingly over-professionalised.

Volunteers from Elthorne Pride distribute ‘complimentary store cupboard basics’ to members of the community at St Johns Community Centre on the Elthorne Estate in N19, London, June 2020. Photo: Zute Lightfoot

This means that tremendous persistence and determination is required, by skilled individuals on the ground. But individuals working in isolation are never enough. The implications of everything we have discussed so far is that some sort of community infrastructure is necessary. Community infrastructure can take many forms. It can include community connectors and community organisers, community anchor organisations, community centres, Big Local partnerships, local area co-ordinators and time banks. In other words, there is no perfect infrastructure; no standard form that should always be established. But over the years it has become clear what it needs to accomplish. Community infrastructure needs to be capable of identifying and fostering the strengths within communities, of building social networks, and nurturing reciprocal relationships among citizens. It also must connect positively with local businesses and public sector agencies. It needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the differences and indeed tensions within communities, while performing a centripetal function of pulling people closer together, rather than driving them apart.

Community infrastructure also needs to allow local people, especially in impoverished communities, to pull in the high-quality professional expertise – design, planning, business, legal, financial – that they need to raise their game, starting perhaps with community litter-picks and foodbanks, but also building capability to take on more ambitious and complex ventures.

Little of the local infrastructure that has been in place in recent decades has been adequate for meeting these various needs. The technical aid sector, for example, was allowed to wither away almost completely during the recession of the 1990s, and its coordinating body, the Association of Community Technical Aid Centres (ACTAC) died without issue in 1992. The mere existence of a community centre or local resource ‘hub’ was often not enough – a fact that was usually obvious to local residents, who voted with their feet and, for the most part, stayed away. In fact, it was the largely empty publicly funded community centres in former mining areas in south Wales that inspired Spice UK (now We Are Tempo) to seek out a different way forward.

Tredegar, a town in a coalmining area of south Wales, UK. Photo: David Lyons/Alamy

Part of the challenge of establishing community infrastructure is that many of the institutions in poorer neighbourhoods that could have become a basis for community-building activities have turned out to be less effective than they were supposed to be. Sometimes this is because they did not belong to local people; sometimes because their funding regimes directed them towards short term ‘projects’ and away from their core community-building work; and sometimes because the people running them lacked the necessary skills or imagination.

And there has been another problem around building community infrastructure, which some have dubbed the ‘cult of innovation’ – that statutory and independent grants officers have tended to demand that projects should be innovative, despite the diminishing ability of the statutory funding sector to take on and maintain successfully proven projects. Of course, funding was unlikely to follow failures, but it might have been reasonable to expect some in response to success. Otherwise, what was the point of innovation?

As grant funding focused more and more on social innovation, it shifted to areas where the better-educated and most articulate people lived, or was directed to organisations that were driven by high ideals and could present a compelling theory of change, but were detached from local communities. This led to a situation described by some critics as ‘farming the poor’.[13] National charities or think tanks would apply for grants to launch a supposedly innovative project, paying mainly for their own staff, but involving locals often as volunteers. When these grants came to an end, the paid staff would move on to do the same thing elsewhere, and local people would be left behind, once again abandoned. This characterisation is of course something of a caricature, but it describes a process we can all recognise, wherein investments made in poor communities are applied in ways that mostly benefit people from outside those communities.

There is also a class dimension, wherein middle-class managers and project staff control the services, and in doing so enter neighbourhoods and take things over. Where this has happened, it has not necessarily been the result of deliberate policy or design. Often individual intentions will have been good. But all too often, they will have been submerged in the struggle for survival in the charity and local government sectors, and invisibly and persistently infected by the ‘us and them’ mindset – an underlying assumption that they are best-placed to run things.

A few funders eventually bucked this trend – not least the National Lottery Community Fund, which assigned £200m to the Big Local experiment to find out what would happen if funds were placed in the hands of residents in places that had suffered most neglect. Indeed, the National Lottery Community Fund went on to adopt an admirable ‘people in the lead’ philosophy to guide grant-making across all its programmes.

A week before the first National Lottery draw in the UK, November 1994. Photo: Jonathan Player / Alamy Stock Photo

And at one point there was an attempt to change direction at national government level as well, although that didn’t go so well. In 2010, the Big Society initiative was proclaimed as a shift in direction; a “deep and serious reform agenda to take power away from politicians and give it to people”.[14] And it did produce several initiatives of real consequence, including a Localism Act that created neighbourhood planning powers, and mechanisms that made it a little easier to bring land and buildings into community ownership. It also launched a national effort to recruit and train community organisers to listen to people and get behind the things that they wanted to do, rather than impose objectives from above.

But overall, the Big Society was tainted by its association with a public sector spending-cuts agenda, and a year-zero approach that viewed with disdain and even hostility almost all existing community effort. This was made worse by the beliefs of some of those leading the Big Society: firstly, that a combination of corporate generosity, online technology and individual volunteering would displace the need for government funding for poor communities, and in particular for investment into local community infrastructure; and secondly that the responsibility of government to intervene could eventually diminish almost to nothing at all.

So in the end, the Big Society alienated potential supporters, attracted criticism from all sides, and was quietly consigned to oblivion by the very government that had announced it with such fanfare. And at the heart of this failure was a lack of confidence, despite all the rhetoric at the outset, among those leading the Big Society, in the potential for people in the poorest communities to determine their own way forward, through local community-building institutions that they themselves owned and controlled.

Then-Conservative Party leader David Cameron talks to college students as he launches his idea of “the big society” at Varndean college on April 19, 2010 in Brighton, England. Image: UPI/Hugo Philpott

The failure to grasp the significance of community enterprise

The ‘us and them’ mindset has an economic as well as a social dimension. Those who sit in national and regional boardrooms, and devise plans to raise workforce skills, support entrepreneurs, attract inward investment, and stimulate economic productivity, sometimes seem to inhabit a different world from the ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods in which most poor people live.

Yet we know now that diverse, smaller businesses play a much ignored but vital role in local prosperity. In 2010, Harvard Business Review published a graph along with the headline ‘More small firms means more jobs’.[15] It said: “Our research shows that regional economic growth is highly correlated with the presence of many small, entrepreneurial employers – not a few big ones.”The authors argued that the arrival of a big company in a local or regional economy might have little comparative effect on employment, “even when they are doing well”.

There was more support for this position from Economic Development Quarterly, which found that:

“Economic growth models that control for other relevant factors reveal a positive relationship between density of locally owned firms and per capita income growth, but only for small (10-99 employees) firms, whereas the density of large (more than 500 workers) firms not owned locally has a negative effect.”[16]

The implication is not just that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are vital for local economies, especially when they are owned and managed nearby, but also for the national economy. In which case, it seems peculiar that successive governments have concentrated so much effort on a handful of national high street banks that have found investing in SMEs, or providing them with adequate credit support as they expand, increasingly difficult.

“Community businesses tend to be especially good at generating employment for local people, including those who are sometimes excluded from the labour market.

Mainstream policymakers tend to take their cues from the big banks and assume that the absence of lending to local SMEs, and indeed the absence of local financial institutions in an area, are both signs of lack of demand. The evidence for this is highly contested; it actually looks like a major market failure. It is now 34 years since the US Community Reinvestment Act, which has seen about $3 trillion flowing from the banks to the poorest areas, but beyond the simple revelation from 2014 of where the UK banks are lending money, nothing similar has emerged over here.

Former Toys R Us store at Meadowhall Retail Park, Sheffield, England. Photo:
Christian Hopewell / Alamy Stock Photo

We also know that in those places where commercial business has retreated, leaving behind moth-balled business parks, empty office blocks, and boarded-up shops, it is local micro enterprise, and especially the local social economy which often has the biggest part to play in recovery. This is because community businesses tend to be especially good at generating employment for local people, including those who are sometimes excluded from the labour market. This can include people with histories or offending or homelessness, or addiction, or people who struggle with chronic mental illness.

Importantly, small local businesses don’t extract wealth from poor communities in the way that many large companies do. Rather, in small incremental steps, they help to generate wealth in communities and keep it circulating there.

For example, in the 1980s in Scotland – largely in response to a dramatic collapse in industrial employment – there was a first nationwide flowering of community businesses, in both rural and urban areas. These were assisted by some far-sighted agencies, notably the Highlands and Islands Development Board, and specialist support bodies such as Strathclyde Community Business. Within a decade, there were over 100 community businesses across Scotland running a wealth of enterprises, from salmon farms to supermarkets, and from managed workspaces to security services.

Prompted in part by the experience in Scotland, community activists started to set up enterprising community ventures of their own in other parts of the UK. During the 1990s, a network of development trusts started to spread, most rapidly in the few instances (such as in Liverpool and Sheffield) where there was dedicated support from local authorities. By 2016, there were 600 such organisations across England, with combined assets (land and buildings) of over £700m, generating a total of £261m of earned income, and with a growing capability to reinvest surpluses back into their communities, on their own terms.

But these independent community-led ventures were often treated with suspicion and even hostility. Traditional charities, with their roots in Victorian philanthropy, sometimes felt threatened by these brash newcomers. The more successful they were, the more they encountered opposition from those in local government or elsewhere, who were sceptical that residents of poor neighbourhoods could ever run effective businesses, and sensed that if they succeeded that might raise some tricky questions about what really worked.

Therefore, when there were occasional (inevitable) business failures, many in positions of authority were quick to condemn. This was exactly what happened in 1990 in Glasgow when the Barrowfield Community Business went bust. For a while, the term ‘community business’ was tainted by association, and indeed was largely replaced by other terms such as ‘community enterprise’ – until it was revived in England in the last few years by Power to Change.

Community enterprise has at last been receiving somewhat more attention by those who control resources. Power to Change was set up in 2014 with £150m of lottery money to support community businesses. This was closely followed by the Access Foundation, which has been deploying around £100m of lottery and government funding in efforts to redress the failure of most social investors to offer finance in a way that is useful for small and community-based enterprises. Other hopeful developments include Match Trading grant-making, a mechanism devised by the School for Social Entrepreneurs to reward community-led efforts to achieve an uplift in social trading. And in July 2021, a long-awaited £150m community ownership fund was finally launched by the UK government.

But when it comes to the really big-ticket programmes, these promising initiatives, designed to release the power of community-led local enterprise, are yet to feature centre stage – they remain very much on the margins of national and local efforts to bring prosperity to poor places.

With all of this in mind, it is possible to see that over many years, a prevailing ‘us and them’ mindset has shaped so many aspects of community strategy. With the need to control from the centre, the illusion of efficiency through scale, the growth of tickbox culture, the failures to understand and appreciate what people living in distressed circumstances are themselves capable of contributing – especially when they are given opportunities and good support to lead, to control, and to release their entrepreneurial talents – it is no wonder that many people were already feeling left behind.

And then along came COVID-19.


What have we really learned from the COVID-19 crisis, for good and for bad?

Even now, although the initial phases of the pandemic are behind us, it is hard to know whether we are swimming or sinking, waving or drowning. Sometimes, it seems, we can see glimpses of a different and better future, and at other times it feels that we have learned nothing, and are condemned to repeat all the same mistakes.

Beki and Jo from community group West End Million outside the Exchange, an art café in the west end of Morecambe. Photo: James O’Jenkins

So, from that imperfect vantage point, as things continue to swirl around us, what can we make of it all? Here are a few things we feel we have learned about community life, across the country:

The social divisions are real and continuing – but they are not inevitable

If we didn’t know it before, we surely know now that we live in a deeply divided ‘us and them’ society. The Black Lives Matter movement, and accompanying initiatives such as Charities So White, have blown the lid right off. Over the course of 2020, it became impossible to ignore the disproportionate death rates in Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities.[17] And it is also clear that the death rates in the most deprived areas were more than double those in the least deprived areas, with low-income ‘left behind’ areas suffering badly, especially in de-industrialised neighbourhoods across the North of England and South Wales.[18]

Black Lives Matter protesters in Parliament Square, London, 6 June 2020. Photo: Jessie Powell

And it is not just about death rates. It was people from the poorest working class communities – both black and white, and especially women – who were not able to work from home but instead have borne the brunt of front-line work during the pandemic, in the ‘five Cs’ jobs (caring, cleaning, catering, clerical work and cashiering), often with poor pay, job insecurity, and inadequate COVID protection.[19]

It is perhaps possible to appreciate better now that these deep and continuing divisions have blighted not just our national life but also our community life. Communities are not just places where people come together – they are also places in which those are who are regarded as different can be made to feel unwelcome, left out and left behind. This has been known for a long time, but has often been ignored.

That is maybe just a little harder to do now, even though many reports on the pandemic:

“…tend to a degree to gloss over some of the problems and difficulties of community-centred approaches: for example, where power lies, navigating internal conflicts and dynamics, and how ‘community’ relates to and reflects deep-seated inequalities of power and resources.”[20]

So one consequence of the pandemic is that racism and other forms of discrimination are now, it seems, harder to ignore: 77 per cent of the population now believes that racism is a serious problem.[21]

And one more positive thing to have come out of this desperate situation is that many organisations, large and small, have started to take a long hard look at their own practices, in a way they hadn’t before. And even if some might be sceptical about the motives behind the government’s ambition for levelling-up, and its concern for ‘left behind’ communities, its focus on these themes is nevertheless drawing attention to the entrenched divisions within society and is stimulating renewed debate on how to overcome them.

One of the things COVID-19 has also shown is that operating fairly or unfairly always ultimately comes down to a choice. For example, when national government chose to allow hospitals to discharge COVID-infected people to care homes, the underlying assumption can only have been that the lives of those who were old and disabled counted for less than the lives of other people. On the other hand, the same government decided to put homeless people in hotel accommodation, and in doing so recognised that what was good for all of us was probably good for people who were homeless too.

At a local level there have been many examples, especially early on in the pandemic, of people deliberately and intentionally reaching out across their communities to those different from themselves in an effort to offer solidarity and support. But there have also been cases where sections of a community were seen to be only ‘looking after their own’, and increasingly there have been reports of increased intolerance and scapegoating.

Perhaps this is not surprising, as frustrations and anxieties mount. Job insecurity and restrictions on daily life are a fertile breeding ground for social division and discrimination.

But even so, as the pandemic is teaching us, discriminatory behaviours are always, in the final analysis, the result of choices, at individual, community and systems levels. And this suggests that an ‘us and them’ attitude to our poorest communities, with all the discrimination inherent in such at attitude, is not inevitable. Discrimination is a disease, but it is one that, once properly diagnosed, is treatable, provided the choice is made to do so.

Our communities and institutions are capable of both great generosity and adaptability

In the early stages of the pandemic, there was an immense nationwide awakening. In communities across the whole country, it was as if we had been half asleep for years, and were now rubbing our eyes and stretching our arms – and reaching out. We were looking afresh at the places we lived in. We were discovering neighbours we never knew we had. We wanted to help and, perhaps more than before, we were willing to be helped. We were living in a society, it seemed, characterised above all by thousands upon thousands of small acts of kindness. As Build Back Better said: “Care, neighbourliness and mutual support are the threads that bind our communities together.”[22]

Nor was this just about individual behaviour. The more the coronavirus spread, the more a spirit of collaboration and community also spread, and it seemed to infect the behaviour of many institutions, especially at the local level. Public organisations, health agencies, charities, community groups, local businesses all put aside their vested interests and old animosities, and questions of status no longer seemed to matter very much. Lanyards were left on the floor, it was said, as people came together to work out what needed to be done and how they could help their community. Hospitals reported the scrapping of tickboxing and red tape.[23] The horizontal seemed to be replacing the vertical as the preferred way to work.

This was accompanied by a willingness to do things differently, to adapt, to do whatever it took, rather than remain stuck with old methods. And this turned out to be a continuing process – as the immediate need to get food to people in the first lockdown was, in some places at least, followed through by co-operative schemes offering more than just hand-outs, designed to build community participation and resilience.[24] 

And even national government (at first at least) took some extraordinarily bold and generous steps, in doing so even setting aside party ideology. Vast amounts of public money were made available to support people’s livelihoods, so much so that it would have seemed unimaginable just a few months earlier.

And so, however terrible the effects of the pandemic, many people felt proud to be part of a community, and of a country, that was capable of behaving in this way. Indeed, the number of people who believed that, as a society, we look after each other doubled between February and June 2020.[25]

It is important, of course, not to romanticise this. As Royal Society for Arts (RSA) director Matthew Taylor put it:

“High-flown idealism about how people will emerge from the crisis transformed into selfless communitarians willing to sacrifice anything for their fellow citizens, or to save the planet, may be comforting, but is also probably fanciful.”[26]

It was certainly true that a generous and open style of community engagement involving citizens, community groups and the state was more evident in some places than in others. There is evidence that “centralised command-and-control models of delivery implemented by many statutory agencies have not always accommodated the more informal and fluid approaches of community groups” and when hyper-local community-led infrastructure groups were asked whether the council was proactive in contacting and working with them, “most said not.”[27]

Where pre-existing relationships were already in place and were positive, this usually meant that trust and co-operation flourished even more in the pandemic.[28] On the other hand, where relationships had been poor in the past, there was often a failure to overcome this in the crisis, and underlying tensions were exacerbated.[29]

And particularly in ‘left behind’ areas, where social infrastructure was weakest, there is some evidence of lower levels of mutual aid activity and residents were less likely to be involved in organised social action or volunteering.[30] Although it was also noted that hyper-local responses played out in various ways, with informal, perhaps more neighbourly help and support more common in the poorest communities, and more organised volunteering likely to happen in the better-off areas.[31]

Moreover, as the pandemic continued, some of the original impetus has been lost. Inevitably people became tired, but also demoralised – in part because of a perception of systemic injustice, and also because, especially at national level, the vertical ‘command and control’ modes of operation quickly reasserted themselves, often with disastrous results.

Yet many people have been left, it seems, with a residual sense that all of us are capable of behaving better than perhaps we had realised, and that the foundations for that better behaviour are likely to be found in the notion of community, in a collective sense of belonging to a place and depending on each other.

Operating on the basis of trust

For decades, most people in senior roles in national and local government – and also in many other parts of public life – have held the line that we have to regulate everything we do though contracts. Not only do legally binding contracts allow clear and detailed targets to be set (it was believed), they also provide the means to enforce them. It was widely held that contracts would protect public funding from abuse, encourage efficiency, achieve value for money, and provide the framework for a healthy competitive market to flourish. This method was applied wholesale to the social sector, replacing grants with contracts, which were often awarded on a competitive basis.

Larger-scale contracts became commonplace, creating multiple entry points into community life for large private sector operators and for some large charities as well. These possessed the advantages of substantial balance sheets and effective bid-writing teams, but lacked local knowledge and relationships and had no long-term commitment to any particular community.

Worse, surpluses generated from the contracts were rarely re-invested locally. And as already noted, the overall effect was that the services became more and more standardised and increasingly failed to respond to particular local needs – and at the same time resources were not recycled, but rather continually sucked out of the poorest communities.

This ‘contract culture’ was not only a manifestation of the markets ideology that dominated both the left and right in their approach to social policy, but it also betrayed the prevalence of the ‘us and them’ mindset. Allowing people in their communities to take action on their own terms, and applying public funds to support that, without exerting the full apparatus of contractual control, was deemed to be simply too dangerous. It was seen to be better by far to bring in outsiders, even if they had no local allegiance, and even if they were likely to add to the sense of ‘being done to’, rather than trusting local people to sit in the driving seat.

The pandemic has challenged this orthodoxy. From the start, trust has very quickly had to become the dominant operating principle, especially at a local level. Neighbours were lending money to people they barely knew, people who were housebound would hand over their cash to volunteers to do their shopping for them. When community groups distributed food and sometimes small hardship grants, they often did so entirely on the basis of trust, and reported very few problems. And trust can breed trust: “Thin ties get thicker as people trust one another more,” said communities pioneer David Robinson.[32]

“As a result of unprecedented partnership between local state and community organisations during the pandemic, one community leader went so far as to say he had “fallen back in love with his local authority”.

At the same time, funders of all types relaxed the rules. A series of rapid shifts in Cabinet Office procurement regulations, designed primarily to avoid the collapse of large-scale private sector contractors, and also to allow commissioners to move fast in the emergency, allowed public funding to be deployed without a competitive exercise, and for previously agreed targets to be set aside.

At a local level, this ushered in an unprecedented period of partnership between the local state and community organisations, where those receiving funding were allowed to exercise their judgement to do the right thing, to respond to the complexities of people’s lives, and to learn and adapt fast if need be. As one study reported: “Previous siloes and barriers were sidestepped, and trust-based collaboration formed in their place.”[33] One community leader went so far as to say he had “fallen back in love with his local authority”.[34]

Independent grant-making trusts and foundations took a similar approach, removing restrictions on how grants could be used. London Funders created a single portal for applications, thereby removing at a stroke the wasteful process where small frontline organisations had to divert effort in order to submit multiple bids, each seeking to dance to a different funder’s tune. Now this was turned on its head – the funders were willing to dance to the tune of the organisations on the front line of the community response.   

Where large-scale contracting, on the old model, persisted during the pandemic, it had all-too-familiar results. Because personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpiles were insufficient, and just-in-time contracts to provide more PPE turned out to be unenforceable, the government had to spend £12.5 billion by July to purchase PPE on the international market, where profiteering was rampant (the cost would have been £2.5 billion if the market had been held to 2019 prices).

Even then, the contracts failed to deliver, and (for example) the adult social care sector received only 10 per cent of the PPE it needed.[35] So much for the idea that contracts could be the means to safeguard public funds, and that market competition would produce public good.

So one of the lessons from the pandemic is that trust-based relationships with a shared commitment to local community, rather than contractual transactions designed to protect the interests of individual organisations and which perpetuate an us and them mentality, turn out after all to be the better foundation for effective action and good value in the public realm.

The entrepreneurial instinct is alive and kicking, against the odds

The social sector – and perhaps especially of that part that operates at local level – has often been thought of as worthy, but a bit dull; quick to complain about national government, but slow in itself to change; unwilling to adapt; and as lacking, above all, the entrepreneurial instinct.[36]

But if people believed that before the pandemic, they can hardly do so now. While so many large-scale businesses and government agencies proved hopelessly inefficient and wasteful (think test-and-trace, to give just one example) it was those operating on the ground, at community level, that showed themselves most fleet of foot and adaptive – and importantly, effective.

And the closer to the ground one got during the pandemic, the more that seemed to apply. Again and again, in communities across the country, it was informal mutual aid by families, friends and neighbours which came first, closely followed by action from locally based community groups, charities, and faith organisations. From there, local councils and other statutory bodies stepped up too.

Seema Rajani sewing scrubs for NHS staff at the Wormley and Turnford community hub during COVID-19. Photo: Local Trust

Alongside this was a great wave of social entrepreneurship, galvanised through social media, and organised place-by-place while also being loosely connected across the country. For example, face masks and other PPE have been produced by a network of hundreds of local community groups across the country, enabling a great many people, including those classed as vulnerable, to play a positive part in the crisis.

So many local organisations, in the public as well as community sectors, acted with creativity, flair, imagination; repurposing, redesigning, rethinking from the ground up, and building new and unexpected alliances. And while there was of course some friction (for example when local councils unwisely attempted to co-opt independent-minded mutual aid groups into the service of plans conceived in the town hall), on the whole this was a time, especially early on in the pandemic, when petty differences were set aside and a high-energy do-whatever-it-takes mentality overcame many obstacles.

As for those local organisations that were community-run and community-controlled, and which were also set up as social enterprises, the big story so far is that – against every expectation – most have survived. It was by no means obvious that they would do so. Where the majority of their income came through trading or rents, their finances have suffered especially hard during the pandemic.

Many were unable to benefit from the support available for charities from grant-making trusts and foundations, and while the furlough scheme and some other measures certainly helped, the specific government support for social enterprises was at a very much smaller scale than that offered to other sectors. But it seems that, so far at least, most community enterprises have managed, by hook or by crook, to keep afloat financially, and to continue to do things which benefit their local community – even if that meant designing at speed dramatically different methods to engage with their customer base.

The primary reason why so many have been able to survive is loyalty. It’s the same reason that so few community enterprises fall victim to vandalism or burglary. A community-run business – whether it’s a shop, pub, leisure centre, park, social hub, transport scheme, workspace, care agency, or whatever – may be running on a shoestring, but remains better-placed than many others to weather the storm because it has one thing that many others don’t have: a direct line to a constant and undiminished source of community support.

Potentially, therefore, community-run businesses, in many parts of the country, represent a hopeful antidote to the long-term loss of local industry, the collapse of commercial town centre retail and decline of the high street, and the dominance of online monopolies. But despite steady growth in recent years, they remain a tiny part of the economy. Although what is really required is very significant expansion, just surviving seems a major achievement at the moment.

We also know that individual community businesses are not the whole solution to the challenges of achieving localised economic and social prosperity. A systems-wide effort to bring about community wealth-building is also needed, with local procurement and supply-chain formation. “While progress is being made, these approaches have not yet reached a tipping point into mainstream policy and practice,” said a recent report by Carnegie UK. “Without sustained support to spread such place-based innovations, the likelihood is that some local economies will fail, with a decimating effect on community wellbeing – as much through a lack of hope as through a lack of a corner shop.”[37]


What we have learnt: some provisional conclusions

What follows is a summary of what we feel we have learned (so far) from the pandemic:

  • We really do live in an ‘us and them’ society, with both our national life and our community life deeply and tragically divided – certainly across lines of race, and in other ways as well. But it need not be like that. It isn’t inevitable and, as we have described earlier, it became clear during the pandemic that big national choices can be made that diminish division and inequality, rather than exacerbate it further.
  • At local level at least, people and communities are capable of much more than many believed, and it is more possible than many had perhaps imagined to build a collaborative practice with citizens and civil society and state working well together, with speed and flair. But experience is uneven across the country; a lot depends on the quality of local infrastructure, and this is certainly not something that can be taken for granted. “Community spirit is everywhere, but some places need more support,” said a recent Power to Change report.[38]
  • At local level, it is possible to move out of a world dominated by depersonalised transactions, regulated by contracts, and overshadowed by suspicion of each other, and into a world where human relationships and trust play a much bigger role, allowing the emergence of a great deal more creativity and community power. But there are already some signs that institutional behaviours are retreating back into the old way of doing things.
  • And finally, within all our communities an entrepreneurial instinct can be found, and seems unquenchable – even when economic conditions are least favourable and all the odds seem set against success. But while significant expansion of the community-led social business sector, as part of wider community wealth-building efforts, would no doubt bring great benefits, the immediate and over-riding concern for now is survival.

And so, it seems, the pandemic has given us some cause for optimism, about different and better ways of working within our communities. However, these need to be tempered with great caution. We also need to recognise that this momentum for change could well dissipate, and indeed left to themselves some things may well move in a reverse direction.

Beyond ‘us and them’

Our story so far has been one of a pervasive ‘us and them’ mindset, which over decades has consigned large sections of our own population to the status of second-rate citizens, assumed to be somehow inferior, lacking in the supposedly better qualities that those in more comfortable and privileged positions felt themselves to possess.

The consequence has been, as we have seen, a vertical command-and-control model of intervention, where the rules were set and the decisions were made at the centre. Those consigned to the periphery found themselves having to play the part of applicants. A few were encouraged to play an active part in civic life but soon discovered that their roles and powers were carefully circumscribed, with only a few resources placed in their own hands.

But this has also been a story of community resistance to subjugation. Sometimes in the form of protest, but also in the forms of association, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit – making things happen in spite or outside of the formal system, often operating according to the notion that it is better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission.

Often, inevitably, this activity has been at small scale, at micro-level, overlooked by those in authority, taking place in communities which were labelled ‘hard to reach’ by those sitting in a Whitehall office, in a town hall, in the plush offices of a large housing association, indeed in the headquarters building of many a charity. And yet, it has always been there – the inherent restless ungovernable strength in every community, sometimes dormant, sometimes repressed, but never wholly absent.

So, looking ahead beyond COVID-19, among the many challenges facing local communities, we believe two of the most important questions will be: ‘Can a much greater degree of self-determination be achieved?’ and ‘If so, what might that look like?’

These are not easy questions. The ‘us and them’ mindset runs deep on all sides. It would be naïve to think that the legacy of decades of practice built upon this mindset can simply be set aside as if it had never happened, and that subsequently all will be well.

But nevertheless, we feel there are a few things that might help to create the conditions for a type of community self-determination that can play to the best strengths in communities, and which maybe could help communities to navigate successfully through any perils that might lie ahead.

1. Local leadership

We know that there are forms of leadership that can be modelled most easily at community level, which are rather different from the standard models that have dominated commercial and public life. These alternative forms are likely to place greater weight on the insights that come from lived experience, rather than on professional qualifications. Persistence and patience are likely to count for more than a quick fix. A determination to succeed is vital, of course, but is likely to be accompanied by measure of humility, a tendency to share and to build alliances (across voluntary, public and private sectors), rather than to hoard and go it alone. To speak out, to be bold in action, but also to listen well. These are the characteristics of successful leadership often described  by those supporting local entrepreneurs (for example, the School for Social Entrepreneurs, or those who convene networks of community businesses, such as Locality or the Plunkett Foundation, or those who are growing community leadership in other ways, such as Local Trust or Community Organisers or the Local Area Co-ordination Network). The more that can be done to support the development of local leaders along these lines, the better.

2. Access to professional expertise

There are some things that are unlikely to be readily available to people operating in the poorest neighbourhoods. Technical aid to assist with the design, development and management of buildings and public spaces is one example. Others might be access to independent legal support and specialist financial advice; the best quality digital and other communications expertise; and the ability to tap into big data (large sets of information held by large companies and public institutions that can produce fresh insights into commercial and social behaviours) and apply this for community benefit.

“The best results, from the point of view of communities themselves, have come when those with local insight have been in the driving seat, and able to pull in the expertise they need on their own terms.

The biggest difficulty in the past has been that those providing professional and expert services have so often acted in a domineering, overbearing way; always ‘knowing what is best’ and imposing their own solutions to other people’s problems. The best results, from the point of view of communities themselves, have come when those with local insight have been in the driving seat, and able to pull in the expertise they need on their own terms. For that to happen, purchasing power needs to be in the hands of communities themselves, and skilled intermediary bodies need to be in place to act as a bridge between the worlds of professionals and the worlds of community activism, which so often seem so alien to each other.

3. Community control

Where significant resources are held in long-term community ownership or control (whether that might be a community pub or shop, or a renewable energy scheme, or buildings which can be used for work, leisure or sports, for example), there is a greater likelihood that individuals within communities will grow their confidence in participative democratic practice, and find ways to better support each other. Of course, this cannot be taken for granted, and where local facilities are controlled by one section of a local community in a way that systematically excludes or disadvantages others, that can be extraordinarily harmful.[39] But there are many examples of community control exerted in ways that promote inclusion rather than exclusion, creating a widespread feeling of common ownership, and building a sense of solidarity across a community. The motto of the Selby Trust in Haringey captures this particularly well: ‘many cultures, one community’. The kind of vital institutions in question will run the gamut from financial intermediaries to trusted local intermediaries, to make easier the kind of mutual support that (we claim) provides the basis for other forms of participation.

There are, no doubt, other things that will be needed if we are to find pathways out of the ‘us and them’ practices that have led to so much entrenched injustice and to so many ‘left behind’ communities. But paying greater attention to these three things would, we believe, be a good place to start.

[1] Quoted in Minton, A, ‘Byker Wall: Newcastle’s noble failure of an estate’, The Guardian, 21 May 2015.

[2] Rhodes, J., Tyler., P., and Brennan, A. (2007) The Single Regeneration Budget: Final Evaluation.  Cambridge: Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge.

[3] Batty, E., Beatty, C., Foden, M., Lawless, P., Pearson, S. and Wilson, I. et al. (2010) ‘The New Deal for Communities Experience: A Final Assessment’ (Volume 7 of The New Deal for Communities Evaluation). Sheffield: Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University.

[4] Batty et al, 2010.

[5] Tyler, P, Warnock, C., et al. (2010). Valuing the Benefits of Regeneration, Economics paper 7: Volume I – Final Report, DCLG, p. 12.

[6] ‘Probation service returns to public control seven years after Chris Grayling’s ‘deeply flawed’ reforms as watchdog warns more funding is needed.’ Daily Mail, 28 June 2021.

[7] BBC News (2019), ‘Probation services: Part-privatised system ‘flawed”, news article 28 March 2019.

[8] Elinor Ostrom and W.H. Baugh (1973), Community Organization and the Provision of Police Services, Beverly Hills, Sage Publications.

[9] R.B. Parks, et al (1981), ‘Consumers as co-producers of public services: Some economic and institutional considerations’, Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 9, No 7, Summer, pp. 1001-1011.

[10] Robert J. Sampson, et al (1997), ‘Neighbourhoods and violent crime: a multi-level study of Collective Efficacy’, Science 277, p. 918.

[11] Edgar Cahn (2001), No More Throwaway People: The Co-production imperative, Washington: Essential Books.

[12] Neva Goodwin, et al (2003), Microeconomics in Context, New York, Houghton Mifflin.

[13] The term was borrowed from its original meaning, the pre-1834 poor laws. See http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/app/uploads/2015/06/poor_relief.pdf

[14] Government launches Big Society programme, Downing Street press release, 18 May 2010.

[15] Glaeser, E.L. and Kerr, W. (2010), ‘1 e Secret to Job Growth: 1 ink Small’, Harvard Business Review, July.

[16] Fleming, D.A. and Goetz, S.J. (2011), ‘Does Local Firm Ownership Matter?’, Economic Development Quarterly, August, vol. 25, (3), 277-281

[17] ‘Even after considering differences in age, geographical factors, socioeconomic conditions, and health, the risk of COVID-19-related mortality compared with White men and women was 1.9 times greater for Black men and women, 1.8 times greater for Bangladeshi and Pakistani men, 1.6 times greater for Bangladeshi and Pakistani women, 1.3 times greater for Indian men, and 1.3 times greater for men in the ‘Other’ ethnic minority group.’ Nazroo, J., Murray, K., et al. (2020) Rapid Evidence Review: Inequalities in relation to COVID-19 and their effects on London. Ubele Initiative and Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity, School of Social Science, University of Manchester, p. 3.

[18] ONS statistical bulletin 28 August 2020. Deaths involving COVID-19 by local area and socioeconomic deprivation: deaths occurring between 1 March and 31 July 2020.

[19] Warren, T., Lyonette, C., and UK Women’s Budget Group. (2020) Are we all in this together? Working class women are carrying the work burden of the pandemic.

[20] McCabe, A., Wilson, M., Macmillan, R. (2020), Stronger than anyone thought: Communities responding to COVID-19, p. 8.

[21] Torres-Juan M, Dixon T. and Kimaram A., (2020) Britain’s Choice: Common Ground and Division in 2020s Britain, p. 24.

[22] Build Back Better Statement, 2020, accessed at https://www.buildbackbetter.org.uk/index.html.

[23] Max Pemberton (2020), ‘On the NHS front line, we’re braced for what’s coming…’ Spectator, March 28 2020.

[24] Carnegie UK Trust. (2020) COVID-19 and Communities Listening Project: A Shared Response, p. 10.

[25] From 24% to 46%. See Torres-Juan M, Dixon T. and Kimaram A., (2020) Britain’s Choice: Common Ground and Division in 2020s Britain, p. 15.

[26] Taylor, M. (2020) ‘The path from crisis.’ RSA https://medium.com/bridges-to-the-future/the-path-from-crisis-6d3f83c96d0b.

[27] McCabe, A., Wilson, M., Macmillan, R. (2020), Stronger than anyone thought: communities responding to COVID-19, p. 13.

[28] Wyler, S. (2020) Community responses to crisis: Glimpses into the past, present and future. London, Local Trust, p. 70.

[29] McCabe, A., Wilson, M., Macmillan, R. (2020), Stronger than anyone thought: Communities responding to COVID-19, p. 27.

[30] Local Trust. (2020) Communities of trust: why we must invest in the social infrastructure of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, pp. 4-5.

[31] Carnegie UK Trust. (2020) COVID-19 and Communities Listening Project: A Shared Response, p. 16.

[32] Robinson, D. (2020) The Moment we Noticed: The Relationships Observatory and our learning from 100 days of lockdown, London, The Relationships Project, p. 17.

[33] Locality (2020) We Were Built For This: How community organisations helped us through the coronavirus crisis – and how we can build a better future. London, Locality, p. 3.

[34] Reported in Carnegie UK Trust. (2020) ‘COVID-19 and Communities Listening Project: A Shared Response’, p. 24.

[35] National Audit Office. (2020) ‘The supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic’.

[36] For example: ‘Too Many Charities Moan and Whinge, says Scope CEO’, Civil Society, 23rd September 2014; Hodgson: Charities Too Slow to Scale Up Good Ideas, Civil Society, 2 November 2016; ‘Why we’ve lost faith in charities, Management Today’, 19February 2018.

[37] Davidson, S., Wallace, J., and White, D. (2020) Building Back for the Better: A Perspective from Carnegie UK Trust, p. 8.

[38] Alakeson, V. and Brett, W. (2020) Local Heroes: How to sustain community spirit beyond COVID-19, London, Power to Change.

[39] See for example, The Tutu Foundation (UK) ‘Review into Institutional Racism at the Westway Trust’, 2020.

About the authors

David Boyle is the author of a range of books about history, social change, politics and the future. He has been editor of a number of publications including Town & Country Planning, Community Network, New Economics, Liberal Democrat News and Radical Economics. He is a fellow of the New Economics Foundation.

Steve Wyler is an independent consultant, researcher and writer in the social sector. He also co-convenes A Better Way. From 2000 to 2014, he was CEO of Locality, a national network of community organisations dedicated to community enterprise, community ownership and social change.


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Published December 2021

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