Post-Covid Councils: Place and Community

Place and community: building a fair recovery

Place and Community is the second pillar to be launched of the LGIU’s Post Covid Councils project. It follows Sustainable Futures and the two are, of course, related in many ways – the principle of sustainability underpinning recovery, globally, nationally and locally.

The Place and Community theme is fundamentally about relationships – relationships between place, local economies and people, and between place, people, communities and equality.

The discussion includes:

  • Evidence – what have we learnt so far about the impact of Covid-19 on local places, people and groups?
  • The importance of place in rebuilding better
  • The role of engagement and collaboration
  • Challenges
  • How to move forward – learning, strategies and tools

Evidence and what we know

There has been a torrent of information, statistics and commentary since the Prime Minister announced the (English) lockdown on 23 March (followed rapidly by the devolved administrations).

It has been challenging for central and local government to understand the evidence about how Covid-19 is spread, its differential impacts and the most effective measures to manage the pandemic. The evidence base for Covid-19 is not uncontested – “following the science” can be a loaded expression. Understanding the differences in the processes adopted by various bodies such as PHE and the ONS has also proven complicated.

How can local authorities interpret the data? Our briefing, Covid-19 statistics: a route map through complexity provided a commentary through the main data sources of information on Covid-19 used by the government for assessing progress towards their tests for easing lockdown. The situation seems to change weekly, even daily, but the evidence from sources such as the ONS and PHE tells us enough to provide a solid foundation for moving towards coherent strategies for our local places.

Much of what was exposed by Covid-19 was already known, but the crisis has brought it starkly to life (and to public attention).

We have learnt that the virus affected some groups much more seriously than others – the elderly for example, but also for those of working age, the low paid, and the already disadvantaged (see briefings and articles posted on this page).

Crucially, it is clear that the virus and the response to it have exacerbated the disadvantage particular people were already experiencing.

It came to public attention fairly early on in the pandemic that people from Black and other minority ethnic communities were suffering worse outcomes than other parts of the population, likely caused by the interweaving of many factors, including deprivation, proportionately high representation in certain occupations, pre-existing health conditions and decades of discrimination. How can authorities build mechanisms for real engagement and knowledge gathering with communities that are very different from each other and use what they learn to build better services and make inroads in to longstanding and persistent inequalities?

Read more of our content around evidence…

Making sense of Covid-19 statistics: an update

The DHSC methodology for recording Covid-related deaths was recently changed. We examine this here, and provide updates on ONS analysis of Covid-related deaths by geography, ethnicity, and occupation in England and Wales. An ONS comparison of mortality across 29 European countries up to 30 June is also included. Read this briefing.

The short and long term economic consequences of Covid-19

This briefing profiles the scale of the economic crisis triggered by Covid-19 and is based largely on data available to end June 2020. It looks at the spending commitments associated with the policy response to Covid and examines recent developments in GDP, employment and unemployment, and the public finances. Read this briefing.

Covid-19 statistics: a route map through complexity

This briefing is intended as a route map through the main sources of information on the Covid-19 epidemic, which provide the data required to assess progress towards the government’s tests for easing lockdown. Read this briefing.

All in this together? The impact of Covid-19 on different places

This briefing looks at two reports that came out in May, after the UK had endured over a month of unprecedented rupture caused by the lockdown. The reports both look at place – rather than what the economic impact is they examine the ‘where’. Read this briefing.

Covid-19: It’s not equal in the end

It became clear that Black and minority ethnic people and the poor were dying in disproportionate numbers from Covid-19. Will this pandemic mark a sea change in policy to tackle health inequalities in the future? Read this briefing.

Local government and Covid-19: issues for disadvantaged groups

Early on in lockdown, this briefing examined some of those groups who, it was becoming clear, were facing the most severe consequences from Covid-19 – suffering a disproportionate impact, both in the UK and globally. Read this briefing.

Community

What do we mean by community? This is an old question but it is as relevant, or more relevant, today when Covid-19 has reflected major strengths in certain communities but also exposed sharp differences between and within communities, groups and neighbourhoods.

There are grounds for optimism in the resilience shown by many communities, especially at the beginning of the crisis and when infections and deaths were at their worst. But this didn’t happen in every place and every community. Engaging communities, groups, neighbourhoods, and the third sector will get more critical, not less, as we go into ‘recovery’.

Local authorities are taking the lead in compiling evidence about the impacts of the pandemic on people and places and in forging recovery plans. As always, it is local government that has to try to balance where there are clear conflicts of interest.

In our place and community work we are considering how the positive can be built upon and how those who have suffered most from the crisis can be meaningfully involved in future planning. It is easy enough to develop strategies for consultation and co-production, but far from easy to put into practice. It has never been easy, but Covid-19 has confronted all of us with uncomfortable realities about disadvantage, inequalities and discrimination.

Read more on community…

Shaping Covid-19 recovery plans through community research

Natalie Creary and her colleagues from Black Thrive discuss how local government can collect and respond to data in ways that are centred on the perspective of communities rather than reinforcing stereotypes. Read this article.

Leaving no one behind: why local government should take an intersectional response to Covid-19

What are the roles for both local government and communities as part of a post-Covid recovery process, asks Hannah Ormston from the Carnegie Trust. Read this article.

Councils have earned their place

Brent Leader, Cllr Muhammed Butt writes for us about the council’s Poverty Commission, the very clear link that the report draws between the housing crisis and persistent poverty and the work that Brent is doing to tackle this issue. Read this article.

What can local government do to prevent the recession from becoming another burden on health?

Persistent and enduring levels of health inequalities have been reinforced by the pandemic. Adam Tinson of The Health Foundation asks how we can prevent a worsening of health outcomes linked to poverty as the recession starts to bite. Read this article.

The tenant voice: empowering residents in social housing

Post-Covid councils cannot operate in isolation. Just as resident engagement helps stimulate a feeling of belonging to a town or community, tenant empowerment should lead to joint ownership of decisions in housing and the wider neighbourhood. Read this briefing.

A more inclusive approach to economic strategy for local communities

This briefing introduces the concept of Community Wealth Building: an inclusive model for economic development focussed on creating sustainable local economies that generate wealth and keep that wealth circulating in the local economy. Read this briefing.

Swift read: Carnegie UK’s Guiding Principles for Recovery

What are the key questions we need to be asking about effective engagement and empowerment in the recovery and beyond? The Carnegie Trust has set out a route map to recovery which takes account of what we have learned so far from the responses to Covid. Read this briefing.

Neighbourhood engagement: how local government can effectively deliver participation

This briefing focuses on the South African experience of community engagement and participation, but many of the concerns are common to other countries, including the UK. Read this briefing.

Place

Defining place, a sense of place and place leadership is also complex. There isn’t a single sense of space: it changes over time. It depends on what an individual brings to it and how a community perceives it: places are the result of relationships and interactions between people and they are inherently dynamic. People have attachments to their home, their neighbourhood and perhaps to their city, town, village, or even to their region.

The experience of Covid-19 has made this even more true – so for local government what works in one area with certain people may not work as well with a different set of people. There are no absolutes and no one answer to every situation. Some councils may suffer from a number of factors, including their existing local economy, demographics, the level of health inequalities, age profile.

Rebuilding local economies will, in many places, be even more difficult than after the banking crisis. Councils will adopt different strategies according to their situation. Many will build on models of local economic development that were being progressed before the pandemic, such as community wealth building – based on channelling the power of local communities, with local agencies and institutions, to support local economies. CLES who have contributed to this Place and Community theme and have been developing work around community wealth building stress the vital role for effective community engagement strategies to ensure diversity and inclusivity in rebuilding local economies. They also stress the crucial and evolving role that councillors must play in rebuilding trust, strengthening relationships with marginalised groups and creating more direct lines between people and power.

The LGIU long read, Identities, Communities and Regeneration, highlights the importance of a sense of place and the identity of communities and individuals with different ideas of place. It looked at how understanding the complexities around place is essential for engaging within organisations, to challenge assumptions we make as well as a tool to engage with communities and individuals. Covid has changed some places, maybe temporarily but possibly for the longer-term. It is critical to understand what has changed, what hasn’t, and how councils can develop place-based initiatives to respond to complex challenges around, for instance, health inequalities or social cohesion.

Poverty, place and inequality, a report by the RTPI published in 2016, argues that place-based work is key to tackling poverty and inequality: ‘people-based’ approaches on their own are not enough to reduce poverty and inequality. Alongside a conventional focus on welfare reform, “we need to harness the potential of places to increase opportunity and realise people’s potential”.

Read more on place…

Wealth building for our local economic recovery: harnessing the power of the local community

Economic recovery from Covid-19 looks set to be a long and painful process, writes Tom Lloyd Goodwin, Associate Director at CLES. He urges progressive reform through community wealth building as a way of driving sustainable local economic growth. Read this article.

Why a ‘new global-local’ is an important dimension of post-pandemic local government

This article by David Marlow sets out an explicitly provocative narrative to stimulate the thinking of local authorities and partners about whether there is and should be a ‘think global – act local’ dimension to their place-based recovery strategies and priorities. Read this article.

Fairer streets

As we look to the future of our streets, fairer reallocation of space is a priority leading the way across towns and cities in the UK. In the context of Covid-19 and the competing claims to street space it adds, how can we plan our streets to ensure they represent the needs of communities while contributing to a sense of place? Read this briefing.

How councils are helping to revive UK coastal towns

In the last few months, some seaside towns have been struggling to cope with an unexpected influx of visitors, while others saw tourism revenue fall. But what are their long term prospects? We look here at the steps councils are already taking to ensure coastal areas have a brighter future. Read this briefing.

Understanding community resilience – Hopeful Towns

There is a growing divide in economic fortunes and political values between the UK’s cities and towns. Economic and social challenges can make places more susceptible to toxic narratives. This report from Hope Not Hate focuses on the resilience of towns to social changes brought by immigration and diversity. Read this briefing.

Bundle: Health inequalities

A roundup of our recent work on health inequalities, including work on longstanding health issues such as life expectancies and obesity alongside briefings covering how Covid-19 has both created new and exacerbated preexisting inequalities between groups. Read this content.

Post-Covid cities: how might the pandemic change urban areas?

Cities have a long relationship with pandemics and a history of evolving in response to adverse events. Will Covid-19 change cities and towns? Will city dwellers flee cities for the suburbs, towns and countryside? Will cities become stronger, greener and more inclusive? Or will the recovery mean ‘business as usual’? Read this briefing.

Emerging from the Pandemic: the City of Sydney’s Recovery Plan

The City of Sydney’s recently released City Recovery Plan sets out the next steps in Council’s response to Covid-19 and its impacts. Informed by community consultation and analysis, the focus is on a Community Recovery Plan. Read this briefing.

Face facts

A recent report provides the first tally of minority ethnic councillors in the UK. It is important we carry on counting so that we can monitor progress, writes Jane Sankarayya. Lack of access to local government by any part of a community has serious implications for exacerbating current inequality and disadvantage. Read this article.

Engaging communities in recovery

This write-up outlines the key discussion points from LGIU’s second webinar in its Post-Covid Councils series, Place and Community, which took place on Tuesday, 15th September.

Place, community, belonging...

A feeling of belonging whether to a place or a community or both can be a key part of identity and connection to others. Equally a lack of that feeling or experience of exclusion can be just as formative.

Place, community, belonging and identity shared threads create unique stories…

Neighbour by Iain Crichton Smith

Build me a bridge over the stream
to my neighbour’s house
where he is standing in dungarees
in the fresh morning.

O ring of snowdrops
spread wherever you want
and you also blackbird
sing across the fences.

My neighbour, if the rain falls on you,
let it fall on me also
from the same black cloud
that does not recognise gates.

Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

“My neighbour, if the rain falls on you, let it fall on me also”

Moving forward

What concrete things can be done to support place and community cohesion into the future? Are there mechanisms, structures, and institutions at the local and national level that we can draw on, develop or create?

In a joint paper to be launched in October, Andrew Walker (LGIU) and Dr Patrick Diamond (University of London) consider the role of local authorities in

  • encouraging debate and ensuring all voices are heard in the community.
  • trying to resolve disagreement around local priorities and policies. building and shaping local identity
  • representing and maintaining the cohesiveness of the community
  • regulating harmful and disruptive behaviours

They quote Professor Robin Hambleton (University of the West of England) who has argued that place leadership should mean that councils are the convener, the focal point, for this collaboration. Beyond convening they should advocate for and reflect the needs of the community, helping to articulate a sense of purpose and identity.

There also numerous recent calls for a consideration of the variation and distinctiveness of places to be taken into consideration as plans are developed for moving beyond the crisis.

This means that the response must be place-led but also be about values – what kinds of places do we want to live in, how can communities relate to the state, and people to each other?

Place and Community: what are the key questions?

  • How to ensure places address inequalities exposed and exacerbated by Covid-19?
  • How to ensure genuine community and individual engagement with recovery plans, particularly relating to disadvantaged groups and areas and places most affected by Covid?
  • What are the ingredients for recovery – social, environmental and economic, and how can recovery really happen in communities and places in such an unstable and uncertain climate?
  • Where are the key tensions, for example, between the sustainable aims regarding the future of work, working from home, green travel and the future of city centres? And can these contradictions be solved?
  • What difference has Covid-19 made to previous strategic thinking, place-shaping and horizon scanning?
  • How can councils prioritise and find space and the capacity to respond to ongoing immediate challenges, for the ‘recovery’, and for the much longer term?

Of course, the perilous state of local government finance puts recovery at risk (as well as the continuing uncertainties over the virus itself). We recognise that place based recovery requires a sustainable financial settlement and changes to how funding is distributed and targeted to enable local authorities to begin to address the huge challenges around inequality and disadvantage. How can funding get smarter? We will be considering the unfinished business of local government finance reform in a future pillar of Post-Covid councils.