Backing our Neighbourhoods: making levelling up work by putting communities in the lead

A paper from Power to Change is interesting because it argues that putting local communities in charge (from the bottom-up) is more likely to work than top-down Government action.  “It argues that we need to develop a more coherent strategy for developing social infrastructure at the neighbourhood level.

For this to happen, the mechanisms by which levelling up is delivered need to have
communities at their heart.”

This is the Executive Summary:

Many well-regarded economic and social commentators have agreed that the
government is unlikely to realise its levelling up ambitions without addressing the
need to invest in social infrastructure – the physical spaces and community facilities
which bring people together to build meaningful relationships. Evidence shows
that social infrastructure creates economic value by reinvigorating high streets and
boosting skills and employment; social value by supporting community resilience
and public health, and by bridging divides; and civic value through shaping identity
and encouraging participation (Kelsey and Kenny, 2021).

Recent analysis suggests that only 13 per cent of the current major funding streams is likely to be spent on social infrastructure (Davis and Collinge, 2021). The quantum of investment is clearly an issue. But failure to invest significantly in social
infrastructure is not the only challenge in the government’s current approach. We
see another risk to this important agenda in the way in which levelling up policies
are being conceived and implemented. What continues to be missing from the
funds and policies that are being put in place to drive levelling up forward is a
focus, not just on what is done, but on how it is done – the means by which we try to
strengthen and grow social infrastructure in our communities, and who is in
the lead.

This paper argues that to realise the potential of social infrastructure to contribute to levelling up, we need to focus at the neighbourhood level. We must use the local skills and knowledge of community-based organisations as the starting point for building this critical infrastructure. Failure to do this risks reinforcing inequalities.

There is strong evidence that community-led solutions to levelling up work

Using the government’s Levelling Up Framework, this paper looks at the evidence base for community-led solutions delivering against a number of the key outcomes.
It highlights case studies of community organisations tackling multiple and interconnected challenges at a neighbourhood level. We identify the following four
dimensions of the Levelling Up Framework where evidence indicates community
organisations can make a significant contribution: