Building on citizen power

By Professor Donna Hall | 07 July 2020

Present pandemic times have revealed a stark truth many have known all along. Services only make sense when you connect them together, wrap them around individuals, families and neighbourhoods and co-create them with local people and grassroots organisations.

We have seen groundbreaking changes to the way services have come together in localities with the community and voluntary sector being right at the centre of the transformation.

At the New Local Government Network (NLGN), The Community Paradigm report from a year ago captured the imagination of councils, NHS and community groups all over the UK and beyond.

One group of courageous councils were already preparing themselves before the pandemic to deliver better and more cost-effective services with communities at the core using the principles set out in The Community Paradigm. They could see the value of working differently around people and place as opposed to sectors and organisations.

Over the last few years, a powerful movement for change has been building led by a group of councils and their partners known as the Local Area Co-ordination Network. They are united by a common vision of citizens living in welcoming communities that provide friendship, mutual support, equity and opportunities for all. Unsurprisingly, their commitment to this has helped massively during the ongoing COVID crisis.

Local area co-ordinators are employed by councils with the input of communities, to be rooted in places of around 10,000 or so people. They are accessible faces who know the areas they serve inside out. They take introductions from both community members and service colleagues to people and families facing complex and intractable challenges. They form trusting relationships, offer practical help and support hyper-local connections between people and their neighbours, voluntary organisations and service partners alike.

The approach builds community and helps people find solutions through local resources rather than service interventions. This reduces demand on the system while generating significant social value (typically £4 for every £1 invested) as people start to achieve their good lives, recognise their gifts and make their contribution in the community.

The learning and stories from local area co-ordination helps drive positive change in the wider system such as culture change, commissioning reform and co-production with communities.

Recently, local area co-ordination has ‘done what it says on the tin’ by ensuring the natural power of hyper-local neighbourliness and statutory organisational responses have been complimentary of each other throughout. It has helped to foster trust and prevented duplication, allowing everyone to focus on what they do best.

Communities and those involved in local area co-ordination are now turning their attention to the many challenges on the horizon, particularly the predictable tidal wave of family problems, poor mental health and unemployment, etc, intensified by the significant funding crisis faced by councils and their partners.

They want a plan that is local, preventative and builds on the natural power of citizens and communities rather than ignoring, overlooking or asset-stripping it. This is what local area co-ordination is all about.

The NLGN has a new report coming out called Which Way Next? and it is seeking new areas to join the movement. To contact us, email: nick@lacnetwork.org or go towww.lacnetwork.org for more info.

The Local Area Co-ordination Network consists of the councils of Derby City, Leicestershire County, Kirklees, City of York, Thurrock, Waltham Forest, Haringey, Havering, Wiltshire and Swansea. It is led by Community Catalysts (www.communitycatalysts.co.uk) who support the areas wishing to adopt it and those who are already members.

Professor Donna Hall CBE is chair of the New Local Government Network (NLGN) and Nick Sinclair is director of the Local Area Co-ordination Network

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