The key to cutting demand? Mobilise communities

By Luca Tiratelli | 30 July 2020

Britain’s public services are facing a crisis of demand.

This is being fuelled by two principle factors. One is demographic change, particularly our aging population. The other is an increase in the complexity within demand, with rates of things like multi-morbidity (having three of more health conditions) rising.

This will be exacerbated by the current pandemic and worsening economic conditions – both of which risk harming health and economic resilience and creating a population more in need of public service support.

But could a solution to this complex set of problems be found in communities themselves? This was the primary argument in NLGN’s Community Paradigm, published last year – and is something that we’ve explored again in our latest publication Community Mobilisation: Unleashing community power. Here, we argue that one way to reduce demand on the frontline is to allow communities to be more active. This is not only because communities are capable – if supported – to take on some of the roles currently ascribed to the public sector, but that their work will be inherently more finely targeted, and more naturally preventative than a local authority working alone.

Our mobilisation report highlights four types of strategy that councils can use to get communities ready for this role – through taking an individuals, group, place, or service-based approach. 

Across all the case studies we use to illustrate these strategies, one common thread is that demand is in some way, reduced. To see how this works in practice, consider the following examples:

Local Area Coordination in Haringey:

Local Area Coordination is an asset-based approach to community mobilising, which focuses on helping people work towards their personal visions of ‘a good life’. In practice, it means sending coordinators out into the community so that they can reach people who fall through the cracks of existing public service provision, and get to them before the point they reach a state of crisis. They then work with these people by connecting them to (or creating) local community groups, assets or resources, so that their needs can be met.

With its emphasis on building community capacity and early intervention, Local Area Coordination helps ease the demand on front line services. In Haringey, the approach has helped to produce savings meaning that, for every pound spent on coordination, there is a four-pound return on investment in the borough.   

London Community Land Trust:

The London Community Land Trust (CLT) takes a community organising approach to housing development. They go out into communities with the goal of obtaining a deep understanding of needs in an area, and then build and tailor community led housing developments (in the form of Community Land Trusts) to meet them.

By creating new, affordable, high quality homes, they can reduce demand for social housing, and other services needs (for example health as outcomes in this area are made worse by poor quality housing) that are associated with the housing crisis.

‘Every One Every Day’ in Barking and Dagenham:

This project, a partnership between Barking & Dagenham LBC and the non-profit Participatory City, aims to create a platform which supports a thriving ecosystem of community activity. The kinds of projects that it supports can be incredibly varied, from things like community meal preparation, to projects where residents share skills with each other, in areas such as DIY. Whilst maybe sounding small-scale, the impact of projects can be transformational.

Through this business of sharing skills and creating community bonds, demand can be reduced as the capacity of the community is built up, meaning their reliance on frontline services ultimately declines. 

These examples demonstrate the variety of ways in which communities can be mobilised, and the variety of effects that this can have. It also shows that by building capacity within communities, you increase the ability of people within them to deal with all manner of issues. In so doing, you can reduce demand on public services.

If we want to stop the crisis of demand from spiralling further out of control, we need to start by working alongside the people who rely on services – and suffer from their erosion. We need to start mobilising communities, and unleash their potential.

NLGN’s new report: Community Mobilisation: Unlocking the Potential of Community Power, is available here 

Luca Tiratelli is a policy researcher for the NLGN

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