Feel the power

Georgia Gould explains what Camden LBC is doing to harness and enhance the passion of people in a bid to renew our communities and our country.

As a locally-elected councillor, it often feels strange to frame ‘community power' as an emerging agenda rather than something that sits at the heart of our mandate as local government.

I see a renewed interest in community power at the core of the results of this year's local elections with more focus on how communities sit at the heart of decision-making. Going into a General Election this is an exciting moment to make the case for a new way of governing, one that shares power with communities.

As leader of Camden LBC, I have seen how community power delivers real impact in the areas that are often the most complex for us as a council to make change – whether that is youth violence or violence against women and girls, the climate emergency or the housing crisis.

I see the extraordinary release of energy when a council invests in community power every day in Camden, whether it is a new food co-operative being started on an estate, or seeing our Parent Advocates with lived experience of the child protection system supporting other parents through child protection experiences, or bumping into Raqhib in Somers Town who turned his own passion for fixing bikes into a social enterprise helping young people at risk to learn skills and access their own bikes.

In Camden we have been on a journey to understand how to root our services as a council in our communities – their ambitions, their capabilities and their networks.

In 2019 we held the country's first citizen assembly on the climate emergency – and we have built from this into a series of citizen assemblies and deliberative dialogues on local health priorities and the evening and nighttime economy. Working with the Alan Turing Institute to explore community response to the profound changes of technology, we created the first Citizen Data Charter for community data rights.

We have expanded our approach to participation, co-production and community power into thinking about our whole organisation. We are seeking to move the council from an organisation structured around process, hierarchical structures and bureaucracy into one rooted in relationships, lived experience and shared endeavour – a leader of place not just services.

In April, I sat in a packed room for our third We Make Camden summit – where citizens, community organisations, public sector partners, businesses, universities and many more discussed our progress and committed to another year of shared action.

From talking to local tenants about community greening to large businesses working with citizens on investment strategies it is hard to sum up the energy and passion that is unlocked when we draw on the creativity of our communities.

At the heart are four Camden Missions – issues that feel urgent and important to our current moment. The Camden approach to Missions is about community power – harnessing the collective capabilities of our borough to tackle our biggest challenges. We are delivering our Missions working with businesses, community leaders and citizens – from bringing high-tech businesses together with our schools to ensure all our young people have skills for the future, to creating a powerful new alliance to tackle food poverty.

We have invested in more than 300 citizens and small organisations who are leading change on the ground.

Over the next 18 months we will launch our Camden Community Wealth Fund – a significant investment fund aligned to our Missions that will put money into local social enterprises, businesses and entrepreneurs delivering our Missions. Our residents will be deciding how wealth is invested and seeing the benefits in local growth.

I am excited to be speaking at New Local's Stronger Things this year – an opportunity for local government and community practitioners to come together and reflect and share how we go about our work to support community power. There is no lack of energy and ideas in our communities but there can be a lack of belief that things will change.

We must invest in the capacity of our citizens and value their time and lived experience. And, we have to change our organisations so we can respond to their ideas and action. When we do this things happen that would previously have seemed impossible, like the citizen-led climate programme taking place in one of the most deprived areas of my borough.

Too often only a small number of voices get heard. Opening up power and decision-making is a key plank of social justice – better and fairer decisions will be made.

These inspire and encourage all of us across the sector seeking to recover and reform our public services rooted in communities.

I also see community power as an urgent agenda to connect people to each other – to address a loss of faith in institutions, tackle exclusion and loneliness and to renew faith in the opportunity of a better future for themselves and their families.

As we head toward a General Election, I am hopeful for a generational change in national government, and a national commitment to Missions-oriented government that will result in more power to councils and to communities.

I see hope in our neighbourhoods, in our local leaders, in the passion and drive of our young people – and I believe we are on the cusp of a decade of community power that will renew our communities and our country.

Georgia Gould is leader of Camden LBC


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