Covid-19 has put into sharp relief the importance of community networks – and of what can be accessed within a 15-minute walk of where we live to improve our lives. Within this context, many larger organisations have paused for thought to see where they can support community networks most effectively, amplifying what is already there and not duplicating.
At the third and final Inclusive Economy Partnership BOOST engagement event last week, I heard something quite magical from a range of leaders. I didn’t hear what their big new idea was, or about the launch of a new product. Instead, I heard that humbleness – listening first, and building on existing capabilities, networks and skills – is key to place-making and resilient communities.
Friends, family, and community
To this end, the final BOOST event centred squarely on communities being at the centre in addressing inequalities. As Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of Power to Change, aptly pointed out in relation to Covid, to date it was “our friends, our neighbours, our family, our community that was our first line of defence….and as we move into the winter we will be most reliant on community again.” But this does not mean that the role of institutions – of corporate, local and central government and civil society – is left high and dry. Instead, it implies that a different form of partnership is needed.
Cllr. Dr. Erica Lewis, Leader of Lancaster City Council, described the partnerships across the city council, charities, community interest companies and network of local businesses, who worked together to ensure people who were shielding continued to receive food and meals during lockdown. She noted that “there’s been a real emphasis on community leadership, on the city council not taking over but trying to bring people together, offering support and sharing information.” And Ursula Lidbetter, CEO of Lincolnshire Co-Op, echoed the value of listening and enabling. Instead of community officers being based in head office, their engagement officers are now being chosen because they live and work in the community they serve, and so services are “coming up from the community, whether it is serving someone with a loaf of bread, organising a funeral, arranging a health walk or a community cuppa.”
The infrastructure of our time
In this spirit of collaboration, we also heard from Sir Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, that no one wants to work with people who take credit that isn’t theirs, and say “it’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine” about a collaborative project. Instead, he passionately vouches for all who want to do something marvellous having their turn in the spotlight.
Two of the IEP BOOST innovators shared their perspectives on the need for this connectivity, the role digital accessibility plays and how understanding lived experience should be at the heart of community building. Rich Grahame, Founder of Settle, and Rebecca White, Founder of Your Own Place – both high impact organisations who support people from transient conditions into their first home – stressed the importance of “understanding what place is through the eyes of people you work with” and to acknowledge that people who are uprooted are often “experts in creating their own communities.” What is abundantly clear is that developing the capability for people to connect is vital to feel connected to others and place, particularly for those who would not be able to access services otherwise. Digital skill, infrastructure and confidence are therefore the essential infrastructure for our time.
Bringing people together
Finally, we heard from the brilliant Immy Kaur on the power of partnerships and the responsibility held by all in shaping places for everyone. She acknowledged that building partnerships in place isn’t always easy, but that there’s a responsibility to do this in a way that creates inclusiveness and addresses division; to be a balm against the abrasive divisions we are seeing bubble up. “We need to think about place more broadly; what does it mean to do the hard work of bringing people together across those polarised opinions, across what we are seeing on social media”. She challenged us all to consider what are the bold steps we will need in the future to make places welcoming for all and how partnerships can deliver true equity.
So what then, are the tools and tactics we can take away from this incredible outpouring of insights, and experiences from these top notch contributors? We need to listen without prejudice. Being generous matters. It’s important to take the time to see things through the eyes of others – and equally important to think about the role of information-sharing and coordination, especially if you are a large institution. And finally, build trust through vision, but also through experience and skill.
If you want to be involved in a more inclusive economy, partner with us, or find out more about the great partnerships to support people that have developed through the Inclusive Economy Partnership BOOST programme, then register here to join us on 15 October for an online IEP BOOST celebration event.