These are difficult times. An international “final warning” from the IPCC highlights the urgency of the climate emergency – and we’re still facing down war in Ukraine, economic instability, and escalating cost-of-living and housing crises that bring physical, logistical, practical and mental challenges for communities across the UK and beyond. People are struggling.
Against these pressures, it is vital that people have spaces and services on their doorstep that support them to engage with their neighbours, reach the support they need, and have ready access to the things they feel are important. Environmentally sustainable access to affordable services and amenities are not ‘nice-to-haves’; they are lifelines.
In the years since Covid first hit the UK, lifestyles and working practices have changed. Many of us now work primarily from home, spending more time in our local area, using our corner shops and exploring our nearby green spaces. We use our town centres and high streets differently than we once did, adjusting how we travel, and how we access local facilities and services. Our neighbourhoods have become increasingly important.
Recognising the impacts of this change, The Young Foundation and Waltham Forest Council have been working with, talking to, and hearing from residents across east London to understand what local people want accessible to them for today and tomorrow. Our resulting 15-Minute Neighbourhood report shares insights from residents, understanding how they’re engaging with facilities, services and amenities on their doorstep, and exploring the area’s unique characters, rich histories, and vibrant communities. The research asked people what is – and what should be – available to them within 15 minutes of their front door. And their responses directly influence strategy, so the Council can help people living in the borough meet most of their everyday needs within a short walk, wheel or cycle of their home. It’s about creating neighbourhoods where life is within easy reach.
‘Muddled, misinterpreted and misrepresented’
This ‘15-minute neighbourhood’ approach has huge potential, working to understand what residents need to live fulfilling and healthy lives. It is a true collaboration with residents, communities, and local stakeholders that looks to the future with confidence, and reflects a belief that people should have a say over the places they live in, and the services they use. But it isn’t always easy to understand, and the concept has been muddled, misinterpreted and misrepresented everywhere from the chambers of Parliament to the streets of Oxford. Vital, then, to stress that the 15 Minute concept is about nothing more than asking people what they want and need locally in a fairer, greener future. There is no universal model for getting this right. Neighbourhoods are – and must always be – shaped by and right for the people that live there.
In Waltham Forest, for example, one resident reflected that while services, such as easy access to a GP surgery, are essential, “if you only had those things, it would still feel quite empty as a place – because ultimately people want to have a neighbourhood that is a community.” This approach looks beyond assets to drive greater inclusion, access, and social connection.
Such insights could be transformational, creating better places and spaces that support positive experiences. Of course, there is no quick fix to the urgent and escalating challenges people face – but by listening to residents and directing resources and support where they say it is most needed, there is scope to significantly improve day-to-day experiences, and support communities in the long term.