Positively Local

John Gillespie, with Susanne Hughes, describes how community development and improvement must begin by putting local people in control.

Author: John Gillespie, with Susanne Hughes

In the fourth joint policy paper with the University of Birmingham, John Gillespie argues that communities are best served when government and local services begin to believe in them, when they look for and help unleash capacity, rather than assuming that failure is endemic. Positive change begins with positive thinking.

Too many places are damaged by the negative way they are seen by public services. As such, ‘imposed solutions’ can make things worse rather than better. Perceptions about what is wrong with a place drown out the voices of local people who would like to make things better. 

This paper is about turning this around - it offers local agencies and residents a way to harness the energy of local people and make places better in partnership with local service providers. It focuses on what is happening in a few neighbourhoods around the country where residents are taking action in response to issues that are important to them. 

The work is based on the successful model called Connected Communities (C2) pioneered by Hazel Stuteley OBE and more recently championed by the Health Empowerment Leverage Project (HELP). In areas touched by these projects people are developing pride in their local community and escaping from negative labels such as ‘fractured community’ or ‘no go area’.

One of the areas that has seen this type of intervention is Balsall Heath in Birmingham, the inspiration for the Prime Minister’s Big Society agenda. Supporting the fabric of local communities is one of the most important challenges facing local governments. This paper argues that developing positive relationships with residents is the best way to effect real and lasting neighbourhood change. Though it is an intensive form of intervention the benefits available to neighbourhoods far outweigh the effort involved. This paper aims to share what is (in essence) a simple method and shape recommendations for what needs to happen for more neighbourhoods to harness these benefits. There is no claim that this is a unique solution.The reason that this approach works and leads to sustained change is that it is based on harnessing and strengthening the existing assets within a local place.

The paper begins by describing what the model is and its genesis and gives examples of how it has supported groups of residents to set up partnerships and what these have gone on to do. It demonstrates the value and capacity of citizens to share in decision making with agencies and offers a way for residents groups to amplify their agendas through positive partnership.

It goes on to show how agencies have benefited as a result of developing more trusting relationships with local people and gaining better knowledge of their needs by being able to deliver better services. We look at the model as a way of supporting ‘effective’ service delivery and at its role in improving efficiency (for instance in health or policing) by helping to tackle the causes of problems rather than by just dealing with their symptoms. Finally the paper makes recommendations for what national and local government and community organisations can do to share in these benefits and contribute to this change.

Read and download the free pdf in your browser here.

The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Positively Local © John Gillespie 2011.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.


Paper | 07.08.11

community, health & healthcare, Neighbourhood Democracy, England, Paper

John Gillespie


Director of New Gestalt Voices

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