Local Conversations Programme Evaluation 2020

06 August 2020

This report, published by the Trust, is a summary report of the third of a four-year evaluation exploring the impact of the Trust's Local Conversations programme.

Local Conversations is a programme which invests in areas experiencing some of the highest levels of disadvantage in Great Britain; often facing challenges such as poverty, inadequate transport, poor housing and ever-diminishing local services. Each ‘Local Conversation’ is supported by a neighbourhood organisation which enables residents to act on issues in their local area, in ways that matter to them.

The aim is to improve social determinants of health, local services, and residents’ health and wellbeing, and ultimately contribute to a reduction in health inequalities. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) have been evaluating the programme for the past three years. Today we are publishing their latest key findings, looking at the programme in 2019.

In the past decade, many areas have suffered from the widespread failure and closure of local services and amenities as a result of years of austerity. The Marmot Review: 10 Years On found a significant deterioration in health outcomes and growing health inequalities across the country, especially in areas of higher deprivation. Local Conversations respond to increasing inequalities and challenges by developing practical ways of bringing people together through a range of activities, events and projects. 

A promising evolution from the 2018 evaluation showed increased attempts to influence change locally across Local Conversations neighbourhoods. Residents have worked to influence local councillors, local MPs, decision-makers in the NHS, housing associations, the city council, social service groups, Network Rail, the police and more. In some areas where actions previously focused on improving the built environment, residents have started to articulate clearer demands for improved infrastructural services, including housing conditions and public transport.

This latest evaluation found increasing evidence that residents are building collective control, including emerging attempts to influence people, organisations and institutions in positions of power on broader issues. It also found the programme is engaging with a more diverse range of residents than in previous years, including people from underrepresented ethnic groups, more vulnerable residents in multiple occupancy housing (HMOs), newly arrived migrants, refugee women and young people.

Two other promising developments that demonstrate greater depth of engagement are increased levels of volunteering and increased independence of steering groups from lead organisations. However, most Local Conversations still struggle to increase and deepen resident engagement. Lack of time (due to work and caring responsibilities), absent or poor transport options and personal issues (e.g. shyness, mental or physical health conditions) are cited as the top barriers to participation.

The evaluation found that for the programme to achieve its aims of developing collective control and tackling the wider social determinants of health, there must be efforts to build on, scale up and sustain the successes achieved so far by:

  • Extending the reach of Local Conversations and involving more diverse people in regular and active roles;
  • Continuing to try to influence people and organisations in positions of power in order to achieve desired changes locally;
  • Increasing residents’ skills, training and capacity, especially on issues relating to leadership and governance.

The Trust is working with funded partners now to address this important learning, and is looking for opportunities to build partnerships with organisations who can support these aims.

Since the third year of evaluation was completed, the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply and disproportionately impacted the areas involved in this programme. Many Local Conversations have been an important and resilient source of support in their neighbourhoods and have been at the centre of efforts to ensure even the most isolated people in the community have had access to essential items and advice. Find out more in our COVID-19 research report.

Read the full summary report on Local Conversations 2019 here.


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