Power to communities

10 May 2018

The Civil Society Futures Inquiry launched in April 2017

Increased community powers are needed to heal divisions across the country, according to the Civil Society Futures Inquiry. The first year's report calls for greater control to be in the hands of local people and communities.

The initial findings from the two-year project say that the big role for civil society in the coming years is to generate a radical and creative shift which puts power in the hands of people and communities.

It says that the role of the sector is to engage people in communities and to ensure everyone has a say.

The Civil Society Futures Inquiry was launched in April 2017 and has so far heard from over 1,500 people about their contribution to community life and their hopes for its future.

The report says: “Too often things are done to and for people, when it could be about creating conditions for people to do things on their own terms. Too often it’s about perpetuating patriarchal command-and-control, holding power close, fighting your corner, rather than letting go, building alliances, allowing others to step forward.”

The report goes on to say that these issues are urgent and they are calling on civil society to be part of the change that’s needed. Julia Unwin, the Chair of Civil Society Futures, has said that we need to “generate a radical and creative shift which puts power in the hands of people and communities - connecting us better and humanising the way we do things.”

People’s Health Trust supports local people to take greater control over what happens in their neighbourhood and believes is can be key to empowering individuals and strengthening communities.

When people feel connected, they are more likely to feel able to take control and improve the environments and situations in which they live.

The amount of control that a person has over their life is associated with their health and there is a growing body of evidence that health outcomes are affected by the amount of control that residents have over decisions collectively.

That’s why the Trust invests in local people and communities, by encouraging resident-focused approaches, supporting local communities to take greater control over what happens in their neighbourhood.

The projects we fund enable people to come together to make decisions and take action on issues affecting them and their communities, while establishing stronger social connections and networks. Developing skills and building stronger social links and ties means people build up greater support networks and collective resources.

We believe that when communities are able to come together to take action on issues which affect them, they are able to develop confidence that will carry over into other areas of life, while their collective action can enable them to have a stronger influence over what happens in their local area.

The Trust’s Local Conversation programme is resident-led and supports local people to develop a shared vision for their community and take local action on issues that matter to them.

One of the first things the Local Conversation in Merstham, Surrey, did was campaign to keep their warden, who worked for a local housing association, on their patch.

The group organised a protest, made t-shirts, there were banners hanging off balconies – it was a real show of people power. They arranged a meeting with the housing association too and although they didn’t get them to change their mind, taking direct action has led to big successes for the group.

Control can develop in a variety of ways at different stages throughout the project. It is important that local people are in control of the idea and play a key role in shaping, planning, delivering and evaluating activities at all stages, with space to continuously influence the project.

Funded through the Trust’s Active Communities programme, the ‘Our Community’ project, supported by Interact Arts CIC, has seen a positive impact on project members in shaping every step of the project.

The project supports young people and adults with learning disabilities and difficulties from the Stafford area, and runs arts-based activities.

Project members have taken control right from the beginning of the project, having interviewed potential project facilitators.

The whole group planned the timetable for the content of the weekly sessions and have enjoyed making new friends and learning new skills while trying out different arts-based activities for the last six months.

Now, members have decided they want to create a series of short films, and will be part of every aspect from devising it – creating the characters, through to opportunities to take on production roles for those who don’t want to be in front of the camera.

As well as making new lasting friendships, the project has empowered members to become facilitators themselves, including hosting workshops in the wider community.

Putting power back in the hands of people can strengthen communities and allow residents to use their wisdom and knowledge to make where they live even better. Together, we can create fairer places to grow, live, work and age.


Everyone involved with civil society is encouraged to contribute to the Inquiry. Click here to get involved.

To read the initial findings, click here.


To read more news from the Trust, click here

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