Five years on: what’s changed in places affected by riots?

Debbie LaddsLast weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the 2011 riots in London and other UK cities. In common with recent coverage of Brexit, the commentary on the riots back in 2011 pointed to fault lines in our communities at many levels: not only racial but between young and old, and people of different classes, with a narrative of disempowerment suggested as a potential root cause.

So has anything changed since 2011? And what does it take to build cohesive communities where people feel valued and have a voice?

Some answers to these questions are emerging through our Big Local programme. Big Local helps people in 150 communities in England gain the skills and confidence to make their area an even better place to live – and the crucial twist is that residents decide what will make a difference and what to do, including how to use £1m of funding from the Big Lottery Fund.

In Big Local areas affected by the 2011 riots, residents have put community cohesion firmly at the top of their list of priorities. They are realistic about the challenges involved, and are keen to show they have seen breakthroughs. Empowering people and getting them working together is what takes the longest but is absolutely crucial.

Since 2011, the residents leading Big Local in Brixton have got people from five estates to work together for the first time, and as a result many more local community groups are working in partnership with each other around issues of social division. The residents have awarded small grants to build cohesion in the area, such as funding Clapham Film Unit to give young residents from different backgrounds more opportunities to integrate through street art and filmmaking workshops.

Rosemarie, resident and chair of North Brixton Big Local says, ‘Since 2011, there have been many changes, some have taken us forward, some have kept situations the same and some have led to one step backwards. There is still a long way to go, but every journey starts with the first step. One example of this is a children’s group working with a large number of children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and communities, which we have funded. Their work builds bonds of trust in the very young, which is so important as children grow up often in siloed and segregated communities. Big Local is helping to ensure that people are taking such steps together.’

Over in Clapham Junction and west Battersea, the residents of SW11 Big Local have chosen to fund Women of Wandsworth, an intergenerational project that connects volunteers with isolated older people on a regular basis. This has laid the foundations for a growing sense of inclusion among some older people in SW11 and increasing citizenship among some younger people. The Big Local area has three times the borough average of people who are unemployed or who have never worked, so, through Big Local, residents are funding small, local projects that give sustained, empowering support to people who want to get into work, with great early success.

Enabling residents to create and own grassroots solutions to the challenges affecting them most continues to be essential. We must work directly with communities to help them identify and respond to local needs in partnership with organisations they trust and increase their skills and confidence to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the future.

Our learning shows this involves consistent but light-touch support over the long term – one or even three years is not enough. There needs to be space for everyone involved to learn, grow and persist. And putting money under community control is hugely beneficial – it engages residents and partners in the things that matter most in their community and enables them to do something about it. Supporting local collaboration of all kinds is what drives lasting change.

Photo by bobaliciouslondon


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