Communities are important. We know this because they’re mentioned 62 times in the Labour Party’s manifesto, 71 times in the Conservatives’ manifesto, 59 times in the Liberal Democrats’, 60 in the Greens’, 66 times in Plaid Cymru’s, 12 times in the SNP’s snappy 28-pager – and nine times in Reform’s ‘contract’. We know it, too, because in their annual reports, some three quarters of FTSE 100 companies’ count ‘communities’ among their key stakeholders. Yet it doesn’t always feel that way on the ground, does it? 

In our neighbourhoods, we’ve seen the closure of two thirds of council-run youth centres since 2010. Volunteering is in decline, down 1.6m people since 2018. The cost-of-living crisis continues to impact households up and down the nation – and it’s been almost 20 years and six prime ministers since the last prolonged period of falling poverty. Shockingly, over the 15 years to 2021, despite £20bn targeted investment across Labour, coalition and Conservative governments, we saw precisely no change – 0% – in relative economic deprivation in the UK.  

In part because of these things (and many other factors too – declining trust in our politicians among the most prominent), the mood of the electorate has changed, and the appetite for change is both real, and increasingly ‘hangry’.  

Yet, as people hit the polling stations, we know there is no money in the Westminster coffers, and we see the extent to which many of our services and structures are broken. With that seemingly unresolvable equation in mind, what hope can we have for our new government? Whatever its colour and shape, The Young Foundation has a few ideas.  

1. Put communities and civil society at the heart of policymaking 

And do this meaningfully. That means valuing community research and ensuring policy is informed by evidence from our people and places. It requires some investment in our shared civic places, creating places where people can (and want to) come together to learn, create, and organise – but that could be transformational and perhaps, over time, our younger people in particular will prove that it’s money well spent. 

Centring communities in policy is also vital if we are to achieve a fair shift to a green economy. Nothing happens – or at least happens well, and in ways that benefit everyone equally – without a plan. So we need a green public participation strategy, identifying the opportunities for and threats to green growth, specific to each UK place and community. This may impact policy in a range of government departments, from housing to employment to education and beyond. 

Finally, if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we – as communities – must be better-prepared to adapt to shocks. So let’s make sure people and communities have a part to play in Local Resilience Forums.  

2. Accelerate political and social engagement  

Public participation in social change is evident in our communities – but it’s hotchpotch and haphazard, usually reliant on personal choice and motivation, and, largely, both unstructured and unsupported. By embedding coherent policy supporting community voice and power within our democratically representative system – and by creating the infrastructure to support it – we can build a blueprint for community involvement in all tiers of government, and create a citizen-involving political economy.

Part of this is about introducing new community rights, as outlined by the We’re Right Here campaign. A Community Right to Buy would help people collectively own and benefit from local venues and places; a Community Right to Shape Public Services would encourage greater collaboration between communities and public institutions; and a Community Right to Control Investment would bring community voice to key spending decisions that affect local neighbourhoods. All of these measures could increase local pride and connectedness. 

But lifelong engagement requires a mindset shift, and that starts in schools, embedding not just the confidence but the expectation that our voices, opinions and experiences matter and can influence change. For too long, and in too many schools, ‘citizenship’ education has been under-delivered – or, at times, conflated with Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE), which isn’t the same thing at all. We can, quite swiftly, reimagine and revitilise the citizenship curriculum in UK schools and beyond, to deliver lifelong learning and development opportunities for all UK citizens and communities. Even better if that curriculum is designed with the people who stand to benefit from it. 

3. Strengthen connections between communities and businesses, research and innovation 

While political power is vital, in our towns, cities and communities, connections with local businesses can also deliver great social impact. Let’s shift UK CEOs’ focus towards the ‘S’ element of their companies’ Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) responsibilities, giving bosses a legal duty to promote the purpose of their company, and operate in ways that benefit society and the environment.  

We might also direct investment into local research and innovation, recognising the value of community-held knowledge to tackle complex social challenges. That means building clear links between academia, local government and communities. And it means providing for community-powered policymaking in devolution settlements, with ringfenced investment. 

In the grand scheme of government, these things don’t require huge sums of money – but they do demand boldness and bravery. A willingness to put the standard playbook to one side, and to think and act differently. A readiness to share power, to listen and collaborate. To seriously and deeply accept the scale of the challenge ahead.  

Here’s hoping those taking the reins of government are ready. Because there is appetite for change in our communities. And this is the moment to embrace innovation and imagination for the benefit of the whole nation. 

The Young Foundation has the networks, experience and expertise to work not just for but with people, businesses, civil society, and local and national policymakers around the UK. For a copy of our vision for greener, fairer, community-powered growth, and to discuss how we can support delivery of your work, please contact 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


Civil Society Community leadership Inequality Local government & public services Systems change Posted on: 4 July 2024 Authors: Jessica Moore,


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