This week, Michael Gove used his platform at the Conservative Party conference to pledge greater support for downtrodden regions of the UK.
“Levelling up means four things,” the minister for levelling up, housing and communities explained. “We will strengthen local leadership to drive real change, we will raise living standards, especially where they are lower. We will improve public services, especially where they are weaker, and we will give people the resources necessary to enhance the pride they feel in the place they live.”
While Gove, his party, and their approach have both supporters and critics, the concept of providing greater support to disadvantaged communities is widely welcomed by people across political parties, regions and circumstances. People who see that opportunities are not evenly distributed throughout the UK, and who worry that many are being left behind.
Change to the UK’s current inequalities is vital – and it must be change that’s defined by the people it aims to support, is open about collaborative models of delivery, and is serious about the resource required for transformation.
Growing with, not doing to
I call this ‘levelling in’ – and it has to come first. ‘Levelling up’ is about getting somewhere; ‘levelling in’ is the process, the reflection, the means to start on that journey and make sure the direction is informed by people most affected, by the level of resource needed, and an open mindset about what works.
To make meaningful change, we need a greater diversity of people making the decisions. Who is involved in conversations about societal change? Outcomes should be defined by those that will be directly affected. That’s where you get true partnership, and that’s where levelling up might be achieved more profoundly. Let’s start by listening to people who haven’t had the same opportunities and build a model that’s about growing with, not doing to.
The levelling up agenda is focused on enabling everyone to feel the benefit of the economic uplift that will come post-pandemic. We can go further, and programmes such as BOOST seize this moment as an opportunity to address deep-rooted problems.
Delivered by The Young Foundation Cabinet Office, DCMS, The Conduit Club, and Conduit Connect, BOOST supports organisations to scale, often through partnerships. It’s an approach that embraces collaboration.
For example, Agent Academy reaps the benefits of working with people who are really rooted in a place, developing strong connections with media, organisations, and large employers in Liverpool, and using that regional footprint to build local opportunities, so young people don’t have to move away from their homes to find work. They’re bringing insights from communities to help large companies shape their marketing strategies and understand how young people ought to be employed.
Connected and aligned
BOOST also supports Community Calling, a project from the environmental charity Hubbub that engages corporates to donate dead-stock smart phones to be data-wiped and redistributed to those who need them. They are given complete with 12-months’ worth of data and free access to digital skills training. Hubbub collaborates with local organisations in each city the scheme operates in, tapping into and strengthening local networks. There’s a circular economy at play, but it’s also about building up.
Another example is MeeToo, a social enterprise supporting mental health of young people. Their rich data on young peoples’ concerns enables medical practitioners, teaching institutions, and others who care make informed decisions on wellbeing budgets directly related to where needs are highest.
These partnerships are powerful not just because outcomes are being improved, but because they’re shifting how societal issues are being addressed; collaboration helps identify the need and the solution.
Living the dream
The pandemic has changed us all – and I hope we’re seeing a positive shift in how we partner together, creating a connectedness and empathy that was desired but not always enacted before.
The levelling up agenda is about enabling people across the UK to have the same opportunities regardless of location or circumstance. To have lasting impact, we must start by welcoming a broader range of players into the room to define those impacts. All too often, we see one or two central players setting parameters and defining solutions. We need collaborative effort to understand different perspectives. When we embrace that, we can learn together – and then we can level up meaningfully, for the long term.
Registration is open for the free online Inclusive Economy Partnership BOOST 2021 Power of Partnerships event, 19 October 2021, 3-4:30pm. Join The Young Foundation to connect with sector leaders and explore how the pandemic has shaped mission-led partnerships.