When a place or community is described as deprived, it is easy to assume that this is an all-encompassing state. Yet, deprivation in one area may often inspire initiative, collective action and creativity in another. For example, when central and local government is failing to address the needs of a local population, the affected community might respond with increased engagement. Does ongoing austerity, lack of philanthropic funding and political uncertainty drive certain forms of community-led initiatives? Perhaps even inspire communities to take control themselves?

In an effort to answer some of these questions, our research team has been working on an in-depth analysis of the relationship between public, charitable and philanthropic funding (or the lack thereof) and on community strength and resilience.

This is building on some of our previous work that was published last year. In the Patchwork Philanthropy report, we looked at patterns of philanthropic and charitable spending across local authorities in England, and compared these to patterns of deprivation, public spending and the UK EU Referendum result. We identified several funding deserts across the country areas that have particularly high levels of deprivation, whilst receiving low levels of philanthropic funding and public expenditure. It was often these areas that were likely to have voted Leave in the EU referendum.

In this initial work, we used an Index for Multiple Deprivation as the only indicator of community need and characteristic, so our current efforts have been focused on extending this analysis to other indicators. This way we hope to achieve a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between levels of funding and community resilience.

So – how can community strength and resilience be measured?

Our view is that a wide range of measures can be indicative of community resilience – many of which are largely understudied in this context. Over recent months – and thanks to the helpful input of numerous organisations – our research team has been able to expand our initial data set to include some of these measures. A couple of the particularly compelling indicators that we have been exploring are:

  • Crowdfunding – are communities more likely to independently support initiatives via crowdfunding in the absence of external funding and expenditure?
  • Assets of Community Value – how does the number public buildings and spaces that serve to promote the wellbeing or social interests of a local community contribute to community strength? Think pubs, libraries, green spaces…!
  • Community Asset Transfersthese occur when the ownership and/or management of public land or buildings is transferred from local councils to the community. For example, the site of a community centre might be transferred to the group running the space. This often happens at a ‘peppercorn’ rent (a symbolic rent, sometimes as low as £1). In what communities are such transfers made more frequently?
  • Community-led initiativessharing libraries, community-kitchens, community-orchards, co-operatives, park runs, community-owned energy… the list goes on!

We are now coming into the final stages of data collection and as we did in our first Patchwork Philanthropy report, we will be mapping patterns of interest according to local authorities across England and presenting the results through visually engaging graphics. The report will be released in August.