Building Back for the Future – six ways that Village In The City can help

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The Carnegie UK Trust are always at the forefront of creative thinking about the future of society and improving wellbeing. Their recent report Building Back for the Better (2020) is admirably clear in outlining six propositions, all based on the Trust’s decades of research, about how ‘Building Back Better’ can not just be a catchy slogan for the post-pandemic world but can actually be delivered in the medium term. These six propositions are:

  1. National wellbeing can be the goal
  2. The relationship between citizens and state can be reset
  3. The future can be local (as well as global)
  4. Our relationship with work can be remodelled
  5. We can build a new level of financial resilience
  6. Technology can be for all.

I think that an initiative like Village In The City can help with all of these rather lofty-sounding goals. Indeed, making these things live and breathe at a micro-local level is key to their meaning much at all.  My career in solution-focused consulting and coaching has been all about helping people turn their hopes (I’d like to feel better…) into small and meaningful signs and steps in their everyday lives. Let’s see how a similar strategy might be useful in connecting micro-local community development with these six propositions.

  1. National wellbeing can be the goal

This shift in attention from merely financial goals (Gross Domestic Product etc) to a more overall focus on wellbeing is already being championed by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, of which Village In The City is proud to be a member.  We envisage a future where the economy serves society – rather than the other way around.  The Reith Lecture by former Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney is very good on this point, as is the recent Carnegie report on Gross Domestic Wellbeing. So much vital work in a healthy society is not primarily economic – community building, neighbourhood relations, helping others, building resilience all happen primarily through people rather than money.  Creating a healthy society comes first through people acting together, and for each other.  Yes, money can help – but if people stop caring or participating if they are not paid, then that’s not really very sustainable.

  1. The relationship between citizens and state can be reset

The Carnegie report talks about moving towards an Enabling State, where the state acts to enable and facilitate the actions of citizens rather then either prohibiting them or trying (and failing) to do it for them.  This also requires efforts to level up social capital; the amount of enabling may need to be greater in some areas than others, with focused seeding of opportunities and skill-building.  It also involves making sure that people know they have permission to act.  (We could argue that they already have it, but sometimes it’s easier if things are clearly understood.) The report also talks about supporting people to participate fully (not the same as participating for them) and building in radical kindness. Our core commitment to inclusivity points in this direction, and we will be exploring the notion of radical kindness and its predecessor radical acceptance in the near future.

  1. The future can be local (as well as global)

The UK is the most centralised state in the G7 and one of the most centralised in Europe, says the report.  The heart has been ripped out of local government here since the Thatcher years of the 1980s, and even though UK devolution has made a dent in this policy at a high level, the extent to which local communities can raise finance and make their own decisions is very limited.  This must change.  However, at Village In The City we are less concerned with local government and more focused on redressing the global/local balance.  50 years ago we could telephone people internationally (at great expense).  20 years ago the likes of Skype were appearing, offering jerky video and unreliable connections.  Now in the Zoom era we can talk to and see just about anyone on the planet at a moment’s notice.  That’s amazing. And, it means that it is even more important that we also talk to the people who live within a couple of hundred metres of us.  We share the same piece of ground, and that gives us something important in common, irrespective of differences in age, politics, outlook, background and so on. The future is both global AND micro-local!

  1. Our relationship with work can be remodelled

The pandemic has seen the most dramatic reshaping of expectations about work since the industrial revolution.  Rather than slogging in to office workplaces reflecting factories, many people have tasted working from home for the first time.  This has some drawbacks; not every home is well suited to work, it can feel like ‘sleeping at work’, and creative interactions can be more challenging.  However, working from home, or perhaps from a local shared workspace, has huge advantages in terms of connections with family and local community. While the city centre coffee shops are struggling, those on suburban high street have never been busier.  It seems most likely that greater flexibility about working away from the office will become the norm.  In terms of local communities, that makes for some good people with time and effort to spend on their localities, and new opportunities for more widespread provision of entertainment, connection and activity as part of a commitment to a ‘15-minute city’.

  1. We can build a new level of financial resilience

There are moves afoot to explore things like universal basic income and other ways to help people not fall off the bottom of the financial security ladder.  Village In The City quietly supports these initiatives. However, we are more focused on helping to build very local resilience by putting people in touch with each other in ways that enable sharing of resources and skills. Perhaps you don’t need to spend money on a ladder if you can borrow one from along the street? Perhaps you can offer some skills or effort in exchange for time from others (timebanking). Financial resilience is part of a wider societal support.

  1. Technology can be for all.

Digital inclusion is as important as social inclusion – online provision of services is a key way in which regional and national infrastructure can be delivered to all, as well as shopping and entertainment.  Technology can also play a part in facilitating local connection and community, as witnessed by local websites, Facebook groups and so on.  This requires developments in both broadband services, the availability of devices to access it, and also improved online security – helping people engage digitally is a matter of them trusting the systems as well as simply being able to access them.

At Village In The City we are championing bottom-up initiatives, often simple but effective, carried out by community members.  In his book Rekindling Democracy, Cormac Russell talks about the importance of this kind of work, where the local community is in the driving seat and professionals come in from time to time, when invited, to help with specific elements.  Anyone can be a village-builder, whether your local community is well-established or as yet invisible.  Come and join us to play a part in building back better.

Cormac Russell is joining Mark McKergow for the next Village In The City call, Wednesday 9th December 2020, at 4pm UK time. Join us free and hear more about how bottom-up community development is the way forward. 

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