The report “A Neighbourhood Strategy for National Renewal” is produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, in collaboration with Local Trust, Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI), and Reform. It addresses the challenges faced by ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods in England, which suffer from economic deprivation and insufficient social infrastructure. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own approach to these matters. The report emphasises the need for community-led change and proposes strategies to prioritise these areas in the national agenda for levelling up, aiming to improve life quality and opportunities in these communities.
The report outlines several principal challenges facing policymakers in England when addressing the needs of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods:
Socioeconomic Disparities: These neighbourhoods exhibit worse socioeconomic outcomes than the English average and other similarly deprived areas. They are marked by lower levels of social capital, trust, and civic participation, and have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic and social consequences.
Challenges to Regeneration: The report highlights the need to understand the unique challenges and barriers to regeneration in ‘left behind’ areas, which necessitates policy principles and recommendations across central and local government and community organisations.
Youth Exodus and Economic Stagnation: Limited local opportunities and lack of economic diversification results in young people leaving these areas searching for better prospects, resulting in an ageing population and a lack of fresh ideas and dynamism, further challenging local economies.
Vulnerability to Economic Crises: High levels of indebtedness, financial insecurity, and fuel poverty make these neighbourhoods particularly vulnerable to crises like the cost-of-living crisis.
Lack of Collaboration and Community Involvement: Policymaking has not been sufficiently informed by the experiences and perspectives of those living in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, leading to policies that may not adequately address their specific needs.
Worsening Social and Economic Outcomes: As jobs and investment continue to flow to more prosperous areas, ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods may face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and ill health, as well as lower levels of educational attainment and life expectancy.
Overlooking Specific Needs in Policy Design: The design of levelling up policies and funding may overlook the specific needs of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, risking further marginalisation of these areas.
Inequitable Distribution of Power and Resources: Powers, responsibilities, and accountabilities are too concentrated in central government, and there’s a need for devolution that decentralises power to neighbourhoods.
Reduction in Local Authority Funding: Local authorities in more deprived places have faced significant budget cuts, impacting public services like social care, youth services, and community centres, essential for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.
Challenges in Addressing Complex Issues: There’s a tendency to focus on short-term interventions for simpler problems, at the expense of grappling with the more complex and intractable challenges that require sustained and targeted investment and a long-term approach.
Barriers to Community Engagement and Decision-Making: Complexity in local and sub-regional government, as well as a lack of transparency and accessibility in decision-making, hinders community involvement in the levelling up process.
Addressing these challenges requires a holistic and collaborative approach that involves community participation and considers the unique needs and perspectives of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.
Role of Media
The report also underscores the crucial role of local media in the process of renewal for ‘left behind’ communities:
- Addressing Information Deserts: The decline in local newspapers and radio has led to ‘local news deserts’ in many areas, leaving communities with limited access to reliable information about their local area. This lack of local media impacts the community’s ability to stay informed about local issues and developments.
- Empowering Communities Through Information: The report suggests that investment in local media is vital to ensure that residents of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods are well-informed about the opportunities and resources available to them. Local media can provide a platform for community voices to be heard, playing a pivotal role in empowering residents to engage in decision-making processes and advocate for their needs.
The emphasis on local media in the report reflects the recognition of its importance in keeping communities informed, engaged, and empowered. This is particularly vital in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, where access to information and resources is often more limited compared to more affluent areas. The report advocates for the strengthening and revitalisation of local media as a key component in the broader strategy to support and renew these communities.
However, the report does not appear to provide a specific definition or detailed account of community media in the context of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. The focus of the report is more on the broader challenges and strategies for renewal in these areas, including aspects like socioeconomic disparities, lack of collaboration with residents, and the need for investment in local and social infrastructure.
While the importance of local media is acknowledged, particularly in the context of providing reliable information and empowering communities, the report does not delve deeply into the concept of community media or define it explicitly within its scope. Community media, in a general sense, can be understood as media (like radio, newspapers, television, or online platforms) that are created, operated, and sustained by communities themselves, often to address issues that are not covered by mainstream media and to give a voice to local perspectives and concerns.
If policymakers are seeking a more specific exploration of community media in the context of ‘left behind’ communities or policy recommendations regarding community media, this will require further research and consultation with sources specifically focused on community media development and policy.
Given the context of the report, which focuses on ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, incorporating community media as a tool for empowerment and social capital formation can be highly beneficial. Here are some additional recommendations that could be relevant:
Establish Community Media Hubs: Create spaces where residents can learn about media production, storytelling, and broadcasting. These hubs can provide access to equipment and training, encouraging local content creation that reflects community issues and interests.
Foster Local Partnerships: Encourage collaboration between community media initiatives and local schools, libraries, and community centres. These partnerships can provide a broader base of resources, expertise, and audience engagement.
Support Digital Literacy and Access: Implement programs to enhance digital literacy, especially in areas with weaker digital connectivity. Ensuring that community members have the skills and tools to engage with digital media is crucial for full participation.
Promote Inclusive Storytelling: Community media should prioritise inclusive and diverse representation, ensuring that all voices within the community, especially those often marginalised, are heard and valued.
Facilitate Training and Mentorship: Offer regular workshops and mentorship programs on media production, journalistic ethics, and digital storytelling. This can help build a skilled pool of local content creators.
Encourage Civic Participation Through Media: Use community media as a platform for civic education and engagement, encouraging discussions on local governance, community issues, and public affairs.
Develop Funding and Support Networks: Seek funding opportunities from local businesses, government grants, and philanthropic organisations dedicated to community development. A sustainable financial model is key to the longevity of community media initiatives.
Implement Measurement and Feedback Mechanisms: Develop ways to measure the impact of community media on social capital formation and community engagement. Regular feedback from community members can guide the evolution of content and services.
Leverage Online Platforms for Wider Reach: Utilise social media and web platforms to extend the reach of community media, enabling the sharing of local content beyond physical boundaries.
Create a Network of Community Media Practitioners: Establish a network for sharing best practices, resources, and support among community media practitioners across different ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.
These recommendations align with the report’s focus on empowering ‘left behind’ communities and could significantly contribute to building both bonding (within community) and bridging (across communities) social capital, fostering a more engaged, informed, and resilient community.
The report is a commendable and much-needed initiative, addressing the vital concerns and challenges faced by ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. It offers a comprehensive understanding of the socioeconomic disparities and proposes strategic interventions for national renewal. However, it is notable that the report does not significantly acknowledge the role of community media, including community radio stations and local newspapers, in the process of social renewal and levelling up.
Community media, with its grassroots approach, has the potential to play a pivotal role in empowering local voices and fostering community cohesion. By giving a purposeful role to local media in the framework of social renewal, the recommendations of this report can be substantially enhanced. Community media acts as a platform for local engagement, storytelling, and information dissemination, which are essential for building social capital and promoting civic participation. Incorporating a focused strategy on nurturing and utilising community media could further strengthen the report’s objective of revitalising ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, ensuring a more inclusive, participative, and effective approach to community development and empowerment.