Resilient Communities Strategy
The challenges faced by communities are complex and always changing. When we wrote our Council Strategy in 2019 we were in a world where we had previously had experience of response to and recovery from emergency situations (in particular flooding) and were looking at challenges such as the inequalities already present in our communities with disparities in health outcomes, education and skills levels, and income levels across Allerdale which affect the capabilities of our communities to deal with longer term issues such as the changing nature of work, society and the climate.
The Covid-19 pandemic has magnified and underlined, but not necessarily changed those challenges. The pandemic has highlighted inequalities in health even further – with a clear linkage between communities with poorer health outcomes and a more serious impact of Covid-19.
Previous data would suggest that our communities are pretty strong in terms of community ties and bonds and we have seen communities come together to respond to dramatic situations in the past – the obvious example being previous flooding events across Allerdale. The pandemic has again shown how numerous communities have come together to support each other - with shopping, prescription deliveries and support using social media as a way to connect. New groups have grown up in response to the pandemic in addition to the existing emergency response groups borne out of previous flooding events, and all have done amazing work to support their communities.
Our communities have again demonstrated strength in the face of an emergency situation, but we know that significant inequalities still exist across Allerdale and that a community’s ability to recover and adapt to longer term change is undermined by poverty and deprivation.
In the light of the ongoing pandemic situation our focus in the short term must be on supporting communities to respond to and recover from the pandemic and its immediate consequences. But by developing a strategic approach focusing on areas identified as some of the building blocks for more resilient communities, we can help our communities become more adaptable and resilient in the longer term.
We can’t make resilience happen, but we can help to create the conditions that enable resilience by acting in some key areas that should help to strengthen our communities. As a council we recognise the complexities of building resilience, we know we are just part of the picture and will need to work collaboratively with communities and with other organisations.
Four areas of focus are identified:
- Engaging, involving, collaborating and empowering
- Promoting healthy, active lifestyles
- Addressing community safety issues
- Addressing inequalities and hardship
Under each heading a range of actions has been identified which will contribute to strengthening and supporting our communities.
Resilient Communities Strategy
There are many interpretations of resilience and the term is used in different ways, by different organisations, in different contexts. Resilience can be used to refer to institutions, individuals and communities.
In relation to communities, resilience is often used in terms of how a community comes together to react and provide support in an emergency situation such as a flood. Within Cumbria there is an established framework of Local Resilience Forums for example, that come together precisely for that purpose.
The term resilience is also used more broadly in terms of communities and their ability to respond and adapt to change. That change might be dramatic and immediate (such as with natural disasters) or more gradual such as the changing nature of society (e.g. an ageing population), work (e.g. new technologies leading to changed job opportunities) or the environment (through climate change).
Some research has made a distinction between ‘recovery’, which could be seen as getting things back to how they were, and ‘adaptation’ or ‘transformation’, which is about being able to adapt or change to meet the new circumstances. Researchers at Northumbria University described these two different elements as “bouncing back” and “bouncing forward”.
Many things can affect the resilience of communities, but it is recognised that a community’s ability to recover and adapt is linked to levels of poverty and deprivation. So, it follows that reducing inequalities and poverty will help strengthen the ability of communities to demonstrate resilience.
When we talk about communities we are very often talking about ‘communities of place’ i.e. communities defined by a local geographical area. Even within that definition a person’s sense of community is quite a fluid thing, they can feel part of a number of geographical communities at the same time, for example belonging to their neighbourhood or their town depending on the context.
It is worth noting that the term ‘community’ can be used in other contexts such as wider social networks, or in the sense of ‘communities of interest’ – people who define themselves as part of a group with an interest or a characteristic in common.
Characteristics of resilient communities
Various research projects have tried to describe the characteristics of resilient communities to include things such as:
- A sense of belonging and orientation to a common purpose
- Good social and organisational networks
- Access to knowledge and resources, community hope, knowledge promotion skills
- Active participation, shared decision making and collective action
- Access to local facilities, amenities and service provision
- Access to quality local environment, housing and infrastructure.
From a growing body of work nationally and locally, we have evidence about what resilient communities look like and what kinds of approaches might work in building strong resilient communities. But working out the most effective methods for building community resilience is not an easy task, especially since what might build resilience in one community may not be effective in another.
There is a huge amount of variation across Allerdale, where one area can differ significantly from another. As a result, the issues that affect our residents in one part of our district can be very different to those in another area.
We have clear inequalities between communities within the district with some small areas experiencing considerable issues of relating to poverty and inequality, particularly in our west coast towns. Rural living can also present significant challenges, particularly for low income households. There are certain factors such as access to services and fuel poverty where we see it is some of our more rural areas that face the bigger challenges.
Health and wealth are interconnected and we see significant inequalities in health outcomes across the district, with a clear correlation between poorer health and deprivation.
Overall Allerdale is a safe place to live with low levels of crime, environmental quality is generally very good and many of our residents enjoy an excellent quality of life. However, there are pockets of higher crime and residents in some areas have told us that they face increasing issues with anti-social and problem behaviour.
Data and experience suggests our communities are strong in terms of community ties and bonds, with a strong local and cultural identity and a willingness to work together in the face of adversity, as demonstrated in the community response during extreme flooding events and currently during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As an organisation the Council has recognised that it needs to do more to engage with communities – improving the flow of information between the council and communities, involving communities more in policy development, service planning and decision making, and empowering people to develop solutions for their communities.
Where are we now?
The Covid-19 pandemic has magnified, but not necessarily changed the challenges our communities face and has underlined the importance of strengthening our communities’ ability to adapt to change.
The pandemic has highlighted inequalities in health even further – with a clear linkage between more deprived communities with poorer health outcomes and a more serious impact of Covid-19. As well as age, obesity has been shown to be a key factor in terms of how badly individuals are affected by the virus (and people who live in the most deprived areas are less likely to be a healthy weight). The economic shock that the pandemic has brought has impacted and will continue to impact on work, underlining inequalities around security of employment, types of jobs and income levels.
Locally we are already seeing the impacts of Covid-19 on our communities. We have seen increasing rates of recorded anti-social behaviour including increases in noise complaints to the council and a significant increase in fly tipping in some of our neighbourhoods. The number of people helped into emergency accommodation between March and July was significantly higher than the previous year.
We have seen an increase in numbers of unemployed since the start of Covid-19 with significant rises in: claimants of JSA / UC (out of work and seeking work); Universal Credit claimants; and claims to the Council’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme. The most significant proportional increases in unemployment have so far not been in the wards that previously saw the highest levels of unemployment in Allerdale. This is partly explained by the types of jobs that have been affected in the pandemic, such as retail, leisure and hospitality.
All indications are that we will see another significant rise in unemployment figures and benefit claims as the furlough scheme comes to an end and further redundancies materialise through autumn/winter 2020/21. Current predictions are that we will also see a rise in the numbers in poverty as a result of the economic downturn, job losses and lack of employment opportunities.
At the same time, we have seen how numerous communities have come together to support each other with shopping, medicine deliveries and support using social media as a way to connect. New groups have grown up in response in addition to the existing emergency response groups borne out of previous flooding events and all have done amazing work in their communities.
The pandemic is of course still ongoing and we face a constantly changing picture making it hard to get a truly accurate understanding of the current or potential future impacts on our communities. There are also clearly implications for how we deliver as an organisation with changes in demand for services and additional tasks stemming from the pandemic - we need to monitor the picture and be adaptable.
Implications for our approach:
- The health implications of Covid-19 have magnified the importance of encouraging healthy active lifestyles
- The importance of our services to those facing hardship (benefits, homelessness) has been highlighted
- The importance of addressing inequalities has been emphasised
- The importance of community safety work through multi agency approach to address local issues has been highlighted
- The importance of improving engagement with communities, and improving collaboration with partners to make sure communities are supported has been underlined
- The pandemic situation has shifted where we may need to focus efforts in the short term, but it has also presented opportunities to build on and to shift our thinking and behaviour and engage more fully with communities
- The need to be adaptable to a constantly changing situation has been highlighted.
The purpose we take from our Council Strategy is
Improving lives, improving futures through sustainable action
With the services and resources we have at our disposal we aim to play our part in reducing inequalities across the district and support building healthy, active, inclusive communities with:
- Strong relationships between service providers and communities making local services more relevant and effective
- Strong networks
- A good range of opportunities for sport, cultural, recreational and other community activities
- Low levels of crime and anti-social behaviour
As a council we cannot address all of the areas that make communities more resilient, but looking at how we can contribute to building resilient communities (through acting as a leader, working in partnership, commissioning activity or delivering services) we have identified four areas of focus in this strategy:
|Engaging, involving, collaborating and empowering||Understand local contexts; Allow sufficient timescales for things to happen; Collaborate more; Help people to get involved; Put community and wellbeing at the heart of what we do; Support community groups|
|Promoting healthy, active lifestyles||Active places; Active people and healthy lifestyles|
|Addressing community safety issues||Deal with community safety issues; Ensure good quality environments|
|Addressing inequalities and hardship||Work to alleviate immediate needs; Prevent and reduce homelessness; Provide support to lower income households; Improve economic prospects|
In terms of engagement the New Local Government Network (NLGN) have provided a useful model setting out five steps on an arc of citizen engagement: inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower (NLGN, 2016). The right level of involvement can depend on a number of factors including the service user, the task and the time-frame and it may not always be appropriate to move beyond the ‘inform’ or ‘consult’ levels, however working towards empowering communities and harnessing the strength within those communities ultimately supports communities in becoming more resilient.
In our last Residents Survey the percentage of people who felt they could influence decisions was just 31%. 27% of residents definitely wanted to be more involved in decisions affecting their local area, but more than half of respondents (59%) said that it depended on the particular issue. There is therefore considerable scope for us to involve our communities more in local decisions.
There are examples of how we have involved and empowered communities and enabled community action such as:
- Communities taking a more active role in managing their local environment – facilitated through our nature reserves and volunteering activity.
- Communities leading on housing development through community-led housing companies formed with financial support and advice from the council.
- Transferring assets to community groups and town and parish councils to ensure more local management and a more sustainable future, including play parks and cultural facilities.
- Being part of a network working with residents as researchers to understand what impacts on health and wellbeing in their locality.
But it would be fair to say that as a council we have often tended to remain at the ‘inform’ and ‘consult’ levels of the spectrum. If we are going to help our communities be more resilient our ambition must be to move more towards involving, collaborating and empowering - facilitating local community solutions that help to strengthen communities. Limited resource and capacity means that we will not be able to meet every community’s expectations and we will need to be honest and open where this is the case.
Understand local contexts
- Accept that one size does not fit all - we need to accept that different approaches might be needed in different areas. Every place and community is unique. Context is vital, and any activities or services must take account of a place or communities’ unique strengths in planning and delivery.
- Find out more about the community groups that exist (established groups and more loose arrangements) – we need to be aware what there is if we are going to engage with communities and signpost effectively.
- Improve the way we gather local intelligence, knowledge and information – for example through models like the Community Champions (where a senior manager from the council has a local ‘patch’ and engages with elected members representing that area).
- Encourage genuine dialogue and more informal conversations, for example with local groups and town and parish councils.
Allow sufficient timescales for things to happen
- Make time to involve communities in the development of policies and projects as well as in planning services - this will mean that things might take longer, but in the end should be more effective.
Collaborate more (with communities and other organisations)
- Work alongside communities rather than do to – there is a challenge for us in that we provide a number of regulatory services that require us to act in a particular way, but even within that there is scope to engage, explain, listen and adapt.
- Recognise innovation and improvisation – we have all improvised during the pandemic and previous flooding events to get things done, but have previously often fallen back into old comfortable ways.
- Ensure that we are aware of the key local partnership structures that exist and ensure that we have the right representation on those.
Help people to get involved
- We need to engage more fully with our communities in innovative ways to understand their views however they are expressed. Different ways of participating suit different people – participating online might be more convenient and comfortable for some but not suit others.
- Continue to provide opportunities to volunteer through activities such as caring for our open and natural spaces which can improve physical and mental health as well as improve understanding of biodiversity and climate change.
- Ensure we are inclusive in our approach and consider how we encourage views and engagement from voices within our communities that often go unheard.
Put community and wellbeing at the heart of what we do
- Think more about community impacts (narrowing of inequalities, improving health and wellbeing, opportunities for activity and use of our open spaces, impact on existing or new communities) when we are developing policies or planning projects and services.
- Think about where we can add more value, where we can do things differently - the pandemic has offered opportunities to rethink our service delivery and we need to explore them with our communities rather than just go back to business as usual as soon as we can, for example exploring the options for delivering in different places and ways.
- Support community groups
- The response to Covid-19 has seen the creation of the Allerdale Community Resilience Group which has brought together community groups, community leaders, elected members and staff from public and voluntary sector organisations focused initially on supporting those at risk individuals in our communities who did not have a family or friend network to support them. The group will continue to meet in the short term, and as part of moving from pandemic response into recovery maintaining this partnership is considered essential. Maintaining this group beyond the response and immediate recovery phases will be a challenge and will require resource in the form of officer and member time, but there is an opportunity to build on this as a collaborative network to think about some of the more medium to long term issues facing our communities.
- Continue to look for different ways to support community groups recognising that small amounts of money can make a big difference. We have been able to offer small community grants in the past and are in the process of launching a community lottery that will help to fund local community organisations.
- Provide advice and support to community groups to help them deal with regulatory issues such as food hygiene, health and safety and licensing.
Role of officers
Moving more towards involving, collaborating and empowering does require a cultural shift within the organisation - all of the proposed action above will take time and effort.
Colleagues will need to be provided with the tools and training to be able to have the confidence to implement many of the steps above and to provide the support that elected members may need.
Role of elected members
Our elected members have an important role to play in developing stronger and more resilient local communities. Members will have a proactive role to play as community leaders within their local communities. Members can create a climate for better engagement between public sector, voluntary sector and community leaders, bringing local activity together and acting as a bridge between the Council and local communities. They know the enablers and community leaders locally and can help to ensure that these community enablers have the right help and support to be successful in their activities.
Members may need support and training to help them:
- Facilitate the flow of information and intelligence between local communities and the Council, both in identifying the issues and opportunities within their wards, and in providing the intelligence local communities need in order to get involved.
- Engage with and represent their communities with other organisations such as the County Council, housing associations and others.
- Manage the expectations of communities effectively.
- Act as community advocates – acting as a conduit between community groups and public services to build real grassroots partnerships to meet local identified need.
Our Communications and Engagement Strategy sets out in more detail how we will approach community engagement.
The poorer health outcomes we see in many of our communities affects their resilience. Active lifestyles are essential to good health, both physical and mental. The term ‘active’ is being used in the wider sense of being physically active, active within communities and groups, active as a volunteer or active in engaging in arts, and culture and heritage opportunities.
Non-traditional sport, physical activity and informal active recreation are as important as formal sports activities and provision in terms of health and wellbeing. Alongside this, the value that cultural activity and the enjoyment of open and natural spaces can have in improving physical and mental wellbeing have increasingly been recognised and evidenced. They have been shown to strengthen the connection between people and the places in which they live by promoting a sense of identity and belonging through shared interest and investment.
These wider evidenced benefits of ‘active lives’ can strengthen community resilience by raising confidence, encouraging community unity, encouraging volunteering and skills development, and by sports, arts and cultural events and activities acting as a catalyst for economic development.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the leisure and cultural sectors nationally. There have been challenges to face in terms of reopening leisure centres, resuming various team sports and reopening museums and cultural centres. Cultural and sporting events have also been impacted. At the same time we have seen an increase in informal recreation, in particular walking and cycling.
Meeting current or future needs by protecting, enhancing or supporting appropriate sports, leisure, cultural and community facilities remains a priority for the council, but the impact of Covid-19 and restrictions on activity may mean some difficult decisions need to be taken about how the council will adapt to these challenges.
- Protect and enhance parks and open spaces for use and enjoyment by our communities, ideally working with local communities to manage these.
- Protect and enhance appropriate sports, leisure, cultural and community facilities. In some circumstances this might mean providing a helping hand to community-run facilities, in others it might mean rationalisation of places and spaces to ensure quality rather than quantity provision, or exploring options such as community trusts.
- Facilitate the provision of new indoor or outdoor sports facilities where there is current or future demand to do so, depending on funding and resources.
Active people and healthy lifestyles
- Encourage healthy, active lifestyles by providing opportunities for people to participate in organised leisure activities – with a particular focus on children and young people, older people, those on low incomes, and those at risk of being inactive or excluded. This includes schemes such as exercise on referral.
- Promote, support and encourage the development of opportunities to access inclusive, affordable, activities in the right places
- supporting local sports clubs and groups with advice and funding through sports development grants
- promoting informal opportunities for activity such as walking and cycling
- working with partners to access funding for cultural activities.
- Help to improve physical and mental wellbeing through access to a range of activities including volunteering in the natural environment which can also improve understanding of biodiversity and climate change.
- Develop, deliver and support a mix of new and established festivals and events directly or through grants.
- Continue to play an active role in key health and wellbeing partnerships such as the Allerdale Health and Wellbeing Forum and the Children and Families Partnership to look at wider healthy lifestyles issues and approaches such as stopping smoking and healthy weight.
How safe, accessible and welcoming our neighbourhoods, community places and community spaces feel can influence habits and behaviours. Overall Allerdale is a safe place to live with low levels of crime, people generally feel safe where they live, environmental quality is generally very good and many of our residents enjoy an excellent quality of life. However, there are pockets of higher crime and residents in some areas have told us that they face increasing issues with anti-social and problem behaviour and environmental cleanliness, in particular in Maryport and Workington (Residents Survey 2018).
Since lockdown began in March 2020 we have seen a marked increase in noise complaints to the Council suggesting that noise has become a nuisance issue in our communities as people have been at home more. We have also seen a significant increase in fly tipping incidents.
It is important that we continue to provide good quality environments and safe places otherwise this will have a negative impact on mental and physical wellbeing. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of outdoor space to meet and exercise and redefined what makes a safe place to include social distancing, wearing face coverings and controls over size and types of gatherings.
Dealing with community safety issues
- Continue to build and develop the Allerdale Local Focus Hub. The Hub brings together several partner organisations, including the council and the Police, to combine resources and expertise, to strengthen capacity and build a strong, secure, effective infrastructure to deal with community problems at a local level, increasing public confidence and feelings of safety.
- Play an active role in the West Cumbria Community Safety Partnership.
- Make sure that we effectively deliver our range of functions to keep people safe and well including: monitoring food safety; licensing; private sector housing quality; dealing with noise and other complaints; advising and enforcing on Covid-secure business practices.
Ensuring good quality environments
- Encourage people to get involved in taking care of their local environment through activities such as community clear up activities.
- Support and promote community-led clean-up activities.
- Provide opportunities to volunteer to help manage open spaces which can also help to improve understanding of biodiversity and climate change.
- Encourage local management of open spaces.
- Use our tools to tackle fly tipping, littering and dog fouling – this includes prevention, education, and enforcement where necessary.
A community’s ability to recover from events like the current pandemic and adapt to longer term change is undermined by poverty and deprivation. There are clear inequalities between communities within the borough with some small areas experiencing considerable issues of poverty and inequality.
Whilst parts of Allerdale have average household incomes and life expectancy above the national average other parts of the district experience significant deprivation. The highest rates of poverty and deprivation remain in the urban areas of central and south Workington and Maryport.
However, poverty is often a more hidden issue that also affects Allerdale residents in rural areas. Rural living can present significant challenges, particularly for low income households. There are certain factors such as access to services and fuel poverty where we see it is some of our more rural areas that face the bigger challenges. People living on a fixed income, such as benefits and pensions, are particularly vulnerable to fuel poverty where they have to use a high percentage of their income to heat their home and the nature of Allerdale’s geography, housing stock and income levels means that fuel poverty remains a concern in some parts of the district.
The rise of Foodbank usage within Allerdale over the past few years is a cause for concern and indicates that many households were not managing to make ends meet even before the pandemic – the increasing economic pressures that lack of work is placing on some households means that food poverty has already become more of an issue during the pandemic.
Those already on low incomes, working in less secure employment or in sectors such as retail, hospitality and leisure, have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and associated economic shock. We have already seen increases in benefits claimants across Allerdale and current predictions are that we will also see a rise in the numbers in struggling financially as a result of job losses and lack of employment opportunities. There is an associated concern that people may find themselves unable to afford their homes either through rental or mortgage payments.
There has been a renewed desire seen across the country to eradicate rough sleeping that has grown out of the pandemic situation. The Council successfully responded to the drive to house all rough sleepers during the initial lockdown period in 2020 and has continued to work hard to keep those people housed and find more permanent move on accommodation.
The existing and impending impacts of the pandemic in terms of job losses, access to benefits and potential housing issues make good advice services all the more important over the coming years.
The approach set out here is two-fold: supporting those already experiencing poverty and inequality by alleviating immediate short term issues; and focusing on the longer term issues that improve resilience and prospects.
Work to alleviate immediate needs
- Continue to work closely with Cumbria County Council and other partners through the Allerdale Community Resilience Group to empower and support community groups to maintain networks providing food and prescriptions to at risk individuals in our communities who do not have a family or friend network to support them.
- Work with partners to look at immediate and longer term solutions to food poverty.
Prevent and reduce homelessness
- Continue to develop our preventative approach on homelessness issues providing information, advice, and guidance to tenants and landlords when tenants are likely to be evicted.
- Continue a multi-agency approach on issues such as domestic violence.
- Develop a sustainable approach to tackling homelessness through our new Homelessness Strategy including work with voluntary community services and partners.
Provide support for lower income households
- Deliver existing benefits and schemes in an efficient and effective way (including Council Tax Reduction Scheme and Discretionary Housing Payments)
- Deliver other government Covid-19 related funds as quickly and effectively as possible to support those on low incomes including the Hardship Fund, the Test and Trace Support Payments.
- Take digital exclusion into account when planning our service delivery
- Facilitate schemes to alleviate fuel poverty such as energy switching and energy efficiency schemes.
- Continue to offer advice and information to private landlords on decent housing standards.
- Make sure that our communities have access to good advice services and that council staff and members know where to signpost people to.
- Improve referrals between partners and strengthen collaborative working to tackle inequalities.
- Work internally through the Tackling Inequalities Group to ensure joined up thinking and action.
Improve economic prospects
- Continue to play an active role in the network of new and existing partnerships such as the Allerdale Health and Wellbeing Forum, the Allerdale Work and Skills Partnership and the Children and Families Partnership that are working to consider and take joint action on the wider social, economic and environmental factors that will support recovery and identify longer term solutions to inequalities.
- Deliver our Economic Growth Strategy and work with partners on other key economic growth approaches to improve economic prospects across our communities.
There are a number of existing strategies, policies and plans that link to the purpose and objectives in this strategy such as the Joint Cumbria Public Health Strategy and the West Cumbria Community Safety Partnership Plan. This strategy sets out an approach that should be complimentary to those, avoiding duplication and supporting existing approaches.
We will monitor progress against the strategy through collecting a range of information such as:
|Engaging, involving, collaborating and empowering||Participation in local decision making; How far people feel they can influence local decisions|
|Promoting healthy, active lifestyles||Participation in sport, leisure and cultural activities; Obesity levels; Health inequalities and outcomes|
|Addressing community safety issues||Feelings of safety; Reports of problem or anti-social behaviour|
|Addressing inequalities and hardship||Homelessness figures; Income inequalities; Benefit claimant levels|
This strategy will be underpinned by further strategies and focused delivery plans (such as a leisure plan, homelessness strategy, communications and engagement strategy, and addressing inequalities plan). These will set out more detailed actions and measures.