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Aug 18

Act locally – and think globally!


Alison Haskins, CEO of Halifax Opportunities Trust and one of the commissioners for our Localism Commission, talks about the power of place at both a local and international level.

Since I started working in the third sector in the UK twenty years ago and particularly since taking up the CEO post at Halifax Opportunities Trust eight months ago, I’ve been involved with all sorts of interesting initiatives that have focussed on ‘place’. This year alone I have taken part in the Power to Change/RSA Community Business Leaders Programme and am one of the commissioners for Locality’s Localism Commission. I am involved in Locality’s Keep It Local programme with Calderdale council and I attended the vibrant Power of Place event in April. There’s clearly a momentum to devolve decision-making and resources to neighbourhoods and to challenge the benevolent paternalism that has often characterised public service delivery.

As CEO of Halifax Opportunities Trust, I see the power of place being played out on a daily basis. People getting involved and taking decisions about their own community; buildings and spaces being used to create economic growth and development; peer support for new parents and extraordinarily positive, developmental work with very young children and their families. This is just a snapshot of what happens at HOT and across the third sector every day.

It’s locally driven, it’s locally focussed and it’s locally delivered. I absolutely believe in place – and of people working collectively and collaboratively to make their lives as good as they possibly can be. But I’ve always had a worry niggling away at the back of my mind.

If we relentlessly focus on place, localism and neighbourhoods are we unconsciously embedding a narrowness in our thinking and practice? Are we ignoring the massive effect that globalisation and transnational interests have on local communities and local people? And are we out-Trumping Trump by championing the local over the global common good?

In short, are we pushing a populist, parochial approach that could be co-opted, despite our best intentions, into something much less positive?

We are already seeing public resources being squeezed, leading to news headlines every day about the effect that public spending cuts are having on crime, health and social care. Local councils are making incredibly difficult financial decisions and eligibility thresholds for public services are being pushed ever higher. Claims on resources are going to get more sharp-elbowed and it’s going to be difficult to resist relentlessly focussing on our own goals at the expense of others.

Our task then, as people committed to the power of place and to localism, is to ensure that our policy and practice is also underpinned by an absolute commitment to collaboration and collectivism – within our neighbourhoods and also at national and international level. Yes, we should be arguing for financial and capital assets for local people and local organisations. Yes, we should be enabling participatory democracy. And yes, we should be creating jobs within our local economies. But we should do this with a generosity of spirit that acknowledges other people in other places. The best way to approach localism is to see it as a network of people and places that stretches across the UK and beyond. An ecosystem of neighbourhoods that are working to make their community a fantastic place to live, work and play and that actively seek ways to build social capital with counterparts near and far away.

The UK has a great tradition of doing this: the Fair Trade movement; Think Globally, Act Locally; Oxfam, VSO and other international NGOs; participation in various EU transnational schemes. Many of these are predicated on the thoughtful approach that is promoted via Development Education Centres, which is that development starts (and has to start) with the individual but ripples outwards into the local community, then the national and the international community.

Let’s ensure we maintain this way of thinking as we continue the exciting strides that are being made within neighbourhoods up and down the country, and ensure that at the same time as promoting people power at the most devolved level, we are also thinking about our connections with the rest of the world and being generous with the resources that are available to us.

One comment

  1. Valerie

    Posted 31/08/17 at 8:54 pm  |  Permalink

    Yes, we should not allow Localism to be confused with protectionism or let it evolve into small-mindedness. We can lead, through the Localism movement, in counteracting global monopolies. Localism can and should embrace a form of global trading which connects small traders in all parts of the world. Exchange of ideas creates a dialogue that can lead to improved ways of living and problem-solving.
    Important to embed the underlying premise of inclusion in all organisations, policies, project ethos and project management to maintain a culture of open minded exploration of ideas from all who wish to contribute or whose research should be explored.

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