Community organisations are bringing local people together to tackle local challenges and create opportunities.
The prevailing story about our coastal towns is too often centred around the challenges they face. Structural economic weaknesses have led to higher levels of health inequality and unemployment, lack of investment in public services and infrastructure. Many of these places are also now at the sharp end of the impact of the pandemic and economic consequences of lockdown restrictions.
Successive government initiatives seeking to shift these patterns of decline in so-called “left behind” communities have too often failed to recognise the power within them. Sustainable change requires long-term investment and crucially, trust in community-led solutions.
Our new research shows the story of strength, resilience and creativity on our coast and the community organisations which are harnessing these unique assets and bringing local people together to tackle local challenges and create opportunity.
Government needs to invest in community-led regeneration and put communities in charge of the recovery.
Community-led change in five coastal places
In the autumn last year, with funding from Power to Change, we carried out interviews with community organisations and local authorities in five coastal places: Birkenhead; Hastings; Newquay; Amble; and Great Yarmouth.
Across our coastal case studies, we heard incredible stories of community-led change.
Protecting and providing local jobs
We heard about the impact community organisations are having on creating more sustainable tourism models and driving local economic development. Like Amble Development Trust who run a community-owned lobster hatchery in Northumberland which helps to sustain the local lobster population, protect and provide local jobs and training opportunities.
Affordable housing and workspaces
Access to good quality and affordable housing is a key challenge in many coastal communities – which can be compounded by the impacts of gentrification. In Hastings, we heard about how the community has taken on significant redevelopment projects of derelict heritage assets in order to secure genuine affordable housing and workspace for local people. And in Great Yarmouth the Community Land Trust (CLT) has plans to renovate town centre buildings into new affordable housing, alongside spaces for community businesses and community hubs.
Green initiatives and environmental education
Coastal communities are some of the places worst affected by the impacts of climate change, such as coastal erosion and rising sea levels. But they are also at the forefront of the solutions to the climate emergency. Across our research we heard about the green initiatives creating impact in coastal communities – from Energise Sussex Coast tackling fuel poverty and energy injustice in Hastings, to Newquay Orchard in Cornwall, a seven-acre community space in the centre of town, developed by volunteers as a place for environmental education and wellbeing.
Health and wellbeing
The role which community organisations can play in tackling health inequalities and supporting wellbeing was also powerfully demonstrated across the coastal places we spoke with, such as the Spider Project in Birkenhead, who provide a creative arts and wellbeing model for alcohol and drug recovery support.
Supporting community power to lead the way in coastal regeneration
This research demonstrates the role community power should play in ensuring that a fairer and greener recovery in coastal places is led by the needs and aspirations of local people.
We need to ensure that opportunities to level-up these places are not squandered by top-down plans that have been shown to fail: instead government needs to invest in community-led regeneration and put communities in charge of the recovery.
Our recommendations set out some key ways to achieve this, including by:
• Putting Communities in Charge of the upcoming UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) by devolving at least a quarter of funding to community-led partnerships.
• Establishing a national Community Ownership Fund which would provide communities with the funding needed to breathe new life into local buildings and put derelict spaces back into community use.
Get involved with Locality’s Coastal Communities network
Locality’s Coastal Communities network brings together Locality members based in coastal communities around the UK for peer-learning, networking and collective voice. With over 60 Locality members based around the English coast, we are also joined by community organisations in other parts of the U.K. via our sister networks in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
By coming together as a network of community organisations, we aim to share best practice, create connection and exchange skills and ideas between communities around our coast. We also seek to strengthen the collective voice of coastal communities and harness our collective evidence base to influence national policymaking.
If you’d like to join the network please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org