By Jo Broadwood, Belong Network CEO
17 November 2023
Huge thanks to everyone who made Belong’s annual conference this year such a lively, positive and inspiring event. I came away feeling uplifted and moved by the energy and commitment of people and organisations who are working to build and maintain the social fabric of our communities.
We have never needed your work more. The recent terrible and tragic escalation of conflict in the Middle East is having a profound impact on community relations in the UK. The rise in antisemitism, islamophobia and hate crime and the resultant increase in community tensions was understandably a huge cause of concern for delegates.
At the same time the day held many inspiring examples of innovation, collaboration and cross sectoral working. We heard from expert speakers from health, business, academia, local government and civil society and explored the links between social cohesion and other key policy agendas. What became apparent is that when principles of social cohesion are placed at the heart of policy making profound shifts can happen in the way that people are connected to others and to the institutions and organisations that serve them, enabling a deeper sense of belonging and connectedness.
For our midday plenary we were particularly delighted to welcome an inspiring panel of young ambassadors and youth leaders from Anne Frank Trust, Solutions Not Sides and Youth Sport Trust, carrying out anti-prejudice and bridging work in their communities. They were helping the conference to answer the question ‘How can we support the bridge builders of the future?’ One of the young ambassadors reflected in amazement, ‘When I spoke, everyone turned and listened to me!’ . We clearly need to listen more to young bridge builders and leaders. The ideas that were developed at that session will be circulated shortly.
Another delegate told the Belong team they had been feeling particularly isolated in their work – but felt they had ‘found their tribe’ among like-minded people. It is so important that we support those working on the frontline alongside communities and I am so glad we are able to provide that welcoming and supportive place.
Looking ahead it is clear that there are some new and emerging challenges to cohesion which need to be urgently addressed. Social cohesion is like a bank of social connection and trust that we need to ‘pay into’ regularly to build the resilience, trust and compassion which enables communities to withstand the challenges that come at them. You cannot repair division and reduce conflict when there is nothing in the ‘bank’.
The event on Wednesday was a chance to come together, create a shared voice, build our collective influence and hopefully replenish your own resilience. With a general election approaching there are valuable opportunities to influence policy makers and Belong will continue to advocate with our members to position social cohesion as a foundational policy area.
We will be building on Belonging 2023 throughout the next year with a further programme of events, research and partnerships. The Belong Network exists to improve the practice and transform the policy on social cohesion. If your organisation is not yet a member of our network and you would like to find out more, or there is an organisation you know who may benefit from joining Belong, please do get in touch – email@example.com.
CEO, The Belong Network