Belong Network’s CEO Jo Broadwood and Head of Policy and Relationships Andrew Dixon spoke on the importance of using politics to build social cohesion and harness community power.
By Andrew Dixon, Belong Network
Belong Network were at last week’s Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, engaging stakeholders including shadow ministers, local government leaders and metro mayors – and emphasising the need for politics which brings people together.
Party conferences can be strange events – a rush of people, speeches and media – which can sometimes look far removed from the everyday realities of people’s lives and everyday work of all those involved in building more cohesive communities.
But these conferences can sometimes be invaluable means for charities and representative bodies to get their voices heard, to build bridges with policymakers and others, and help influence the conversations and thinking of those with the power to shape our lives and our work. As most experts believe Labour is very likely to form the next government, now is an important time to be engaging with Labour in these conversations.
Some of the events Belong attended reflect some of those conversations going on within Labour which are most relevant to Belong, its members and wider networks.
In a fringe event on empowering communities, we stressed the importance of politics which promote cohesion in enabling neighbourhoods to use community power in a way that will be most effective and most inclusive. The Labour Party has promised to bring in a Take Back Control Bill aimed at devolving more power to local communities. This could be a positive thing for all those involved in building stronger, more connected communities, but we need to do more to highlight the value of this work.
A Fabian Society panel discussion posed the provocative question ‘What’s more important: a strong state or strong communities?’ Many on the left of politics might traditionally have said the former, and one panellist said exactly that! Other panellists, including Brendan Cox from the /Together coalition, and Sunder Katwala from British Future, argued the case for strong, cohesive communities, which could be both enabled by a strong state, and which through an increased sense of connection and solidarity could ensure ongoing support for stronger welfare states and public services.
Another Fabian Society panel with Kim Leadbeater MP and Cllr Jane Scullion, Leader of Calderdale Council – a Belong Network member – looked at how to tackle loneliness. Coun Scullion highlighted the strong emphasis Calderdale had placed on tackling loneliness, and the centrality to this of community-run spaces and accessible, affordable public transport. This is the kind of joined up, ‘foundational’ approach to social connection that Belong would like to see adopted much more widely.
Belong also attended a fantastic event put on by Spirit of 2012 to celebrate the power of events to bring people together, to enable connection and create powerful shared experiences. We’ve been working closely with sports sector organisations in recent years to think about how we can maximise the impact which sport can have to bring people together and build connections. It is equally important to think about how we can draw on the experience of Spirit and others to understand how we maximise the positive longer term impact which events can have on our communities.