Our journey together to build cohesion and integration – an update from Belong Network CEO Jo Broadwood

Author: Belong Manager
Published: June 10, 2022

The past two years have heightened people’s desire for connection and community and often brought people together in a spirit of mutual aid, but it has also highlighted and exacerbated some of the divisions and inequalities which mark our society. The work that members of the Belong Network do to build a more inclusive, cohesive society has never been more important. 

With that in mind, here’s an update on what Belong Network and our members have achieved over the last 12 months – and our plans for the rest of 2022:

  • Our eighteen month research project Beyond Us and Them has provided us with a comprehensive understanding of the impact of the pandemic on social cohesion in Britain. The findings of the major report, released in November 2021, provide clear evidence of the positive impact that investing in cohesion can have. This work should provide an invaluable source of evidence for the local government sector and all of us working in cohesion and integration for years to come.
  • We have launched our Power of Sport digital toolkit, developed in conjunction with Sport England and Spirit of 2012, which will enable sports organisations to think more effectively about social cohesion in the design and evaluation of their programmes. Over 100 people attended the launch in December 2021 to find out more.
  • We launched our Radical Kindness programme, including hosting Radical Kindness Week in May 2021, which has highlighted and celebrated the work of individuals and organisations engaged in strengthening social connections and bridging divides at a time when this work was never more necessary.
  • We published the Together We Can Achieve Unity report, highlighting and sharing the excellent practice of nine organisations working in different ways to tackle race and faith hate crime.
  • We have maintained and strengthened our engagement with members, for example via our webinars and training programme Shared Ground which develops the skills and capacity of people to find shared ground in communities where there are tensions and difficulties.
  • At the same time we have been able to provide a range of bespoke consultancy services, heavily discounted to Belong Network members.

Building on success

During 2022 we are particularly focused on expanding our offer to members through building stronger, more active networks, increasing the scope for collaboration and sharing of best practice, and enabling a stronger collective voice on social cohesion. Our plans include:

  • Establishing and supporting a number of new ‘communities of practice’: collaborative networks within which organisations with a shared focus can come together to learn from one another and to develop their thinking and practice. We have begun by establishing communities of practice for local government, for sport and cohesion and for organisations with a focus on race and faith hate crime.
  • Development of new research and best practice guidance on how volunteering can best support social cohesion in conjunction with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and volunteering coalition Shaping The Future.
  • Belonging 2022: Leading on Social Cohesion, Belong Network’s flagship conference, will be held on Friday 16 September in central Manchester for Belong members, plus thought leaders in the cohesion and integration sector, to network and share best practice.
  • Everybody’s Business, the publication of best practice guidance on integration and cohesion for the business sector, in partnership with the Intercultural Cities Network.
  • We will continue to work with our members and the wider sports sector to embed principles of cohesion and inclusion into the design and delivery of sports and physical activity interventions.
  • Development of a local cohesion and integration index based on the Beyond Us and Them survey tool. This will help local areas identify strengths and areas for development in their local cohesion, to guide strategy and programme implementation, and provide a benchmark for assessing progress.
  • Further work to support leadership across all sectors to promote and develop cohesion and integration within workplaces, neighbourhoods and communities.

We hope this gives an idea of the scope of work going on to support our members to continue bridging divides and bringing people together – work which has never been more vital. If you’d like to find out more about any of the projects listed above, we’d love to hear from you – please reach out to us on Twitter, @BelongNetwork, or contact our membership and engagement manager, amy@belongnetwork.co.uk