Community & culture

Study shows importance of strengthening communities as UK builds back

Major new study from CSJ and NatWest Group shows the importance of strengthening community as the UK builds back from the pandemic. 

Young people need more support in their communities

While those surveyed and interviewed for the report highlighted positive aspects of community spirit during the lockdown period, there are a number of aspects of community that younger generations especially feel need to be improved as we build back from the pandemic.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of people felt loneliness and isolation were a problem in their community – with younger people in particular (20% of 18-24 year olds) saying the problem had gotten worse in recent years. 

Young people also felt there was a lack of support around jobs, work experience, skills and training with 85% of 18-34 year olds feeling they couldn’t get advice on opportunities and business ideas in their local area. 

Young people were also more likely to say that, in recent years, they felt those in their community had lost the sense of feeling welcomed, and they felt less like they could be themselves in their local area—on this issue, there is a 15% gap between the oldest and youngest age category. 

The data found only 30 per cent of respondents feel that people in their area would help them during a difficult time, and close to a fifth feel their community has lost this sentiment in recent years. Among young people (under 35) this rises to more than a quarter.

Regional variations in community strength

A new Community Index maps each local constituency by their overall reported community strength, revealing significant estimated regional inequalities. The areas at the top of the league table are:  Arundel and the South Downs, Louth and Horncastle, East Devon, North Norfolk, and Clacton. Edinburgh North and Leith were also at the top of the list – one of the only cities to perform highly.

Those areas facing the biggest challenge in the research are more urban centres in London and the major cities - including Feltham and Heston, Manchester Central, Birmingham (Ladywood and Hodge Hill), East Ham, Lewisham and Luton South. 

The rankings are based on data examining the perceived strength of local communities, such as whether residents know their neighbours, can walk around the community comfortably, are willing to help other local people in need, have opportunities to join charity projects and recreational clubs, and do not feel lonely or isolated. 

Interestingly, more money does not seem to create strong communities: half of the areas that score highest in the Community Index have below-average income levels. Most of the top ten ranking places are rural and semi-rural areas with small towns. Many areas with low average incomes have very strong communities, and many of the highest-earning areas have very weak communities.

A localist agenda for the next generation

The CSJ report proposes a wide range of policies that the UK Government could use in its levelling-up agenda for strengthening communities at a very local level. It proposes transforming high streets into ‘hub streets’ to encourage social connectivity. It also emphasises the importance of enabling people to develop stability and rootedness in a local area—through stronger housing tenure, commissioning social work from local charities, and providing ‘family hubs’ — support services for family and social relationships. 

Community strength is so important for people to flourish. And the responsibility for building and sustaining community strength belongs to us all. 

Andy Cook
Chief Executive of the Centre for Social Justice

Andy continued:

“This report shines a light on those areas where communities are strongest and where they need more support. This report provides a roadmap showing the policies that government, business and individuals can adopt to develop strong communities.” 


NatWest Group CEO Alison Rose added: “Our Purpose is to champion potential - helping people, businesses and families to thrive. As we come out of what has been an unprecedented period of isolation and uncertainty for so many, the role of local communities has never been more important.  This report has highlighted a number of regional inequalities and shows us where local communities, most need support and innovative solutions to shared problems.  As one of the leading retail and commercial banks, we have a presence in local communities across the UK. We understand the challenges they are facing and the barriers that prevent them achieving their potential.  We are using this research to identify what further support we can provide as we build back from the pandemic and ensure that we are creating a fairer and more inclusive economy.” 

The full report is available here 

A fully interactive map of the UK showing the regional scores is available here

The Centre for Social Justice report

Download PDF (1.8MB)

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