Give communities control instead of talking about ‘failing towns’, says Co-op Group

'We want communities everywhere to aspire and flourish. To achieve that they need to be heard and they need to be in control of their future'

The “worst” places to live in the UK outperform other towns on key wellbeing criteria, according to new data from a public barometer of community life set up by the Co-op Group.  

The Community Wellbeing Index reveals a number of positive features of the UK’s so-called “failing towns” and the Group says it offers an extra source of insight for local authorities, charities and individuals to better prioritise their resources.  

The Index enables people to go online and compare their community with 28,000 others across the country. It shows that every community in the country has its strengths as well as areas for development, despite the prevailing narrative of towns in decline. 

Referring to a survey by satirical website iLiveHere to find the ten worst places to live in the UK, the Index found that all those listed – Peterborough, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Rochdale, Rotherham, Nottingham, Keighley, Wakefield, Stoke on Trent and Halifax – score well over the UK average in several defining features of community wellbeing.

These include ‘Education and Learning’ (covering school access and quality, plus adult education facilities and libraries) and ‘Transport, Mobility and Connectivity’ (public transport, internet connections and speed) according to the Index.  

The Co-op Group’s data shows all of the towns score well above the UK average for ‘Public Transport’, ‘Public Spaces’, ‘Social Spaces’, ‘Green Spaces’ and ‘Areas for Leisure’, with good levels of community outdoor and indoor space and numerous cultural activities that help people come together. 

Nottingham, Keighley and Wakefield score very well for ‘Health’, meaning the towns have good access to health services. Huddersfield, Nottingham and Halifax have particularly high scores on community heritage and culture, which is fundamental to developing a sense of community belonging and shared history.

Steve Murrells, Co-op Group CEO, said, “We’ve got to put to an end to this notion that there are ‘worst’ places to live. It’s simply not right. Our Index shows that every single community in the UK has something going for it.

“We want communities everywhere to aspire and flourish. To achieve that they need to be heard and they need to be in control of their future. This is what ‘taking back control’ has to look like if we’re to build a post-Brexit Britain that is more inclusive and more united.

“While one third of communities have below average wellbeing, our Index offers invaluable information that can power greater cooperation among community leaders, local and national authorities, as well as individuals and businesses. Together we can improve every local community in the UK.” 

Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of the social care enterprise Turning Point, chair of the social enterprise Collaborate and independent non-executive director of the Co-op, said: “It is all too easy for places that are deteriorating to become victims of failing town syndrome and quickly descend into a spiral of decline. 

“Once a town or city has been labelled an undesirable location this can become self-prophesising as locals express their negativity in damaging subjective surveys of the worst places to live. 

“The Co-op’s authoritative Index shows that wellbeing is multi-faceted and everywhere has aspects of which it can be proud. These aspects are basis from which targeted investment can then made into the areas in need of more support.  Approaching it from this basis provides the means for wellbeing to be improved locally, regionally and nationally in the years ahead”. 

More than 30 charities and local authorities across the UK have used data from Co-op Community Wellbeing Index to prioritise decision-making, funding and resources to enhance the positive aspects within the community and tackle those in need of improvements. 

Nancy Hey, director of What Works Centre for Wellbeing, said: “Using robust measures and getting data to neighbourhood level – as the Index does – is an important step towards improving community wellbeing in an evidence-informed way’ The Co-op is now calling on government, local authorities, community groups and people who want to make a difference to use the online tool to better understand what’s important in different communities and the areas to focus action.

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