Sustainable Communities Summit – Thursday 6 November, London

Following yet another arduous (and again delayed) journey into central London courtesy of South East trains, I finally made it to Church House for the Sustainable Communities Summit.

‘Sustainable Communities 2008: A Shared Strategy for the Future’ aimed to address how a range of agendas link together in order to provide a comprehensive picture of the skills and strategies required for future progress in making places and creating sustainable communities.

Quite a task! Speakers on the plenary programme covered a wide range of themes and issues in the context of sustainable communities including community cohesion, housing, the planning process and eco-towns. A copy of the full programme can be found here.

A range of workshops also took place and I attended the session organised and hosted by Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE). As one of our key stakeholders we already work closely with ACRE on a range of issues, most recently on community anchors and also promoting community led planning (CLP).

The workshop was led by Sylvia Brown OBE, chief executive, ACRE, and also included a short contribution from Ian Hatton, senior regeneration manager, Essex county council.

The seminar explored how best practice in engaging with local communities through use of community led planning can support local government’s duty to involve and provide added benefits in generating sustainable community action.

Local people in 4000 communities across England already use community led planning to work in partnership with their local authorities to help shape the future of their local area. With the help of external facilitators, they organise dialogue within their communities to explore a sustainable future for the services and facilities within their local area and how local people and groups can contribute to making that vision a reality.

Community led planning is a step-by-step structured process to empowerment. It considers the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of the community and all those who live and work there. Dialogue within the community increases local people’s understanding of the needs of all residents, particularly those disadvantaged by lack of mobility, lack of employment, or marginalised for other reasons. External facilitation and involvement of local authority officers, public service providers and elected members happens throughout the process, providing the bridge with wider community engagement strategies.

Community-led planning delivers three types of outcome:
– initiatives that local people and groups can do for themselves;
– actions that can be done by local groups, but which need some external resources;
– priority issues on which to influence public authorities and service providers.

In many local authority areas, community led planning is now embedded as part of the landscape of relationships between citizens, communities and local government. It has delivered Beacon status to councils for their community engagement strategies. The scale of participation and range of local actions that have been generated show how communities can be empowered when they are encouraged to take on the challenge themselves.

At the workshop ACRE also launched a new online resource on CLP. More information on this new comprehensive guide to CLP can be found on the NALC website here.


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