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  • Grainne O'Dwyer

Restitch: Social Fabric Summit - putting social connection on the agenda

On Tuesday we attended the Restich: Social Fabric Summit at the scenic Church Hall in Westminster. The day was thought provoking, with a variety of speakers from different spheres from local government, to think tanks, to the Minister for Health and Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard university. As an organisation focused on promoting social connection, the very idea of having such a summit is both exciting and encouraging. Even more encouraging is how well it aligned with our current thinking and streams of work using big data, ethnography and trials to elevate lesser heard voices and reclaim local power.

Another stand out was the diversity of attendees with representation from central government departments, local authorities, private sector organisations, third sector groups and much more. For us this is an indicator of the appetite for promoting stronger social fabric and greater social connections within communities, and this not being seen as a one sided problem that falls to one or two actors to address and promote. We can achieve much more in this space working in partnership than we ever could alone.

Some particular moments/learnings that stood out to me include:

  • Professor Michael Sandel’s discussion around the need to value roles in society in a more equal manner and beyond market value. He argued that it is not true that a Hedgefund manager contributes 8x more to society than a refuse staff member, but if we look at it in terms of how much the market values them (i.e. how much they get paid) then that is the evaluation a person might make. His thinking echos our belief around the need to elevate the role of essential workers in society, which is a key aim of our Essential Mix project where we seek to create more positive and frequent interactions between residents and essential workers. His talk has inspired us to think further about how else we might elevate the status of these workers as part of and beyond this project.

  • A break out group discussing the role of local businesses in fostering community, focused heavily on what businesses as institutions/spaces can do to promote a sense of community, with little reference to the power of the people who make up these businesses and their role in fostering a sense of community. It is our view that staff are integral to driving a sense of community in place and we plan to explore this engagement with Tesco staff in Glasgow as part of our Essential Mix project.

  • The Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care Sajid Javid MP, spoke about community health and championed the importance of social capital but flagged challenges in measuring this important metric. Our Revealing Social Capital project aims to do just that, seeking to explore where pockets of social capital exist in communities and how these organisations/spaces can be bolstered and supported.

  • Matt Leach of the Local Trust highlighted the value of focusing on the small street level stuff in promoting community power. This really resonates with our view on the small but mighty power of bringing together street/block neighbours in tackling local issues but also in connecting with one another. We are particularly interested in the power of street/block level WhatsApp groups and the potential they hold for community action.

My concluding thought on the day was that it is really great to hear so much good intention for promoting strong social fabric and social connection, but it is important that action follows words and in particular in actioning the Levelling Up White Paper. We see this is a unique moment in time to help shape the future of stronger and more connected communities, and it is our hope that the government will shape policy to realise this potential.

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