London Councils

Summer 2009-Autumn 2011

The challenge

Outer London boroughs often have particular issues with cohesion, thanks to rapid population churn, and new communities moving out from the centre in recent years. This was especially true against the backdrop of the financial crash, in areas less used to migration.

Four outer London boroughs teamed up with the organisation London Councils, and asked us to work with them on strategies to address the issue. These were Sutton, Havering, Bexley and Barking & Dagenham, and the project was named the Capital Ambition programme.

How we approached it

We had already worked with Barking & Dagenham extensively on addressing cohesion, and the Capital Ambition flowed from the hypothesis we had developed during this work. There were four key areas of focus:

  • Developing a pro-cohesion narrative which chimed with the values of local people
  • Using peer-to-peer/ community communicator strategies
  • Emphasising the communications role of frontline staff and providing training
  • Working with councillors to re-engage alienated groups in the political process

The tender provided a menu of these different options, so each council struck a different balance based on what suited their area.

What happened

Levels of success and impact found different levels of success across different councils. But overall, evaluations found that the Capital Ambition approach had been successful in strengthening bonds of trust. In Bexley, for example, in the aftermath of a collapse in Thamesmead in the wake of a murder, a community communicator scheme was used to re-build relations with parts of the community where trust had evaporated (see a video here). There was also positive anecdotal evidence from Barking & Dagenham, where the methodology was used in the aftermath of the 2011 riots, and where the BNP were roundly beaten at the 2010 election. Following post-Brexit tensions, the final Capital Ambition report was re-circulated by London Councils.

They are flexible and fast. Above all they do what they say they will do and more. Working with them has significantly enhanced our understanding of the community and given us practical tools to get to grips with some of the most difficult issues.

Maureen Holkham, Deputy Director Policy and Communications, London Borough of Bexley.