A new report by community charity Groundwork sets out what works in helping to empower communities to take action on poverty and the environment – something that will be vital if we’re going to deliver promises to level up and make a ‘just transition’ to net zero.

The ‘From the Ground Up: empowering communities through environmental action’ report is being published in Groundwork’s 40th year of operations – and demonstrates the benefits of tackling poverty and environmental issues through community-centred approaches.

The report sets out five key ingredients for successful community projects as well as evidencing the wider benefits this approach can bring to address health and social inequalities, supporting a just transition to a low carbon economy and ultimately levelling up the country:

  • Project longevity: having enough time to develop trust and deep local networks
  • Community hubs: having space to meet and develop relationships
  • Acting as mediators and capacity builders: providing an interface between local people and services and equipping communities to take a more active role in their delivery
  • Variety and detail: offering a range of activities to promote inclusion and paying attention to the ‘little things’ that make people feel valued
  • Building the communities workforce: having staff who understand the issues communities face and are expert in supporting empowerment

Insight from the report includes examples of good practices and models of working to show the variety of ways in which community empowerment can be achieved through nurturing social and environmental infrastructure.

Examples of how this is achieved on projects that take on board environmental issues are also highlighted in the report, such as Communities Prepared – a climate resilience programme equipping community volunteer groups across the country with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to prepare for, respond to and recover from flooding, snow, storms, public health, and other emergencies.

Hannah Baker, Communities Prepared Programme Manager, said:

“Communities Prepared has been running for over six years now, starting out as a regional pilot in the south-west of England and now being delivered nationwide. This has given us the opportunity to work with a range of communities and wider stakeholders to understand how we can help empower communities in the best possible way; whether that’s through providing training and wider support, enabling them to grow their volunteer capacity, or making links with key local agencies. Having the time to learn through experience and develop the programme and its networks has been key to ensuring that Communities Prepared is effectively helping communities to become more resilient to the challenges they face.”

The report also sets out the need for greater investment in professional support for community action as part of wider plans to tackle health inequalities, ‘level up’ the country and mobilise public engagement in the climate and nature emergencies.

Graham Duxbury, Groundwork’s UK Chief Executive, said:

“The case for empowering communities to drive improvements in the social, environmental and economic fabric of their areas has been won. From parks to pubs to neighbourhood plans, there are countless examples of communities stepping up to make a difference. Studies and evaluations consistently demonstrate that this approach fosters better results, but that people often need support to make the most of the opportunity. If we’re serious about ‘levelling up’ the country, shifting the focus of our health system so that it prioritises keeping people well and kickstarting a mass movement for climate action, then we need to put the professional support in place to ensure every community can fulfil its potential and actively engage.”