I wanted to share for posterity a speech I made giving the annual ‘thriving neighbourhoods’ update in Council last year.
I’m glad that attention is turning to ‘place making’ at what feels like an emerging national consensus for a time for renewal. The three critical elements of the environment, community and housing are something that has perhaps not been considered as it should have been until the result was deleterious enough. (‘So it is when a man’s body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health.’ G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1906)
You can view it here: (at least until July 2020!)
And a transcript:
“One of the challenges for Rother Vale ward as a neighbourhood unit is with its
vast geographical spread and varied composition of different villages, hamlets
and communities. Are they one or several neighbourhoods? Do they work
together, or (as is often the case) do they compete?
Another challenge is understanding or attempting to define what is truly
meant by a neighbourhood. There’s no consensus answer in sociology,
philosophy or urban planning. Given then that neighbourhood is often an
artificial construct, meaning a variety of physical and social characteristics,
how can we objectively and consistently measure whether said
neighbourhoods are thriving, or deteriorating? This is a challenge for working
in a framework such as this, whereby we seek to empower local communities
with limited resources and demonstrating impact is fundamental.
Academic debate aside, most people feel they intuitively understand these
boundaries and measures, in the shape of either a ‘good neighbourhood’ with
friendly, neighbourly interactions, security, gathering places and a clean,
attractive environment – or in a “bad neighbourhood”, with dereliction, low
trust, anti-social interaction, and isolation.
People spend the majority of their lives in their neighbourhood. Particularly
the older generations whom travel for work less and are often physically less
mobile. An understanding of the mechanisms through which neighbourhood
environments affect people’s lives is a crucial issue for civic society as a whole.
For many in my ward, particularly in the former pit villages, workers have had
good reason to feel left behind, and have good reason to worry about
inequality, corporate power and whether our government are even listening. I
stand by and with those whom consider it the raw end of a deal; a broken
settlement, where London gets a lot and the North, and Rotherham, gets little.
The local reflects the national picture in this respect.
A study has shown that for people living in deprived areas, the quality and
aesthetics of neighbourhoods are associated with mental wellbeing, but so too
are feelings of respect, status and progress that may be derived from how
places are created, serviced and talked about by those who live there.
Interventions that lead to a sense that the community has been ‘invested in,’
may have potential to improve quality of life, neighbourhood pride, and
perhaps facilitate health behaviour change for people.
The projects and initiatives that we as councillors are able to effect within the
parameters of neighbourhood working may be modest. Nevertheless the many
qualities that combine to create a thriving neighbourhood are interwoven and
mutually dependent, and a small, inexpensive, local initiative can have an
outsize effect. We have endeavoured to bring about projects with Rother Vale’s
people in heart and mind. When it comes to neighbourhood well-being, it’s all
connected, and support for (or neglect of) one affects all the others.
To conclude, we must never forget that governments, including local ones, are
elected by a specific people in a specific place, and must meet the people’s
needs – including the most important of their needs, which is the need to be
bound to their neighbours in a relation of trust. Most people don’t only think
about GDP, they care deeply about things like identity, community, belonging
and tradition. And they are driven by things like recognition, voice and
Perhaps this is the threshold of knowing what we aim for with thriving