Local links: Developing active networks in local communities

This 2008 report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports findings from the ‘Local Links’ programme that was set up in four areas of West Yorkshire to support active networking, skills development, and information sharing for local decision makers and active local citizens. The resource is useful for anybody interested in fostering citizen participation and creating a sense of community.

Date added 12 October 2021
Last updated 12 October 2021

*This resource is about community networks. It is not specifically about the High Street, but has been included in response to requests for more studies/information about this topic, as well as linking to networks and liveability priorities for High Street vitality and viability. This resource is more than 5 years old but has been included as it contains information that is still relevant and useful*

This report outlines findings from the 'Local Links’ programme that was set up by Common Purpose in four areas of West Yorkshire (Todmorden, Heckmondwike, Shipley, and Bradford BD5) to support active networking, skills development, and information sharing for local decision makers and active local citizens. The programme brought together 14-25 participants in each area comprising people active in community groups, voluntary sector bodies and businesses, and frontline public-sector workers. The programme comprised six sessions of 3-4 hours where local citizens could work together on local issues and projects, leaders and experts shared insights into the local area, and engagement in tasks to identify where people might exert influence on their local area.

The report assesses if the scheme was successful and the benefits it has brought for local communities. It covers benefits of informal networking in communities, ways of valuing diversity within communities, ways of overcoming barriers to citizen participation, and how the Local Links model is a model of good practice others can learn from. For example, it was found that the programme:

  • Enhanced networking in local communities and forged stronger links.
  • Built knowledge and understanding of the local area.
  • Enhanced the valuing of diversity and seeing things through others’ eyes.
  • Participants felt more motivated and confident in the local community.
  • Built up group trust so honest conversations could be had.
  • Projects and organisations benefited from increasing collaboration and recruiting volunteers and supporters.
  • Adaptability and responsiveness to local need was crucial to the programme’s success.

The resource also provides tips about introducing similar programmes in the future, including:

  • Spend time before the programme recruiting participants and ensuring diversity.
  • Use clear marketing material which emphasises networking and mutual support.
  • Value word of mouth and informal communications.
  • Encourage participation from excluded groups, for example through buddying schemes, mentoring, welcoming venues, and appropriate timings.
  • Consider group sizes – best to have at least 12 but not more than 40 participants.
  • Be flexible and sensitive to local issues and needs.
  • Value all participants’ ideas and opinions and enable them to express these.