Understanding community resilience in our towns

Based on the Hopeful Towns Project, this comprehensive report reveals the challenges towns in England and Wales face around resilience and social cohesion, arguing that a place-based approach is needed to address such issues, recognising social, economic, cultural and geographical factors. A towns index is provided for all English and Welsh towns, identifying 14 ‘clusters’ of resilience issues.

Date added 2 September 2020
Last updated 2 September 2020

Based on the Hopeful Towns Project, this comprehensive report from the HOPE not hate Charitable Trust reveals the particular challenges they suggest towns in England and Wales face around resilience. As the authors argue, “as the country looks to rebuild following the coronavirus pandemic, there is an urgent need for a ‘towns moment’” (p.6), suggesting that a place-based approach is needed considering the multiple social, economic, cultural and geographical factors at play. Indeed, the authors stress that “...no two towns are the same. Towns should not be a proxy for ‘left behind’. Each has a different geography, population, and history” (p. 10). With a particular focus on social inclusion and diversity, the report identifies several key factors informing a town’s resilience levels (p.4):

  • the extent to which a place is confident, open and optimistic
  • how adaptive the community is to change, shocks, and shifts
  • how much trust there is between people; and
  • how positive residents are about racial and cultural difference.

Drawing on over 100 data variables for all of the towns across England and Wales, the report provides a towns index, identifying 14 'clusters’ of factors which can undermine a town’s resilience and create hostility towards social diversity. Towns can fit into multiple of the below clusters, with more clusters leading to more challenges in building resilience:

The 14 challenges to resilience

  1. Traditional demographics - community demographics lacking in diversity  
  2. Visible decline - social problems and public realm issues visible
  3. Shrinking and ageing - existential issues about town’s future and fears of change
  4. Uncertain industrial futures - lack of immediate prospects fuelling uncertainty
  5. Cross-cutting deprivation - lack of access to basic resources
  6. Competition for resources - economic pressures and narratives of scarcity
  7. Rapid change - Flux in demographics causing tensions between existing and new residents
  8. Migration in the community - patterns of migration heightening change and tensions
  9. Authoritarian footprint - pre-existing organisational foundations hostile to diversity
  10. Strong national identity - strong feelings of nationalism
  11. Fewer cultural opportunities - few options for self-expression
  12. Fewer heritage ‘assets’- an unclear place identity unwelcoming to new people
  13. Less connected - the town is geographically remote and disconnected
  14. Coastal challenges - social challenges and fears of further deterioration.

The report provides guidance as to what these clusters mean, which and how many towns fit into these clusters, and potential solutions to enhance town resilience.

5 ways to enhance town resilience

  1. A more joined-up approach between towns facing similar challenges
  2. Collaboration and sharing of best practice between towns
  3. Establishing towns as the primary unit, with localised issues considered
  4. Targeted place-based interventions within towns
  5. Promoting an ‘every town counts’ ethos.

Overall, the report calls for the creation of “...places that are confident, optimistic and welcoming - ensuring that everyone can access opportunities...” (p. 10). And the towns index outlined in depth, alongside case studies and charts, can "provide an invaluable resource for policy makers interested in improving the lives of the 33 million people who call the towns of England and Wales home” (p.14).