The APPG for 'left behind' neighbourhoods was active between June 2020 and March 2024. This website will no longer be updated.

Local Trust is England’s biggest place-based funder, an independent trust responsible for the National Lottery Community Fund’s largest ever endowment of £217 million. It was set up in 2012 to administer and support the Big Local programme, the most significant example of building community confidence and capacity at the hyper-local level that the country has ever seen, with 150 disadvantaged communities each capitalised with patient, long-term and unrestricted funding of around £1.2million.

Importantly, the areas identified for funding were not just experiencing socio-economic deprivation, falling within the 20% most disadvantaged areas as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), but uniquely they were also Lottery ‘cold-spots’ — areas that had not received their fair share of funding. The aim of the Big Local programme is to support and invest in these communities and improve the lives of the people living there, not through the traditional approach of top-down state interventions, or parachuting in professionals to construct short-lived initiatives and then disappear when the ‘funny money’ runs out, but importantly — and radically — through funding resident-led community action over the course of a decade and more.

The outcomes of the programme reflect the ethos of an approach that is rooted in trust: trusting local people to know best what is needed for their local community, granting them the money and resources needed to make a difference, and giving them the power to take the decisions over how to spend it. The four overarching programme goals are therefore deliberately broad:

  • Communities will be better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them.
  • People will have increased skills and confidence, so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future.
  • The community will make a difference to the needs it prioritises.
  • People will feel that their area is an even better place to live.

As Local Trust began working on the ground with local people, community groups and other stakeholders to support the creation of resident-led Big Local partnerships, it found that in some communities it was harder to kick-start the process than others. These were the places that had low levels of community capacity, reflected in a lack of social infrastructure that underpins modern life and which many of us take for granted — the open and accessible spaces and places for people to meet and come together, such as libraries, community centres, parks, pubs, and leisure facilities. They also had lower levels of the groups, organisations and institutions that connect people with each other and to opportunities, and which help to build and support bridging, bonding, and linking forms of social capital.

‘The observable economic decline and disinvestment in ‘left-behind’ areas, together with growing social isolation and fraying of the social fabric, underlines the need to develop social infrastructure in these areas.’

Local Trust began to dig further, exploring the vital role that social infrastructure and social capital play in the sustainability, prosperity and wellbeing of local areas. Following foundational research with Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) and the creation of the Community Needs Index (CNI) as a cutting-edge approach to measuring social infrastructure at the hyper-local level in 2019, Local Trust published Left Behind: Understanding Communities on the Edge.1 Reflecting Local Trust’s experience with the Big Local programme, it demonstrated how communities that were not only deprived but also suffered from a lack of civic assets, low levels of community engagement and poor digital and physical connectivity experienced worse outcomes across a range of metrics, from health to employment and education, when compared not only with the national average but also with other deprived areas.

As a foundational piece of research, it was intended as a contribution to the growing debate around how to improve the prospects of places that — through no fault of their own — have increasingly been referred to as ‘left behind’. While recognising that the term is contentious (and is shorthand for those economically disadvantaged areas overlooked or ignored by policy-makers and investors — and, perhaps paradoxically, like ‘levelling up’, can also mean different things to different people), for the work of Local Trust, and the All- Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods for which it serves as secretariat, it means a very specific cohort of communities.

Overlaying the CNI (referenced in the Levelling Up White Paper as an objective way of measuring social capital) with the IMD led to the identification of 225 wards that are not only among the most 10% deprived in the country, but are also in the 10% of areas with the highest levels of community need. Often found on the periphery — on the edge of towns and cities, in isolated and rural former colliery communities in the post-industrial North and Midlands, or scattered along the English coast — they are communities for which local centres for employment, shopping and services are (or feel like they are) a long way away, and which, owing to poor or expensive public transport and lack of car ownership, can be rendered inaccessible.

Research carried out for the APPG has shown just how uniquely vulnerable ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods are, suffering as they do from a deficit in social infrastructure and correspondingly less scope for communities to take positive action to counter local challenges. From experiencing the biggest impact of Covid-19, to exposure to the threats posed by climate change and being uniquely vulnerable to the cost of living crisis, ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods lose out. For example, to date, ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods have received fewer grants per 10,000 population than other deprived areas and England as a whole. In terms of the amount of grant-funding from key charitable grant-funders between 2004 to 2021, ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods received £7.77 per head — less than half the proportion received by other deprived areas (£19.31) and below the English average as a whole (£12.23).2

Fig. 1 shows the number of grants from key grant-funders per 10,000 population to ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, other deprived areas and England as a whole, based on data collected by grants data charity 360Giving on all grants and the amounts given by UK funders. The figures are based on the location of the recipient organisation and include grants from 88 funders.

The costs of missing out and the impacts of worse outcomes are likely to be significant. For example, APPG research found that tackling health disparities will not only improve lives but will also bring significant savings to the taxpayer. If the health outcomes in local authorities that contain ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods were brought up to the same level as in the rest of the country, an extra £29.8 billion could be put into the country’s economy from the resultant savings.3

In 2023 Local Trust will be seeking to quantify the failures to invest in ‘left behind’ areas and their implications for public sector spending, as well as what targeted support to communities to address local issues can achieve as a preventative measure in terms of reducing demand on public services. This work will build on the findings of a study conducted by Frontier Economics for Local Trust which, using conservative estimates, shows that a £1 million investment in community-led social infrastructure in a ‘left behind’ area could generate approximately £1.2 million of fiscal benefits and £2 million of social and economic benefits over a 10-year period.4

The observable economic decline and disinvestment in ‘left behind’ areas, together with growing social isolation and fraying of the social fabric, underlines the need to develop social infrastructure in these areas. Not only is this morally the right thing to do, but it is a prerequisite for any other government levelling-up interventions, focused on local economic development, to have any chance of success.

That is why in recent years Local Trust has led work with partners across the public, private and social sectors to campaign for a new investment vehicle: the Community Wealth Fund (CWF). Inspired by the ethos, approach and principles of the Big Local programme, and informed by lessons learned from previous regeneration initiatives, as explored in the key research Local Trust commissioned from the University of Cambridge,5 the CWF would invest over the long term (10-15 years), directly at the hyper-local level, in social infrastructure and community-led confidence- and capacity-building.

As a new mechanism for investing in ‘left behind’ areas, providing targeted, patient and unrestricted support beyond the electoral cycle and the changing priorities of local and central government, it could be a game-changer in terms of how we approach community renewal and neighbourhood regeneration.

At the time of writing, the government is expected to announce whether it will support this approach through the use of dormant assets funding early in 2023.

1  Left Behind? Understanding Communities on the Edge. Local Trust, Sept. 2019. understanding-communities-on-the-edge/
2  ‘Left Behind’ Neighbourhoods: Community Data Dive. OCSI, Nov. 2020. Dive-Report-for-APPG-S7.pdf
3  Overcoming Health Inequalities in ‘Left Behind’ Neighbourhoods. All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on ‘Left Behind’ Neighbourhoods, Jan. 2022. Inequalities.pdf
4  The Impacts of Social Infrastructure Investment. Frontier Economics, for Local Trust, Jun. 2021. Frontier-Economics_the-impacts-of-social- infrastructure-investment.pdf
5  Achieving Local Economic Change: What Works? Cambridge University Department of Land Economy, for Local Trust, Oct. 2019. change_Oct_2019.pdf

This piece was originally published in the Town and Country Planning Association January – February 2023 journal, which showcases research on ‘held back’ places, community-powered devolution, local planning and climate change and can be found on pages 32-35. 

Read the full publication