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

Following the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper in February 2022, the APPG launched its inquiry into levelling up to examine the interventions needed to regenerate ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across England.

Over the past 12 months the Group has heard from 21 expert witnesses as part of its sessions in Parliament, received 45 evidence submissions from across civil society, universities and think tanks, local government and the third sector, and held three workshops to test emerging policy ideas – bringing together community perspectives and practitioners working in this space.

In doing so, the inquiry process has built upon the APPG’s existing evidence base and investigated the extent to which the White Paper’s policy programme aligns with the needs and aspirations of residents in the most deprived and ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. It has also highlighted the interventions needed to ‘level up’ these areas over the long term.

One clear message the APPG received was that for positive and lasting change to be achieved, community voices need to be front and centre. Top-down interventions, while well intentioned, can have limited impact when implemented without sufficient input or engagement from the communities they are intended to serve.

A witness at an inquiry session reflected that, “We are poor in comparison to other areas [but] residents often say they’re not poor, but resources have been spent without their aspirations being considered.” Prioritising the perspectives of external stakeholders or policymakers over those of local residents can lead to a lack of trust and a feeling of being ‘done to’. In contrast, when communities are given the appropriate support and resources, they can generate innovative and responsive solutions to local needs.

This has been clearly demonstrated through the Big Local programme, where resident-led decision making has produced transformative change in 150 neighbourhoods across England. Members of the APPG heard examples of Big Local projects, including the creation of an innovation hub to help local people start their own businesses and a centre of social enterprise to support adults with learning disabilities. Resident-led partnerships have also led initiatives which have helped jumpstart local provision, such as a surplus food project in Reading, youth mental health support in Ewanrigg, and a successful campaign to save a local bus service in Ramsey.

These and other examples have provided members with valuable insight on what can happen when community voices are amplified and lead in the decision-making process. Speaking on the importance of empowering communities to make change in their local areas, one witness said:

“I think if you just trust in people, see them as the lived experts and not dismiss them, then who knows what […] they can achieve.”

The inquiry has also highlighted the importance of effective partnership working – between residents, different tiers of government, and statutory agencies alike – in building strong, cohesive and prosperous communities.

While the specific characteristics of an area should always guide funding allocations and new initiatives, ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across the country face shared challenges, including those arising from a lack of social infrastructure and poor connectivity – both transport and digital. This can mean communities are less resilient and constrain access to work, education and other key services or opportunities. Responding to these challenges should therefore be a priority, and resident groups can play an important convening function bringing together different groups, agencies and organisations to address them.

Many experts also reinforced the need to reflect and learn from previous regeneration initiatives, which can provide a strong foundation for identifying ‘what works’. For example, there is a strong link between effective community-led regeneration and pride in place, which can be seen in improvements in how people feel about their local area. This also has knock-on impacts in other spheres, such as positive health outcomes resulting from better housing or an improved local physical environment.

Access to flexible funding is often vital for residents to begin to take action and to ensure their efforts have the greatest impact within their communities. Traditional funding streams can be competitive – requiring a complicated application process – or come with restrictive conditions or timescales which do not allow for the refinement of objectives over time. As previous research for the APPG has shown, this can disadvantage ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods which often have depleted levels of social capital or may need a longer timeframe to develop their confidence and skills.

One year on from publication, the Levelling Up White Paper’s ambition to “spread opportunity more equally across the UK” is still yet to be fully realised. In the coming months the APPG will be releasing its final report from the inquiry, which will propose additional measures and policy recommendations to support a long-term, positive programme of change for communities with the most need.

Tilly Steward is the Senior Policy and Parliamentary Officer at Local Trust.