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

Our vision for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods

The APPG wants a future where ‘left behind’ communities and the places in which they live are transformed, making them models of resilience and adaptability.

We want to see the best-case scenario that we identify in this report becoming reality, where:

  • Government rethinks and refreshes their current policy objectives and approaches with new underpinning
  • principles which are specifically designed to benefit ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across the country
  • It adjusts its approach to making funding decisions to account for the very different starting positions of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, ensuring early investment in the necessary building blocks for community-led change
  • New processes are developed to harness the experience and capacity of local people at the neighbourhood level in every stage of policy development, from conception, to design, and delivery
  • Local residents are encouraged, incentivised, and supported to engage in decision-making processes and take ownership of their community’s development
  • A solid foundation for sustainable growth and regeneration is created through long- term investments
  • Young people get a fair chance to develop their skills and prepare for rewarding careers through quality education and training programmes
  • Adults in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods are offered bespoke pathways to high- quality technical qualifications and adult education programmes, allowing them to up-skill, re-skill, and take new employment opportunities
  • Good jobs become available so that people don’t need to leave in search of opportunities
  • Access to quality healthcare and social services helps address long-standing health disparities.

As the lives of people in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods improve, the whole country benefits from the transformation both regionally and nationally.

“Although on a day-to-day basis we are busy dealing with people’s immediate needs, we know that if we want to improve the lives of residents in the long term, we need to work on the bigger picture. This is to raise aspirations and be a representative voice for Revoe. That means empowering and enabling people to be involved in strategic conversations.”

Angie Buss, Blackpool Revoe Big Local, oral evidence to inquiry session three

Learning from what works

Since the 1980s, successive governments have sought to include communities and local stakeholders in regeneration efforts. A rapid review of evidence conducted by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research on the impact of English regeneration policy over the past 40 years found that community-led partnerships adopting a strategic, holistic approach to area regeneration in deprived areas have achieved positive change (Local Trust, 2019b).The most impactful initiatives have been long-term, with opportunities for residents to influence the decision-making process. Similarly, Onward’s analysis of national and international regeneration schemes found that those with the most success focused on smaller geographic areas such as neighbourhoods, invested in community capacity over the long-term, and helped communities take ownership of local assets (Onward, 2021).

We know that when community regeneration happens, it restores pride in place. The biggest changes that we see in areas where community regeneration happens are in relation to the way that people feel about the places that they live.

Professor Sarah Pearson, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, oral evidence to inquiry session three

Yet community-led regeneration remains the exception rather than the rule when it comes to neighbourhood- based improvement programmes. This is particularly the case for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, which generally lack the flexible, long-term funding and policy support needed to transform local conditions. There is clearly scope to expand on current levels of community mobilisation; the proportion of ‘left behind’ residents participating in community groups is significantly lower than the national average (OCSI, 2020a). Charitable and third sector organisations are also less than half as likely to have a presence in these neighbourhoods, compared to the England- wide average (OCSI, 2020a).

To kick-start local change, the government should re-imagine its levelling up agenda with more powers devolved more locally, including directly to communities themselves. Funding should be allocated and managed in very different ways, with resources held and deployed by communities within a framework of tailored support, capacity-building and enablement. We must underpin these changes with a major cultural shift in our institutions and policymaking.

That's one of the great things about community-led action: it can experiment, it can make mistakes, it can seek forgiveness not permission, in a way that local authorities can't.

Toby Lloyd, housing and regeneration policy expert, oral evidence to inquiry session three

About the Big Local programme

Representatives of Big Local partnerships and other community groups gave evidence to the inquiry, illustrating what local area-based community-led change projects could achieve with the right policy environment and funding support from government and others.

They provide case studies of the kinds of transformational outcomes that can be achieved in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods when communities are enabled, trusted and funded to pursue their own priorities.

Case Studies

Revoelution, Blackpool

Dover Big Local

East Marsh United

Gaunless Gateway Big Local

Building blocks for local transformation

The community groups giving evidence to the inquiry showcased the potential in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods if they are given the necessary support, resources and autonomy. Once these conditions are met, communities will often make choices that enhance local economic development, such as:

  • investing in apprenticeship schemes and community-based skills training
  • supporting important local services like transport schemes
  • encouraging new employers to relocate to their area
  • providing micro-grants or targeted support for sustainable enterprises (Centre for Local Economic Strategies, 2020).

Oral and written evidence to the inquiry welcomed the positive impact of initiatives like social prescribing, an approach connecting people to activities, groups, and services in their community to meet the practical, social and emotional needs affecting their health and wellbeing. However, these efforts can falter in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods because of limited investment, public services and the lack of social infrastructure there to support it (Coalfields Regeneration Trust, 2023).

It is crucial that these building blocks are put in place wherever they are missing – for example by addressing the lack of green spaces in many ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and investing in community buildings (Fields in Trust, 2023). Only then will ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods be able to benefit from the kinds of policy and funding support the government has tended to prefer so far in its levelling up agenda.

20 per cent, and that's a conservative estimate, of GP appointments are for social determinants. They are for issues like loneliness, social isolation, stress as a result of financial issues, debt relief, and so on. That’s 30 million appointments a year. Social prescribing is about offering non- medical interventions to support those unmet needs.

Jim Burt, National Academy for Social Prescribing, oral evidence to inquiry session one

Communities also have unique local expertise about assets of particular value which policymakers should tap into to transform ‘left behind’ places. Communities will invest – again, where sufficient support, resources, and autonomy are in place – to safeguard these assets, creating the core of more dynamic and resilient local economic development. Community businesses and other kinds of groups take on treasured neighbourhood assets – from boating lakes to pubs and community hubs – which then function as footholds for local wealth generation (Power to Change, 2023; Plunkett Foundation, 2023).

Improving place-based outcomes can also help to drive the long-term economic strength of a place. Where young people are able to build strong social networks, they will be more likely to view living in their home town after school or further education as a positive choice (Foundational Economy, 2022). Promoting the development of social infrastructure would enhance this social connection, and help engender a sense of civic pride. This, in turn, has been shown to drive higher levels of community mobilisation, creating a virtuous circle of improvement in local conditions (Collins, 2016).

By addressing these unique challenges and investing in crucial local social infrastructure, policymakers can turbo-charge existing efforts to disrupt cycles of disadvantage and allow individuals to contribute meaningfully to their communities and the wider economy. The impact of tapping into these reservoirs of potential could be significant and far-reaching (Social Mobility Commission, 2022).

Setting the stage for national transformation

Improving outcomes in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods will lead to benefits that will be felt far beyond their immediate residents and help achieve the government’s wider policy goals. Investing in these neighbourhoods will stimulate innovation and economic growth in areas that have historically been overlooked. Building local opportunities could put an end to entrenched or multi-generational disadvantage and inequality, retain talent and increase possibilities for these communities. Transformation of this kind means creating attractive places to live that offer a good-quality environment, a selection of social, leisure and other opportunities, and a sense of local belonging and pride (Bennett Institute, 2021).

Evidence heard over the course of the inquiry referenced the potential of a Community Wealth Fund to generate positive change in deprived and ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. Indeed, recent analysis found that a £1m investment in community-led social infrastructure in a ‘left behind’ neighbourhood could yield a return of as much as £3.2m in socioeconomic benefits over the course of a decade. These could include increased employment, boosted public health, additional value from wealth creation and economic activity; alongside reduced costs from crime and reduced demand on public services (Frontier Economics, 2021).

‘Softer’ outcomes, such as reduced loneliness or improved social cohesion, are harder to factor into an economic analysis – but are no less real or important. For example, heightened community participation has been shown to help tackle some important causes of poor mental health by reducing isolation and loneliness (Britton, 2020). In Wigan, the ‘Deal’ approach saw a combination of increased community engagement and leadership, alongside innovative practices in citizen-driven public health, yield an important increase in healthy life expectancy (Naylor et al., 2019). Analysis shows that investment in ‘quality of place’ in a deprived neighbourhood could lead to above-average improvements in place- based outcomes (Naylor et al., 2019).

Going back to this idea of effective community hubs, in many instances what I would be saying is that the community hub is an engine room for social prescribing. Not only does it provide the services and the social capital but it often does that in a really innovative way. That’s where the innovation is, right there at the local level.

Jim Burt, National Academy for Social Prescribing, oral evidence to inquiry session one

As this evidence indicates, transforming the fates of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and the life chances of local residents could also lead to a reduction in demand on public services (Demos, 2023). By addressing the root causes of disadvantage and inequality, fewer resources would be needed to provide support in areas such as health, education, and social care (APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, 2022b). This could have multiple knock-on benefits, including cost savings for taxpayers, more efficient use of public resources, and improved outcomes for individuals and communities. For example, the Marmot review found a correlation between greater community leadership and reductions in many sources of poor public health (Marmot et al., 2020).

More resilient communities in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods would be better equipped to respond to major challenges and step up in times of crisis, ensuring better social outcomes across the country (Tiratelli et al., 2020).

In all these ways, transforming ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods could produce a foundation for renewed national prosperity. By improving economic outcomes and productivity in these places, we can achieve a more prosperous and equitable society. Previous APPG research suggests that, in health outcomes alone, closing the gap between local authorities with ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and those without could add an extra £29.8bn to the country’s economy each year (APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, 2022b).

During the pandemic, community hubs in a whole shape of forms were really successful at responding quickly to address people’s needs. They responded in a very strategic way to address the needs of isolated people, and at the time there was a lot of positive discussion about the relationships that we have with our communities and the fact that we know where to go and can mobilise volunteers.

Professor Mark Gamsu, Leeds Beckett University, oral evidence to inquiry session one