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New project launches to explore a radically different future for communities

Report suggests collaboration with residents is key

November 2016

Local Trust [1] today announces the names of steering group members who will direct a major new independent research project scoping the future of work with communities. Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a legacy from the Community Development Foundation (CDF), ‘Empowered Communities in the 2020s’ will seek to learn what is working now and what support communities need to thrive in the decade ahead. [2]

The steering group members come from a mix of national and local organisations and all have knowledge and expertise in working with communities. They are: Alice Casey, Angus McCabe, Daniel Goodwin, Debbie Burton, Fabian French, Fozia Irfan, Lorna Prescott, Paul Bragman, Dr Rachel Shanks, Richard Wilson, Sue Gill and Tony Armstrong. [3]

Local Trust is inviting people interested in participating in the project to sign up to the Empowered Communities mailing list. [4]

The announcement comes as Local Trust also publishes a new report characterising the perceptions of 26 leaders in the community sector who gave confidential interviews to insight consultancy, BritainThinks. [5]

The State of the Sector analysis finds that a more collaborative approach to community development – giving residents a greater say in how local needs are met – could be a lifeline for a sector overwhelmed by funding cuts and contract culture. Those interviewed reported that:

  • Funding cuts and a culture of contracts and competitiveness are forcing many national and local organisations to close while demand for their services is rising
  • The sector is shifting towards collaboration with local communities, which brings the potential for vital long term benefits of resilience and connectivity
  • A community collaboration model also brings challenges including the risk that it may ask too much of communities, and encourage the state to withdraw further from delivering essential services.

Andrew Robinson, ex-chair of CDF and a founding trustee of Local Trust, said:

"The landscape has radically changed and uncertainty prevails. When CDF closed, the mantle passed to Local Trust to take a strong leadership role in the reinvention of the sector for these times. We're now hearing that leaders in our field believe that collaboration with residents is not just a necessity triggered by funding cuts, but a real opportunity to do things differently and better than before. The timing couldn't be better for the Empowered Communities research project to open up the debate to a wider audience."

The State of the Sector report includes direct quotes from leaders of the community sector, including:

“There used to be big pots of money for this work and strong local infrastructure. That has all been wiped away”.

“When it is not led by the community, you don’t experience the same buy in.”

“A community-led approach might start out with local people wanting to develop a bit of land for their local community, and through that relationships are built, other projects take off.”

We see this community-led, bottom-up approach taking hold.”


Further information

Jessica Wenban-Smith
Head of communications, Local Trust
020 3588 0577 or 07751 836346

Notes for editors

[1] Local Trust supports residents to create lasting change in their communities. We want to see community-led transformation of people and places. Local Trust is best known for managing Big Local, an exciting opportunity for residents in 150 areas around England to use at least £1m each to make a massive and lasting positive difference to their area.

[2] ‘Empowered Communities in the 2020s’ is a research project run by Local Trust that will capture the contemporary value of community development and scope its future. The project website is www. The project is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a £20K legacy from the Community Development Foundation (CDF). The findings from the research will inform further work to improve working with communities including the allocation of a further £500K gifted to Local Trust by CDF on its closure in March 2016.

[3] The steering group will meet for the first time at the end of November 2016, and conclude its work in early 2018. A research tender document will be published on the local trust web site in December 2016. Biographies of the steering group members are below.

[4] Sign up URL:

[5] The State of the Sector report is published by BritainThinks and Local Trust based on confidential interviews with 26 leaders in the community sector undertaken by Britain Thinks on behalf of Local Trust in June and July 2016. It is available in full at

Short biographies of steering group members

Alice Casey (Local Trust trustee)
Alice works at Nesta, an innovation charity that funds innovative ideas with a social impact. She has considerable experience designing and managing funds to promote community led innovation. This has led to a range of work on innovation in funding, including crowdfunding and open funding data projects focused on the charity and voluntary sector. She has a particular interest in digital technology and strategy development for social start-ups and charities, supporting them as they create new products and services. She is a trustee of 360Giving which publishes and uses open funding data, and of Local Trust.

Angus McCabe
Angus is a Senior Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, where he leads on work with small community organisations. He has a background in community work both as a practitioner and trainer in both urban and rural settings. Angus has been involved in community work for almost 40 years and has a particular interest in working with others to inform the future direction of practice and learning in this field.

Daniel Goodwin (Local Trust trustee)
Daniel has over 30 years’ experience of working in local government. At the heart of Daniel’s approach is building community capacity and learning how to make sustainable long-term improvements which support people. He was previously executive director of finance and policy at the Local Government Association and chief executive of St Albans City and District Council. Daniel is a senior associate fellow at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV), a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a trustee of Local Trust.

Debbie Burton
Debbie has worked within communities for 20 years, most of this time has been spent employed within Neighbourhood Regeneration and Renewal teams within the Local Authority sector. She has facilitated many resident-led initiatives and programmes that have supported and encouraged local residents to take the lead in decision making that improves their neighbourhood and quality of life for residents. Debbie believes strongly in empowering communities and is passionate about community development approaches to motivate and inspire residents to engage with positive solutions together.

Fabian French
Fabian is currently chief executive of UK Community Foundations, the membership organisation for community foundations that work to raise then distribute money directly to local causes. Fabian was previously director of fundraising at Marie Curie where he witnessed first-hand people’s passion for their communities. He has extensive insight into and knowledge of the needs of communities and the various ways of addressing them.

Lorna Prescott
Lorna works for Dudley CVS and brings a blend of a blend of design approaches, community development practice, and system thinking to social innovation in Dudley borough. She has led cross sector community engagement activity, projects, networking and learning in Dudley for over 15 years. Lorna is a Fellowship Councillor for the RSA’s Public Services and Communities theme.

Paul Bragman
Paul has 25 years’ experience of community and economic development work in the voluntary, statutory/government and housing sector in the UK and overseas. Paul is a trained planner, his academic qualifications include a Post Graduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution, an MA in Environmental Planning in Developing Countries and a BA (Hons) Social Sciences. He was a Board member of Stonebridge Housing Action Trust and worked for Genesis Housing Group for 4 years where he established a successful Community Development Programme.

Dr Rachel Shanks
Rachel has been involved as a volunteer and practitioner in several adult learning and community development projects in England and Scotland. Currently she teaches on the Postgraduate Diploma in Community Learning and Development (CLD) at the University of Aberdeen and is a member of the Community-University collaboration for Social Progress research centre. She is a member of the Approvals Committee of the CLD Standards Council in Scotland and the Digital Futures group which seeks to embed digital technologies in CLD practice.

Richard Wilson
Rich is the director of OSCA which specialises in social impact and empowerment. OSCA came to national prominence for undertaking the Kids Company impact audit, they also delivered the digital element of the government’s Community Organising program. In 2004 Rich became founding director of Involve and since then has been intimately engaged in policy development and delivery in terms of participation, empowerment and community development in the UK and overseas. In 2012-15 he was a UN adviser working in Turkey. He blogs not as often as he would like for Guardian Society.

Sue Gill
Sue has a broad background in education and training for adults as well as being community focused over the last 12 years. Sue is co-chair of the Endorsement and Quality Standards Board for Community Development Learning (England) or ESB, providing endorsement of quality for all types of training and learning in community development as well as undertaking activities which contribute to a proficient community development workforce.

Tony Armstrong

Tony has been chief executive of Locality, the national network of community anchor organisations, since 2014. In that role he supports and champions 600 community organisations to make a positive difference in their local area, using enterprise and asset development to generate sustainable local economies. Before that, he was CEO of Living Street, the national charity for everyday walking which worked with communities to improve their local public spaces. And before he moved to the voluntary sector, Tony was a civil servant, spending 9 years predominantly working on neighbourhood renewal and health inequalities, including a year-long secondment to the Brighton New Deal for Communities initiative.

Fozia Irfan

Fozia is Head of Grantmaking at the Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation. She has experience of managing programmes of funding for a wide variety of community projects and particularly those aimed at young people and women. She is also a Regional Adviser to BBC Children in Need providing expertise in the analysis of projects and organisations for effectiveness. In addition, Fozia is a Trustee at the Wakefield and Tetley Trust in East London which funds projects for people affected by poverty in the area. Previously, Fozia founded and was Chair of an organisation in Luton which created projects for young people and women to empower communities and build cohesion. 


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