Sparking the ‘alchemy’ of community power

March 3, 2021   By Claire Kennedy, PPL

Places are where the power of different communties can come together and come to life, writes New Local Vice Chair and PPL Managing Director Claire Kenedy ahead of our Stronger Things 2021 event.

We talk a lot about ‘place’ in public services.

We talk about service delivery at place; about the importance of representing ‘place’ in discussions, and about ‘place’ as a key organising or structuring principle.

I have noticed that people in the real world don’t talk so much about ‘place’ as a concept. Outside the world of service delivery and local governance, ‘places’ are simply understood as being ‘where you live’; ‘where you’re from’; ‘where you work’. They are the comfortable backdrop to our daily lives, and one of many things that bring disparate groups of people together.

Communities, to my mind, are slightly different. Communities bring together people from all kinds of different geographical locations, all bound by a single shared interest or experience. That which ignites connection in any community also gives it its own sense of purpose and connection, and often what we might call its own power.

I have been thinking a lot recently, inspired by New Local, about community power – what it means in practice, how to unlock it and, above all, what it can do.

To my mind, when we talk about community power, we can think of it in two ways.

We can think of the traditional model, with strong roots in the movements of the 60s around developing local communities. This has led to some powerful social change but it has also failed in its attempt to transform or usurp the traditional structures of power and administration that we recognise in those organising principles that we public service people think of when we think about ‘places’.

But the other way of thinking about community power is to think about it as something much more exciting and powerful; as a form of alchemy that brings together the power generated by a whole range of different communities of interest and activity, each with a cohesion and ambition of their own, and then locating that power in the recognisable, practical and meaningful locus of a ‘place’ – somewhere people care about because they know and recognise it as their own.

Places therefore have two roles in creating ‘community power’: they are the spaces where community power comes to life; and they also magnify the diverse power of a range of communities into a kaleidoscope that can come together to engage with, and potentially solve, wicked problems.

At PPL, we believe that connection is one of the silver bullets that create different outcomes; that different perspectives aren’t a ‘problem to overcome’ but, instead, are a tool to see even more pieces of the picture; and that leadership is as much about deep listening as it is about talking.

As we come together for Stronger Things 2021, we are forming a new community of our own – a group of people who are committed to improvement, and share a responsibility to step in to the challenges of our post-Covid world, and to find ways to create hope and opportunity by thinking and doing in new ways.

And what I know is that, when we leave the conference, we will head back to our places, energised with that spark of connection and understanding, and ready to create something new.

PPL is supporting Stronger Things 2021 to make it free to attend. Sign up here.  

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