Despite our world – and national – leaders scrambling to ‘level up’ and address systemic issues such as climate change, there hasn’t been a lot of practical support for decision makers in local places to truly understand and improve the conditions for thriving.
So, what can we do in our communities? If national leaders can’t ensure the economy delivers better lives for citizens rather than merely more wealth for billionaires, then what can local leaders, or local towns do to change their lot?
Centre for Thriving Places, in partnership with Power to Change and Carnegie Trust UK, spent much of last year exploring what local towns and communities across the UK can do right now to build a better economy, a better future, for us all. The answer was, encouragingly – a lot!
The resulting report outlines a clear pathway for local places across the UK to begin to develop a ‘wellbeing economy’. This approach to local development and place-making shifts the goalposts, from growing the economy in order to increase consumption (or GDP), to focusing on growing the conditions for us all to thrive – equitably and sustainably, for generations to come.
A town powered by a wellbeing approach is a place where:
- All decisions, on policy, investment and actions are made based on their ability to grow the wellbeing of people, place and planet
- Success is measured by how well they deliver these wellbeing generating outcomes
- Shared goals are created that bridge political, economic and cultural divides – it becomes everyone’s job to help the town to thrive
- Responsibility for delivering these wellbeing outcomes, and sharing learning on what works, is shared across sectors, departments and communities
- Collaboration, participation and creativity are vital pathways to success, and everyone’s contributions are recognised, valued and rewarded.
With two in five people in the UK living in towns, and the social and environmental crises deepening for so many, we cannot wait for national or even regional governments to provide the direction and support needed to impact citizens at the local level where people live and work.
As we emerge from a decade of cutbacks to the services many people rely on, followed by the devastating and unequal impact of the Covid pandemic, our collective recognition of what matters has come to the fore. What we have missed, and what we have valued most, have been our health and education, our family and friends, our green spaces, our culture and the care and support systems that ensure even the most vulnerable among us are okay.
The task of refocusing and rebooting our economy to deliver these things has never been more urgent. But while the time might be now, time is also not on our side.
We need frameworks, policies, data, tools and support to make ‘measuring what matters’ a practical reality in our towns and communities right now. ‘Building back better’ needs to be both ambitious in its scope and deliverable at the scale that people live – the towns, villages and communities across the UK and beyond.
Local leaders with the courage and vision to genuinely build something ‘better’ out of all of this, need to urgently define what better really means and help drive a pathway to delivering it. Towns and their leaders have an opportunity to show the way. It is at this local level that collaboration can most easily support a collective change of direction. Yet realistically, few local leaders have the time to research every option or the expertise to redesign the economic model.
Luckily much of the work has been done – we don’t need to start from scratch when it comes to defining what ‘better’ could look like nor to develop the tools and guidance to help make it happen. The communities most affected by the current perfect storm of challenges cannot afford for us to sit around pondering a blank page for too long. They are crying out for an economy where people and places matter.
A fair and sustainable future requires a new approach to placemaking based on social and planetary wellbeing. This latest research and the work of Centre for Thriving Places and so many of their partners in the emerging Wellbeing Economy movement, can help local leaders carve out a route to delivering that out of the current crisis and beyond.
This project started just as the global pandemic struck, the timing could not have been worse. Yet in some ways, it could not have been better, as it coincided with an unprecedented moment of collective reflection about what matters most. We have been forced into exploring how to rebuild our communities and our society in ways that put what matters at the top of our agendas as we look to the future.
While systemic economic change at the national or global level may be slow-moving and inconsistent as the recent G7 summit showed, we can, together, align our local plans, businesses and services, to deliver to the needs of people, place and planet right here and right now.
Liz Zeidler, Chief Executive, Centre for Thriving Places