For too many London is lonely, insecure and unfair. Here’s how civil society can help

For too many London is lonely, insecure and unfair. Here’s how civil society can help

How can civil society tackle loneliness, address job insecurity, and create fairer cities? A focus on power, accountability, connections and trust can help.

celebration took place a few days before my team at Toynbee Hall met with some
of the City Insights team from the Greater London Authority to hear about the
new Survey
of Londoners
findings. In the
context of trying to be better connected, and more relevant to the community
around us, we wanted to explore how our own learning and insights could add to
the picture of London it paints. Based on responses from over 6000 Londoners
the survey gives the most in-depth and insightful view of what ordinary people
within the capital are concerned with, hopeful about and involved in. It should
give a really strong evidence base for civil society organisations and others who
also want to make London a city everyone can feel part of.

many ways, London is an amazing city, full of opportunity and diversity; and
the survey showed that many people are proud to live in the city and enjoy it
every day. One of the most positive things the data showed was the strong
appetite Londoners have for getting involved in positive change within their
communities with friends and neighbours. More than half of Londoners do ‘informal
volunteering’, with 28% calling themselves formal volunteers; and almost a
quarter have been involved in some kind of civic action, such as local
campaigns or shaping local services on a voluntary basis. As a small example, we’ve
had a great response from local people – including some of our language course
students – who are helping us design and develop a new community garden outside
Toynbee Hall to bring welcome shared green space to a busy, built up part of

on enthusiasm this is crucial if we are to make London feel to everyone like a
place that they can enjoy, and where they can prosper.

the Survey also highlighted some very real, practical concerns that too many
Londoners face: a staggering 400,000 children and over 1m adults in London
experience food insecurity. According to the survey this might include not only
foodbank usage but also ‘for instance, running out of money to buy food,
cutting the size of meals or skipping them, and not being able to afford
balanced meals’.

survey also revealed the extent of loneliness in London. It is a significant
factor not only for older people, but for young people too: 32% of 16-24 year
old Londoners say they feel socially isolated. The extent of problem debt and
insecure employment – often affecting those with few places to turn to – are
laid bare by the survey. And, while lots of Londoners interact in a positive
way with our neighbours, are proud of their local neighbourhood, and enjoy diverse
friendship groups, there are still large numbers who currently don’t feel included, or trust that our
city is fair.

there are challenges for all of us. We’ve been talking with our friends at the
Young Foundation, and want to have more conversations with other organisations
and institutions across East London to see if we can build on local collective
strengths to better meet those challenges. Last year’s Civil Society Futures report asked organisations like ours specifically to change
the way we think about power, accountability, connections and trust, if we are
going to meet those challenges. Using this lens there are three areas where we
think we could do more in relation to some of the things the Londoners Survey

Firstly, we need to genuinely put Londoners with lived
experience in the lead: so that they can make their voices heard, and feel
supported to tackle the challenges they face. That means trying to ensure that
more and more of the work we do is led by people with lived experience. As
examples, we are working with young people to try and help them articulate what
they need from the private rented sector and have productive dialogue with
landlords, so that the overall experience of housing is better. And with older
people to help them design and define what a safe community looks and feels
like, and how they can have a better experience of public transport. This work has since led to our local
authority reflecting on local provision of welfare advice services and its transport
strategy. But there is plenty for us still to do. We need to be
constantly aware that we are not the experts – and be genuinely facilitative
and collaborative with other organisations locally. In this way we can build up
trust, strengthening the community as a whole.

we can operate ourselves with strong and clear values. NCVO’s
estimates that of the
almost 866,000 people who work in the voluntary sector, 36% are in London and
the South East. That means up to 300,000 Londoners may work for charities; and millions
of us volunteer. So there is huge potential for us to make tangible change to
our city: not only as providers of services and opportunities, but also as
employers. We should strive to create progression routes for people with lived
experience, be fair to our people, and offer volunteers real, meaningful
opportunities; as advocates, we should be collaborative and driven and informed
by the communities we work with. We should model the ways that will make London
work better, and reduce the numbers of people who still feel excluded. Again,
we have some way to go, but the new ACEVO / Institute of Fundraising leadership commitment to diversity, and in London the new Good Work Standard from the Mayor give us something to aspire to and
build on.

thirdly, of course, we need to influence, together. We don’t control the levers
of policy. But charities do have assets: money, buildings, people, and perhaps
most of all connections. I’ve been struck recently with the appetite for
collaboration on policy – helped by initiatives such as JRF’s ‘talking about poverty’ campaign, and collective voices shaping London
Challenge Poverty Week. As a result we should be collectively better equipped
to drive change. We need to work together to create the space for those with
lived experience to articulate the kind of London they want to see. We can help
policy makers get beyond the data – to understand why some people don’t find
our city a fair place; why they are lonely; and the impact of debt and
financial insecurity; what will make them feel safer. Better policy will surely
come if it is driven by people themselves.

society’s strong roots in the community give us the foundations and vital
connections to be facilitators of real change. Let’s play to this strength, let
those within the communities we serve do the talking and the shaping, and do
what we can to support the positive changes they demand.

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