15 May 2023

How do you manage the risk of community tensions?

How do you manage the risk of community tensions? image
Image: Jo Broadwood, CEO, Belong - The Cohesion and Integration Network.

How do you assess the risk of community tensions in your area? Do you know how to monitor and manage these risks?

In times of change and instability, the resilience of our communities to challenges and social tension can be crucially important. We’ve seen a succession of crises in recent years which have tested that resilience; and research by the Belong Network and the University of Kent has shown that some places fared better than others.

Whether it is the cost-of-living crisis, the pressures on services which support the most vulnerable, the ongoing impact of the pandemic or the prevalence of ‘culture wars’ in public dialogue, our communities are still being subjected to some very real strains, against a backdrop of rapid social and economic change. In this context, local government across the UK will be, or should be, thinking about how we underpin the resilience of communities and manage the risks of social tension.

What drives tensions and the risks of them spilling-over will differ according to the characteristics of an area. At the forefront of many authorities’ minds will be tensions around the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees, typically stirred by far-right activists. These have already resulted in violence in Knowsley and Cornwall in recent months.

In metropolitan areas with high levels of diversity, a greater cause for concern may be the ability of international events and undercurrents to suddenly de-stabilise relations among their multiple and complex communities. The demonstrations and counter-protests involving people from Hindu and Muslim communities, in Leicester in September 2022, are a prominent example of this.

Bad actors seeking to sow division and stoke tensions are nothing new, but the prevalence of social media has made their work much easier. Misinformation and rumours spread rapidly, inflaming tensions much faster and more intensively. This can mean conflict quickly jumping from a phone screen out onto the streets. This kind of tension and violence can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on trust and relations between local communities, and damage local economies and businesses. Once things get to this stage, it can also take significant resources for the situation to be contained by police, local government and local services.

Our ability to manage these risks and the changing nature of our communities, has therefore never been more important. Yet the resources available to us to do so are often depleted, and the support on offer to us is not always obvious.

The Belong Network offers expert support and training to upskill and empower local authorities to recognise and respond to community tensions before the flames ignite. Our recent good practice paper, Addressing community tensions; Developing shared ground, highlights key elements of effective approaches and examples of good practice which members of the Belong Network are already using to monitor and manage community tensions of different kinds.

Moreover, in order to provide ongoing support and development, we are launching Shared Ground – a community of practice for those who are often on the frontline when it comes to responding to and averting community tensions. It will combine facilitated peer learning and support with elements of a training programme able to provide accredited CPD points.

Shared Ground is there to provide dynamic support to local government and its partner organisations to develop and upskill their workforce to spot signs of tension and risk, how to manage and respond to these when they emerge, and the approaches and systems which will most effectively (and cost effectively) enable them to do this.

Building strong and cohesive communities cannot come top down from Whitehall - it requires co-production with people with a deep understanding of the history, cultures and aspirations of their area. By upskilling local government staff and partner agencies on the frontline of this work, we can demonstrate ‘what works’ and help your communities to resist the negative narratives and events which can act to tear them apart.

Local government bodies which are members of the Belong Network will be eligible to claim up to two FREE places on Shared Ground plus a 33% discount on additional places.

As a member of the Belong Network you will also have access to a much wider network and set of supporting services, including:

  • The Belong Local Government Network – a network of local and regional authorities which is developing and sharing best practice around building cohesive communities
  • The ability to draw on and input into research and resources, including on the role of sport, volunteering and business can play in building cohesive communities
  • Bespoke consultancy and training services at heavily discounted rates

Click here to find out more about how Belong can work with your local authority or contact admin@belongnetwork.co.uk

This article is sponsored by The Belong Network.

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