SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE

This section of the website draws together a wide range of evidence about the importance of social and cultural facilities and amenities, both formal and informal, and the long term consequences of what happens if these critical aspects of community are not supported.

Lessons Learned

Five key factors have been identified:

A sense of place and belonging

Opportunities for residents to take part in collective activities

Opportunities to build social networks, with a range of people

Design that encourages people to engage with each other

Boosting ‘pro-environmental' behaviour

Good relationships between residents and a range of local activities - formal and informal - are key to thriving communities. People live complex lives and relate both to communities that are defined by where they live, and ‘communities of interest', based on interest, religion, or shared identity. No one can be forced to be ‘good neighbours' or to become friends, but there is strong evidence that the strength of local social networks is related to a number of outcomes from health to crime. Social capitalGlossary: the networks and trust between people that help a community work together towards shared objectives - the quality of relationships between residents that give a community the capability to be supportive and empowered and a rich cultural life - is important to help people put down roots, feel secure and ‘at home' and develop a sense of belonging.

The identity of a place is rooted in history, in local celebrations, the stories people tell about the area, and in regular local events. These build up over time. When new large scale housing developments are built, the sense of place cannot be defined by its history. New residents will not know others and, in the early stages, there will be few social connections. Many new developments are planned as ‘mixed communities', housing people from a range of circumstances and backgrounds. Often inner city neighbourhood thrive on this sort of diversity - but it is something that has usually evolved over many years and generations. How do you create that kind of richness in a relatively short space of time?

There is an important role for agencies in providing support, especially in the early years, to work with local people to generate the social and cultural infrastructure that is essential for quality of life. If this does not happen, there is a danger that residents will feel alienated from their new homes, mental health problems increase, people do not invest for the long term and move away when they have the option to do so.

Elements within this ingredent:

1. A sense of place and belonging

The work of different agencies and individuals can have a positive impact on how people feel about the place they live. Both by intervening in people's lives , for example through the activities of community development officers, or by creating the underlying trends that enable people to develop a sense of belonging.

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2. Opportunities for residents to take part in collective activities

A growing body of research supports the suggestion that community and neighbourhood empowerment - giving residents the opportunity to take part in collective activities that influence the areas they live in - contribute to the wellbeing of residents and communities.

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3. Opportunities to build social networks

Canadian Michael Woolcock famously remarked: ‘the well connected are more likely to be hired, housed, healthy and happy'. Strong local networks give access to many benefits, from informal childcare through to watering the plants and feeding the cat when you are on holiday. They also underpin people's attachment to an area.

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4. Design that encourages people to engage with each other

The way the physical infrastructure is designed is an important influence on how people feel about the neighbourhoods they live in. Design can have a more powerful influence, however, on influencing how people use space and how they relate to others.

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5. Boosting 'pro-environmental' behaviour

Whilst new housing developments are setting new standards for physical design in reducing CO2 emissions, behaviour change is strongly related to collective action and peer pressure. Both of which are strongly influenced by social networks.

Students supporting communities in New Haven, Connecticut

For over 13 years the university has paired interns with community groups in very deprived areas of the city, to help them reclaim land and public spaces and turn them into gardens and city farms.

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