The importance of Place-based approaches to community development

Steve Rowe, Chief Executive, Marks & Spencer, on how together businesses, government and the social sector can help create thriving and connected communities 

We live in a changing world. The ways in which we live our lives are shifting rapidly, whether due to digital innovation, changes in the resources we use to make and power our world, or the expectations placed on businesses and other social institutions.

As a result, there is an increasing imbalance and disparity in wealth, social mobility and investment; which is in turn is driving a lack of trust in society. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer1 has, yet again, demonstrated this, with only 43% of people trusting business, and nearly three in five feeling that their views are not represented in politics today. Simultaneously, 72% of people believe their standard of living will stay the same or get worse this year. This lack of trust is shaking peoples’ faith in the system’s ability to provide a helping hand and, from an economic viewpoint, many of these concerns are focussed on the role that businesses and business leaders are perceived to play in creating this situation.

Many businesses have recognised this challenge and have launched their own, good individual corporate responsibility programmes. Yet for all our work on, for example, climate change, human rights, plastics and diversity these many initiatives do not feel like they are really moving the dial on trust in business. Partly that’s because we are not doing enough yet. Partly because not enough companies are involved. But it also reflects our inability to connect people with our work on a human scale, in the places where they live. We need to recognise any national society and economy is just a mosaic of these 1000s of places, big and small where people live their real lives with family, friends and colleagues. And people want action in the places where they live. This is where the big societal challenges become real for them, whether it’s homelessness, litter, good jobs, anti-social behaviour, education and health and wellbeing.

That is why, with BITC, we have convened a new Place Leadership Team. Today, we agreed that we need to work together with businesses, government and the social sector to create thriving and prosperous connected communities. And by doing so, make it straightforward for businesses of any size to collaboratively tackle the key issues that affect the strength and prosperity of the places they serve and where they are based.

We know there are already businesses out there delivering on this vision; whether the Blackpool Pride of Place Partnership, promoting economic development and tackling some of the area’s key challenges, or the work of Anglian Water in Wisbech to drive long-term, sustainable change from the ground up. From these, and BITC’s other work, we have been able to identify the key principles for effective place-based models. Core to these is the need to work with people locally to understand the challenges they face and collectively design and deliver solutions. Working with the Leadership Team, we will be testing how best to implement these principles in businesses, working with others in communities.

We are calling on all BITC members to join us, either as a member of the leadership team, or as part of a wider network of businesses sharing your experiences to help us to transform places. It is imperative for our communities, the people who live in them, and indeed our businesses.