After the floods: How resilient is Leeds?

kirkstall flood smallResilience begins with relationships

It’s a challenge that all cities face as the power of local authorities is weakened and citizens demand greater control over their own and their city’s destiny. As the devolution agenda continues apace, civil society has mostly been left out of the picture. Local enterprise partnerships and other local boards are rarely representative of the diversity of a city.

Leeds has never been as reliant on public funding as some neighbouring northern cities, which perhaps accounts for its active community sector, high levels of small enterprise and the can-do attitude of its citizens. But the gap between the people-powered economy – from its consortium of development trusts to its activist green scene and its burgeoning start-up sector – and those that make decisions is stark.

Mechanisms are needed that allow people from all sectors to get involved in the long term future of their city, and to build relationships of understanding between citizens, the state and business that go beyond tokenistic ‘dances’ with the council or superficial CSR contracts.

‘The gap between the city’s people-powered

economy and those that make decisions is stark’

Sometimes it takes a crisis to build those links: the relationships formed during the floods are continuing, with Kirkstall Clean-up now rebranded as Team Kirkstall and continuing to play the role of catalyzer in the local area. Local businesses that united during the floods are now more networked.

More often, a broker is needed to unite different sides. The Leeds Poverty Truth Commission brings civic and business leaders together with local citizens with knowledge of poverty to challenge stigma and build understanding.

Through those relationships, changes to services have been made and new partnerships formed, with one civic leader in Leeds saying during the launch event, ‘If we had 10% of the togetherness of the Poverty Truth Commission, Leeds would be different.’

Social Business Brokers – a local social enterprise – brings people from different sectors together to solve entrenched social problems, on the understanding that issues such as empty homes can’t be tackled by one organisation.

And a number of mechanisms for greater discussion about how the city works are springing up. Leeds City Lab is aiming to bring different sectors of the city together and create pockets of experimentation, and the Leeds Open Data Institute is using big data and digital technology to help the city find new ways to understand and deal with its problems.

Clare Goff is Editor at New Start magazine

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