NN Editorial: Levelling Up project

The first quarterly update on our year-long project

Regular readers will be aware of our Levelling Up series, a 12-month project we launched at the end of July which aims to give a voice to residents living in the county’s five left behind areas.

The wards of Queenway in Wellingborough, Talavera and Kings Heath in Northampton, Avondale Grange in Kettering and Hazel Leys/ Kingwood have been identified as amongst the 225 areas in the country officially recognised as Left Behind Neighbourhoods.

Marked out by high levels of deprivation combined with a lack of community infrastructure (such as few shops and social gathering places) these areas have been neglected for decades and are seeing living standards worsen.

Our work so far

Last month we visited and reported from each area, speaking to residents about how they find life in their communities. And while each resident has their own perspective on where they live, filtered by their age, health, family circumstance, etc, we discovered a common set of issues that were concerning people.

Ringing out loudest was a rising level of crime in the area and a perception that not enough was being done to tackle it. We heard time and time again about anti-social behaviour making people scared to venture out of their homes at night and concerns about a lack of police presence. The rise in knife crime is a constant worry for these communities - heightened by the tragic recent deaths of two teenagers, Rayon Pennycook and Dylan Holliday in two of these communities, both lives taken by the blade of a knife.

A lack of youth services and activities for children and young people was also a common complaint with most of these areas having lost many services under the cuts to youth funding by the former county council a decade ago.

There was also a concern about the general neglect of the areas, with residents having to step in to do jobs that would normally have been provided by the local authorities, such as litter pick and run food banks for struggling families.

And above it all, the residents felt forgotten about and not listened to, left to live in communities where investment and outside interest has been absent for years, if not decades.

Impact so far

‘Levelling up’ and ‘left behind communities’ are now on the agenda for our new unitary authorities. There is a particular focus in North Northamptonshire Council which has set up a task group to look at the three left behind communities in the area and assess what services are currently provided there and what can be done to make improvements.

Spearheaded by a motion last August from Labour councillors Cllr Zoe McGhee and Cllr Anne Lee (who both represent a Left Behind neighbourhood), we will bring you reports from the findings of the scrutiny commission.

Many public officials and locally elected councillors in Northamptonshire are now more aware of the left behind communities and the levelling up agenda, and we are hearing it referenced more in public meetings, showing at least the signs of a renewed focus.

In Government there is an All Party Parliamentary Group for Left Behind Communities whose remit is to develop practical policy solutions.

We are pleased that the APPG has recognised our project and we have been invited to a parliamentary reception next month hosted by the Community Wealth Fund Alliance, which campaigns for investment in the areas of the country that need it most.


Next steps

We have been speaking to local councillors about setting up a community meeting in each of the areas.

Throughout next month, alongside elected councillors for the wards, we’ll hold the public meetings and ask residents what they want to see change.

We will work alongside the communities, their councillors and other organisations active in the area to lobby those in power to start making the necessary changes.

The idea behind the government marking out the communities as ‘left behind’ is to help ‘level up’.

The government’s buzz phrase has been much derided and we are still waiting for the new Secretary of State for Levelling Up  Michael Gove to spell out what the phrase means in real terms, but to us this means improving the lives and prospects of the residents living in our left behind areas.

Thank you for supporting our project and if you live, work, or are involved in an agency working in these communities, then please get in touch with us at either sarahward@nnjournal.co.uk or nbloomer@nnjournal.co.uk

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