There has never been a better time – nor a greater need – to bring people together and to develop and build best practice on cohesion and integration.
Report after report has highlighted the growing sense of fear and division in many areas and the need to promote better relationships within and between communities. Despite the agreement across political lines that cohesion and integration needs to be improved, many sections of our society remain isolated and divided, particularly by ethnicity and faith.
Recent debates have also revealed the alarming ease by which intolerant and extreme views can gain ground. All political parties now accept the need for action that brings communities together, tackles racism and hate crime, and reduces the lure of Far Right and religious extremism. There also seems a willingness to consider new and better approaches but, in practical terms, there are no mechanisms in place to identify what projects are already taking place, the resources employed, the agencies involved, how effective they are, let alone what can be considered to be good practice. Our new Network can fulfil this vital role.
We have already begun to build support, but we need new voices from the private and public sectors to provide innovation, commitment and challenge, to tackle some of the most deep-seated concerns.
The UK Government is now firmly behind the new Network as the recent Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper made clear:
“Government will provide funding to the network to support its development and to enable government departments to access the leadership and best practice resources it will develop.”
The new Strategy undoubtedly be a spur to action – but to succeed, it will need support to build and share the practice, the leadership and confidence, of all those involved.
A New Network and a new Champion of Change
A new Network will be a champion of change, demonstrating that community tensions can be reduced and that a positive programme that encourages integration and cohesion can succeed, even in the most difficult times. Many successful schemes already exist, but are generally small and little known, rarely scaled up to maximise impact and almost always fail to be replicated. The ethos of the Network would be one of self-help and sharing of knowledge and expertise and helping to build the capacity of others.
The Vision for the new Network is:
- To advocate on behalf of integration and cohesion interventions, supported by credible evidence, tools and good practice techniques and examples.
- To provide a professional network for both individuals and agencies involved in cohesion, integration and intercultural activities, including local government, police, education, other public services and a wide range of agencies in the voluntary and charitable sector
- To facilitate the sharing of ideas and good practice, maintaining a library of resources which are publicly accessible
- To develop of guidance for local integration plans (or other area approach) and other recognised interventions: needs based research; monitoring and evaluation of implementation of all cohesion, integration and intercultural programmes
- To offer training and development to network members as well as others
- To build a professional discipline, partnering with a university(ies), to provide accredited courses, through to PhD level
- To provide or broker, consultancy and support to those commissioning projects
- To facilitate the commissioning of research contracts
- To provide a space for reflection and learning.
The new Network will need to work with a wide range of agencies and across many different disciplines, in the voluntary, statutory and business sectors, building the skills and competences of all those engaged in this work and creating organisational capability.
Creating the New Change Organisation
The new Network will be a charity, an independent organisation, under a new brand and banner, providing a digital platform, working with policy makers and practitioners in the UK and internationally to produce new ideas, sharing resources and building the capacity and confidence of all personnel and organisations working to improve cohesion and integration.