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Carolyn Wilkins: Civil society needs connectedness and local power

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Oldham’s vision, like that of many other places, is for people and communities to have the power to be healthy, happy and make good choices.

Our ambition includes a shared commitment to thriving communities, an economy underpinned by cooperative services for all, and a recognition of the value of social action.

But this ambition exists within a changing context. For many places and people, these are times of anxiety and vulnerability, with many challenges to health, wellbeing and community resilience where we live and work.

However, these are also times of hope and opportunity, with people coming together to question existing ways of working. The Civil Society Futures inquiry, which published its final findings yesterday, is an important example.

Taking place over two years, the inquiry listened to thousands across England – from Penzance to Sunderland – hearing their honest stories, opinions and experiences.

Both personally and professionally, I believe in the deep value of civil society. I have a real fear of a future without strength, breadth, depth and diversity in civil society that provides the lattice of connectedness around which many build our lives.

Thus I was pleased that the inquiry is calling for a focus on connection between and across communities, and also between civil society and local authorities.

Too often we atomise our conversations, talking about the future of the NHS, local government and civil society separately. But the same issues are being faced by us all. We exist in the same places and our decisions and actions affect one other.

We are also trying to find answers to the same questions. In considering the future it’s important we remember we are connected in many ways that organisational and institutional forms ignore or overshadow.

The inquiry has also called for greater powers for local communities through things like community wealth funds and citizens’ juries, which bring local people together to discuss public issues. These kinds of changes are tricky, requiring care and consideration to both strengthen and unlock the power of communities.

Throughout the inquiry we saw anger and frustration. We also saw exciting changes, passion and real achievements. Taking part has broadened my perspective and deepened my understanding. It’s also left me with more questions than I had at the start.

Having more to consider is a good thing. I hope reading the Inquiry’s report gives something extra to you.

Carolyn Wilkins, chief executive, Oldham MBC and panel member, Civil Society Futures inquiry

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