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Background to this research

Image Credit: Gary Moyes

Recent years have seen a spike in interest in movement-building and grassroots social action, born of a recognition that power in the UK is both too centralised and too concentrated among small groups of (largely homogenous) people. From the government’s desire to ‘Level Up’ to the moves among funders and civil society to invest in coordinated local work through initiatives like The Aid Alliance’s Power Postcodes, The Climate Coalition’s Great Big Green Week or the Asylum Reform Initiative’s Together With Refugees campaign, it’s clear that there is an emerging consensus that people power should increasingly be exercised in places and by communities. This research is premised on the idea that community organising and local power building is simultaneously one of the best and one of the most under-resourced mechanisms we have to shift power to and secure just outcomes for (and with) communities. We have set out to map key trends in organising and key opportunities to scale both the footprint and impact of promising grassroots models. Data, evidence, case studies and recommendations have been curated from a wide range of strategic changemakers.

We are grateful for the generous support of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.

As part of this work, we wanted to engage with and hear from a wide range of individuals and organisations.  People from the following organisations have inputted and engaged with this process (and we have acknowledged the individuals at the end of this report): The European Climate Foundation, The Civic Power Fund, Unbound Philanthropy, New Economy Organisers Network, CounterPoints Arts (on behalf of Refugee Week), The Climate Coalition, The Aid Alliance, Amnesty International UK, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, The Blagrave Trust, The Hour is Late, Lloyds Foundation, The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, We’re Right Here, The Economic Change Unit, BOND, The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, Partners for A New Economy, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Sheila McKechnie Foundation, Together for Refugees, NCVO, Wellcome, The Roddick Foundation, Save the Children, Tearfund, CAFOD, Christian Aid, The Circle, Climate Outreach, Hope for the Future, RSPB, New Economics Foundation and RECLAIM. We are grateful to everyone who contributed their expertise to interviews and workshops and acknowledge too the inspiration provided by many organisations, activists and organisers who were unable to spare the time but whose work has informed this research and contributed so much to communities.  

The primary author of this research is Vic Langer. Vic is the Chair of NEON and a trustee of the working-class youth organising charity RECLAIM. Vic has previously been CEO of Become (the charity for children in care) and migrant justice charity Consonant. She began her career organising with the National Union of Students where she worked to build the power of young people all over the country.

What’s missing?

This research is not an attempt to prosecute a comprehensive argument about how change happens. We are grateful to the IPPR for their 2021 report Making Change: What Works?, and to the Sheila McKechnie Foundation for their ongoing work on ‘social power’, both of which have informed this research and which take an expansive view about all the different ingredients needed to create sustainable social change. Instead, this research is focussed, as the title suggests, on just one question: how can we strengthen our movements through investing in grassroots action? Whilst we believe that investment in local power building is important, it is also true that we need a range of investments across different disciplines involved in changemaking. Alongside investment in organising we need to see support for storytelling and strategic communications work, insight and evaluation and the generation of irresistible ideas that can shift whole systems and paradigms as well as change policy and practice in the medium term. We recognise the importance of supporting the diversity of civil society actors and campaigners and the infrastructure bodies that exist to support them.