Cities are being invited to learn from leading innovative UK peers at a special national event this May.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on cities, highlighting the need for collaboration with communities to build resilience. In the face of increasing unprecedented challenges in an uncertain future, six UK cities involved in URBACT networks shared their valuable insights into the importance of developing strong connections with their communities – at the URBACT UK Time to Share online event on 13 May 2021.

Here are their six key strategies for building community collaboration:


Start by listening, understanding and supporting community champions

Building relationships and maintaining trust with community groups has been a key focus for Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) , highlighted through its work in East Brighton as part of the URBACT Active-NGOs network. From working with Whitehawk Football Club to support community cohesion to the Whitehawk Community Hub – which has become a focus of community initiatives in the area – including the Hawks Cafe and community gardens, BHCC supports organisations running key initiatives by putting community champions at the forefront, and building stronger partnerships, including creation of the Hawks Café Youth Project. This proved particularly important during the Covid-19 crisis with the groups working together with the council to support their communities through the crisis, and also opening up free online courses for the community.

“Resilience depends on building and strengthening community networks. Understanding what's already there before trying to impose support is key to longevity and effectiveness.” - Sam Warren, Brighton & Hove City Council.


Enable communities to tell their own stories in a way that can be heard, to build empathy and engagement – win hearts and minds.

The B16 Voices [link is external) ] initiative, part of Birmingham City Council’s URBACT Regeneration Mix network explored the role of local communities in regeneration, giving a voice to local people, community organisations, businesses, politicians and the council. This allowed them to tell their stories around key shared locations, to build common ground and a framework for community collaboration in the context of urban regeneration and the implications for the inhabitants.

 “We are much more effective if we don't lead and instead focus on empowering others to lead.” - Karolina Medwecka, Birmingham City Council.


Success relies on reaching out. Be curious and never stop asking questions.

Tech Revolution is an URBACT network building on the work of Barnsley Council in the long-term transformation of the city from industrial decline to a key hub in the new digital economy – encouraging new economic growth, nurturing startups, entrepreneurs and local businesses as well as attracting inward investment. As part of their work to create a new inclusive digital economy, Barnsley Council worked to break through barriers in the community, with an ‘Open Door - Open Mind’ policy (both in-person and virtually) at the Barnsley Digital Media Centre (DMC). This encouraged an environment where everybody had something to contribute, brokering different types of conversations, with an array of events to help people envisage what their place in an inclusive digital economy might be, from career changes and development, to future entrepreneurs and citizens.

“The key is helping the community to do things differently” - Tracey Johnson, Barnsley DMC.


Start from where they are and what’s working.

Manchester City Council’s long-standing work with the city’s internationally renowned culture and arts community on climate action through MAST (Manchester Arts Sustainability Team) and the URBACT C-Change network, has focused on working with community strengths and building relationships with cultural leaders to address the climate emergency. Key activities included developing environmental actions for the sector, employee and audience engagement initiatives, as well as involvement in the city’s ambitious new climate change strategy. One of the most striking outcomes of their collaboration was a compelling film made with local poet Louise Wallwein. ‘Manchester’s Story’ is a whirlwind call-to-action to galvanise Mancunians (and all of us) to take action together in the face of the climate crisis. [Link: is external) ]

“Take some risks and do things that are not completely target-driven, allowing people to be creative.” - Grainne Bradley, Manchester City Council.


Be prepared to engage in different - and difficult - conversations.

Combatting the rise of racism, misinformation, rumours and hate content, all of which have increased exponentially through social media, has been the focus of a range of initiatives by Cardiff Council. The council’s own research highlighted growing problems across the city, with hate and misinformation being spread and dividing communities.

Building on the work established in the URBACT Rumourless Cities network, Cardiff Council developed a range of initiatives, including twinning schools to encourage young people from inner city areas to become pen pals with peers in rural locations and the wider area, to help to break down barriers and make new connections. A creative photography initiative also enabled local communities to develop skills and qualifications while facilitating a new photo library and materials that better reflected each community. While the pandemic put a stop to many planned activities, communities created photo essays at home, which are now being displayed at exhibitions in the city.

“Partnership has been the key thing that we have done during the pandemic. We could not have done any of this on our own – working with partners in the communities and allowing the people who know the city and circumstances to respond has been essential.” - Roxanne Bainbridge, Cardiff Council.


Get on and do it! Take a step out there.

Preston City Council is recognised as a leader in progressive procurement, through the URBACT Making Spend Matter network – taking a more strategic, sustainable approach to public spend to help tackle social, economic and environmental challenges. By developing relationships and working with local stakeholders and ‘anchor institutions’, the city has been able to analyse where public spend goes, embed more social and environmental criteria, and identify gaps in the market to be filled with innovative and alternative business models.

“Resilience-building is inter-dependent and cannot be achieved in isolation, or by one organisation alone. Adapting ways of working and flexibility is crucial.” - Tamar Reay, Preston City Council.

A safe space for exploration

EU programmes such as URBACT provide a powerful springboard to support innovation, collaboration and knowledge exchange, as cities can share experiences with each other and work to empower and support their communities, leading to stronger connections, shared objectives and routes to further development.

“It’s the small money that gets the big money.” - Tracey Johnson, Barnsley DMC.

Submitted by Matthew Snowden on 22/06/2021
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Matthew Snowden

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