This fourth briefing paper in IPPR's Condition of Britain series considers the major pressures facing Britain's diverse neighbourhoods, and asks what powers and responsibilities would enable local people to drive improvements in their own cities, towns, villages and communities.

Many of Britain's neighbourhoods are flourishing because neighbours are working together to solve local problems and make their areas better places to live. However, in many other places these kinds of spontaneous relationships have been eroded by population churn, changing working patterns and the breakdown of extended families.

Community groups and local services can fill these gaps, but not entirely and not everywhere. Britain's neighbourhoods benefit from the energy, passion and knowledge of local leaders and residents, but local people often lack the powers they need to create real change. In this briefing, we consider what it would take for every neighbourhood in Britain to become a great place to live and work. It stresses the need for local control and responsibility to enable more cities, towns, villages and neighbourhoods to thrive, and addresses the issues of housing, segregation, migration, social exclusion and antisocial behaviour.

Among the questions posed in this paper are:

  • How can we build strong, accountable institutions of local government that are capable of addressing the big social and economic challenges facing their cities and regions - including on housing?
  • What powers and resources do local areas need to address segregation in their neighbourhoods and make sure that private renting is affordable, decent and secure?
  • How can we bring together local services to help people solve their complex and deep-rooted problems more effectively, and help change their own lives and support others?
  • How can we mobilise local institutions and people to forge social bonds across diverse neighbourhoods?

The five briefing papers in this series are brought together with a new introduction by Nick Pearce, Graeme Cooke and Kayte Lawton in the Condition of Britain interim report, published in December 2013.

Marsh Farm Outreach: 'Estate socialism' in Luton - an extract

Marsh Farm Outreach (MFO) is a community development organisation based on the Marsh Farm estate in north Luton. Marsh Farm is one of the poorest estates in south-east England and home to around 10,000 people from many different ethnic backgrounds. In the summer of 1995, it suffered three days of rioting.

MFO evolved from the Exodus Collective, a group of community activists who, in the early 1990s, organised free community parties on the estate and squatted empty homes so that local people could have a place to live. Most members of MFO live on the estate and are closely tied into the neighbourhood and know many of the other residents.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Marsh Farm received significant amounts of public money through successive government regeneration programmes. Members of MFO share a concern that much of the money and power attached to these programmes has flowed out of the estate to consultants, contractors and public sector professionals. They argue that this reflects a belief that local people cannot be trusted with public money or lack the skills and knowledge to improve their own neighbourhood.

MFO's alternative proposition is that the people living on the Marsh Farm estate should be leading efforts to improve it, with both the power and the responsibility to change things. One member calls this 'estate socialism' rather than 'state socialism': local people with the resources and responsibility to solve their own problems. Local and national government could support this local action, they argue, by helping to build up the capacities of local people and making some of their rules more flexible.