7 November 2018

Gerald Koessl, Research Officer at the National Housing Federation, introduces new research that explores the links between deprivation and the social fabric of places.

‘People make places’ – this has been a recurring theme throughout our Great Places programme so far. It captures the idea that the built environment alone is not enough to create thriving and inclusive communities. People are invested in their communities, emotionally, socially and financially. It is people that, essentially, make places what they are.

But it’s also the case that ‘places make people’. The existence of, or lack of access to, good transport links, schools, green spaces or a local health centre can have a significant impact on people’s life chances. What’s more, places have not only a physical infrastructure, but also a social one, which also impacts on the lives of individuals and communities.

Our research, which is feeding into the work of the Great Places Commission, looks specifically into these links between the quality of a place and the quality of community life at neighbourhood level.

We found that there is a strong link between the level of neighbourhood deprivation and the quality of the social fabric of neighbourhoods. People living in more deprived neighbourhoods:

  • have a weaker sense of agency when it comes to influencing decisions affecting their local area
  • show a lower rate of participation in local and community life
  • are less likely to be able to ask neighbours for help or support
  • are more likely to feel lonely
  • have a weaker sense of belonging in their communities
  • have a lower level of trust in their neighbours.

Graph showing the links between levels of deprivation and how people feel about the place they live.

In other words, poverty is linked to the social capital of places. It also means that someone living in a deprived community is more inclined to not only be excluded from material goods or services, but also from the social infrastructure of better quality neighbourhoods.

This has important implications for placemaking. Our findings show that investing in regeneration or the building of new homes has to take into account the existing (or non-existing) social infrastructure of neighbourhoods. It also requires the active participation of people who are already living or are going to live there. This is particularly important when dealing with more deprived areas, which may need a higher degree of community engagement and investment in community facilities in order to create sustainable neighbourhoods.

This is where housing associations come in. As our Great Places work so far has shown, they often operate as anchor institutions, not only providing homes to people in need but also engage with the communities they serve. They do this both directly, by supporting people in their homes or helping them in finding a job, or indirectly, by providing the shared facilities or spaces where people can meet, interact and develop connections and trust in their communities.

Find out more

Find out more by reading our research report. The Great Places Commission is publishing its findings so far in an interim report next week, which will be available on our website.

Gerald Koessl

Research Officer, National Housing Federation

People make places – but places make people too