People’s Powerhouse: bringing communities into the covid recovery

People’s Powerhouse Convention 2019
L to R: Neil McInroy, chief executive, CLES; Edna Robinson, chair, People’s Powerhouse; Nazir Afzal OBE, campaigner and former chief prosecutor for the North West of England; Stephanie Riches, People’s Powerhouse coordinator; Tracy Fishwick OBE, managing director, Transform Lives; Ed Cox, director of inclusive growth and public service reform WMCA
Photo credit: Iam Burn
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“There has been such an outpouring of good feeling and community spirit. I don’t want this to end.” This view, of one resident from the Yorkshire and Humber region, is reflected in so much of what people say to us when we talk to them about building a better future.

Covid-19 has highlighted many challenges in our communities across the North of England over the last four months. It has been frightening, threatened us, hurt many people and families and destabilised us. However, it has also drawn us back to the things that we trust and shown us what really matters. Our families, a safe home, enough money to feed ourselves and pay the bills. Keeping well, protecting those we know are vulnerable and reaching out to neighbours and strangers has strengthened our sense of community and we have rediscovered our identity in the places we live.

The People’s Powerhouse movement was started to help the people and communities of the North shape the debate around the future of the North, so that decisions benefit more people. We have now brought together the People’s Powerhouse #RecoveryCoalition, to amplify local voices as part of recovery plans. To date, citizen involvement has been the missing ingredient in so many of these plans. We need to shift our thinking away from ‘when’ should citizens be involved in decision-making, to a model where citizens are equal stakeholders with their opinions valued and respected through every stage of the process.

It is vital that a post-pandemic recovery plan is shaped by the people who need help the most – not just by economic measures. For too long, the multitude of voices from different areas of society have been left out of the conversation. Yes, the crisis is a chance to reset and build back better, but there is a danger that a resilient economy, not society and the environment, will once again take front and centre. This is where we see a role for the People’s Powerhouse #RecoveryCoalition.

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With over 100 organisations across the North involved in the coalition, including local government, we are prioritising hearing from people. We want to know what’s worrying people, what matters most to them, and what they want to see as we emerge from the crisis. Genuinely listening means taking the time to understand what is being said, and not just jumping in with a response or solution. It takes time and effort. Only when people are put at the heart of decision-making will we see the meaningful change that transforms the lives of people in the North; the type of change that we so desperately need to see.

As we begin to recover from covid and re-build the communities in the North, we want to see people’s values reflected in the recovery plans. Through the work we have already undertaken in the coalition we are hearing that people want to prioritise kindness: a kindness to each other, to themselves and to our environment. They want to be able to continue to connect with their local community and have more opportunities to be neighbourly. Over the coming months we want to speak to even more people; to begin to think together about what the principles are for a people-shaped recovery. If you would like to be part of this conversation, please fill out our 5-minute survey to get your voice heard.

Investing in strong, resilient communities – the very people who have helped us get through the crisis – and improving lives, must take priority. But for a recovery strategy to have a meaningful, enduring impact, decision-makers must listen to human experiences, rather than looking at society as a homogenous whole. A one-size-fits-all approach overlooks the very nature of the virus – which has affected thousands of people in vastly different ways.

People’s Powerhouse

Our mission has always been to bring back power closer to home from the currently over-centralised system. Beyond the North-South divide, even regionally there are huge differences. Covid-19 has served to highlight the negative impact of a centralised system. Over-centralisation of decision-making about our lives means we have little power to influence our future. Bringing local voices and powers into the over-centralised process is essential to build back better.

There are examples of where this is being done well and where lessons should be taken to encourage participation to become the norm. Bradford for Everyone, one of our coalition partners, are a fantastic example of a project putting the community in the driving seat, empowering people to get involved and take part. They have taken the time to develop strong and trust-based relationships, reaching so much further than a consultation would ever do, and the result is that we begin to see the community reflected in local decision-making. Together as a community they are creating a set of shared values, speaking to 1000s of people to share and shape what people want their community and neighbourhoods to feel like. They also provide opportunities for people to share their experiences, like in this video of covid stories.

If you are interested in joining the #RecoveryCoalition or partnering with us to hold an online conversation, please get in touch via

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