Integrated communities are where people - and society - can thrive. They are places where everyone has the opportunity to grow and progress, and where people can exist in harmony, whatever their values. At times, society can feel increasingly divided, but great strides are already being made to bring people together, and to break down the barriers that exist.
One of these examples is our English My Way programme, delivered with partners in the Online Centres Network, which has supported over 20,000 people to improve their English language skills since the programme launched in April 2014. We’re not only helping people to improve their English language skills, but helping them to play a fuller role in their community, find work, and move on to further learning.
The Integrated Communities Strategy recognises the need to continue supporting ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) but also to invest in other initiatives that will help bring communities together. We welcome the strategy, and the commitments it makes - to build on the success of existing community based English language programmes, to better understand local needs and how these can be addressed, and to improve partnerships with civil society.
But there are a few additional recommendations we want to make, based on what we have learnt working in communities with the Online Centres Network. These include:
1. Lead on developing a cross-government integration strategy which holds other departments and local authorities, including Mayoral Combined Authorities to account for delivering change in their communities
For the strategy to really have an impact, all government departments - as well as the private and third sectors - need to work together with a common commitment to bring communities together. This strategy won’t work if it sits in one government department, so we urge government to use their convening power and work together to break down silos.
2. Focus resources where they are most needed
We welcome the Government’s commitment to developing local plans and initiatives for local needs - we see often how Online Centres can tailor support for the individuals they are working with, to provide a person-centred approach that has far more impact than nationally mandated outcomes. However, we also believe that some kind of national coordination is needed, with a central framework that means there is a high quality of support provided.
3. Co-create initiatives with those they support.
We want to encourage leaders to talk regularly to people in their community - and to co-design solutions to help break down barriers to community integration. Civil society organisations like Online Centres, are experts in listening to the people in their communities, and in developing solutions to support them. It’s crucial that initiatives are designed with, not for, the people they are supporting.
4. Investigate integrated funding
Bringing together digital, ESOL, civic participation, financial literacy and housing funding will help to ensure that integration activity focuses on providing holistic support that can be tailored to the individual, rather than on supporting each individual measure in isolation.
5. Develop a consistent outcomes framework
It is important to define what we mean by community integration, and the broad range of outcomes that can contribute to it. Our Playbook - How we build inclusive communities - is the first step in doing this, and we want to work with Government and other partners to develop and embed it.
The impacts of our English My Way programme have been significant, and have helped people to live fuller lives as part of their communities. We hope through the Integrated Communities Strategy we can continue to do this, driving a stronger society for all.