No Place Left Behind: the role housing associations can play in levelling up

Paul Fiddaman, 21 September 2021

At Karbon Homes, one of our key strategic aims is to shape strong, sustainable places for our communities. With close to 30,000 homes across the North East and Yorkshire, located in both rural and urban areas, we see at first-hand the varying challenges our communities face.

Due to its post-industrial nature, many areas of the North East fall into the ‘left behind’ category, with high levels of deprivation and socio-economic challenges. Many have a strong sense of community spirit and a desire among residents to improve their neighbourhoods and make them thrive once again, but without access to funding and infrastructure, they are unable to take plans forward.

With the above in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to join the ‘No Place Left Behind’ commission.

‘No Place Left Behind’: the commission into prosperity and community placeshaping, was launched to look into how we can regenerate left behind places to improve the lives of those who live there.

A year on from the launch of the commission, we’re celebrating the official launch of the commission report. One key message really shines through – to replace spirals of neighbourhood decline, we need to invest in the physical fabric of local places and the social fabric of local communities.

To achieve this, the report recommends the creation of dedicated ‘neighbourhood improvement districts’, an initiative designed to reinvent town centres and residential neighbourhoods, backed up by a £2bn Community Wealth Fund to support the most left behind places to develop their own solutions.

It also calls for a new wave of funding to retrofit homes in left behind places, to meet the net zero carbon standard by 2050, with housing associations and local people leading this work.

The development of an affordable housing conversion fund would enable housing associations, and local communities, to retrofit homes and upgrade them.

My role within this commission over the past year has been a great experience. It’s given me the opportunity to work with a broad mix of organisations and individuals, all bringing their knowledge, skills and expertise together to find, and promote, the best examples and ideas for transforming neighbourhoods.

One thing in particular that’s been a real pleasure, has been the opportunity to hear about the incredible regeneration projects that organisations up and down the country have already carried out. The role that housing associations have played in supporting with the delivery of these often ambitious, projects has been great to see.

As place-based social landlords, we’re experts in this field, and that is largely down to our dedicated, passionate colleagues who really care about our neighbourhoods and communities.

Another message that came across loud and clear throughout the commission, and one that is close to my heart and a key priority at Karbon, is the importance of keeping residents at the heart of any plans to regenerate neighbourhoods. Residents play a vital role in ensuring any regeneration project is a success. They live in these neighbourhoods, they know the people and places well, and they know their strengths and challenges. Our role as a housing association is to support them to make transformation happen.

I believe the report’s recommendations could be transformative for many of the communities we work in.

For the government’s levelling up agenda to be a success in our left behind towns and cities, increasing prosperity and widening opportunity, there needs to be more done to make these areas great places to live. I hope that the government will listen and work with us to put these recommendations into practice.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to work with our residents to shape and improve the neighbourhoods they live in.