Community development

Understanding the relevance of community development in different contexts, including regeneration, planning, health and criminal justice

Understanding the relevance of community development in different contexts, including regeneration, planning, health and criminal justice

changes has been involved in developing a

Charter for Community Development and health


An introduction to community development

CDX definition

“community development is about building active and sustainable communities based on social justice and mutual respect. It is about changing power structures to remove the barriers that prevent people from participating in the issues that affect their lives”
(CDX was a national membership organisation which fell victim to Government cuts in 2014 – its contribution lives on)

Values of Community Development
  • Learning – recognising the skills, knowledge and expertise that people contribute and develop by taking action to tackle social, economic, political and environmental problems.
  • Equality – challenging the attitudes of individuals, and the practices of institutions and society, which discriminate against and marginalise people.
  • Participation – facilitating democratic involvement by people in the issues which affect their lives based on full citizenship, autonomy, and shared power, skills, knowledge and experience.
  • Co-operation – working together to identify and implement action, based on mutual respect of diverse cultures and contributions.
  • Social Justice – enabling people to claim their human rights, meet their needs and have greater control over the decision-making processes which affect their lives.

However, the values and commitments that underpin community development work are not always accepted or understood by other stakeholders, such as funders or professionals who are working with communities; for example, from a built environment or health background.

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Community Development – a contested concept

Like many elements of welfare in the UK, the origins of community development are to be found in civil society, pioneered by voluntary organisations which were independent of the state, such as the early trade unions, churches and charitable foundations.

In the 19th Century, this manifested in the form of: informal self-help and solidarity, mutual aid and philanthropy. As the twentieth century gathered momentum, the state realised the value of a community-led approach to social welfare and we begin to see the emergence of government-sponsored community development. This occurred at home and abroad. Community development has long contained within itself a tension between the goals of the state and the aspirations of the `target’ community, with no guarantee that they would necessarily be aligned

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Our perspective on community development

What is a community development approach?

Community development is about working collectively in ways which aim to empower communities and increase community well being. The whole point of community development is that communities are empowered – this means working in ways which empower people – ways which mean that people feel ‘confident’, that they – and the groups they are involved in – are inclusive and organised, that networks are formed, are cooperative and support each other and – ultimately – they are influential. These are the 5 Community Empowerment Dimensions.

It is putting values of Community Development into action:

social justice

Community development ensures a collective approach. It involves:

  • recognising that groups and networks are made up of individuals – each of whom can be powerful
  • seeking to include – not exclude – challenging inequality, understanding other people’s priorities and learning from them
  • working with others around common issues and concerns in ways which are open, democratic and accountable
  • building positive relationships across different groups and networks
  • encouraging each other to take part and influence decisions, services and activities

Community Development is about what we do and how we do it – it is about process and outcomes. For Age Concern Organisations, a community development approach is about ensuring that:

  • the services and activities provided by Age Concern are appropriate to and inclusive of the diverse needs of older people
  • more older people are actively engaged with Age Concern
  • the overall quality of older people’s lives is increased by engaging with Age Concern
  • older people get wider benefit from their engagement with Age Concern which impacts on their lives more broadly
    e.g. by becoming involved in neighbourhood renewal programmes, consultation exercises, local or regional panels and boards
  • Age Concern maintains its’ traditional support of older people led, small-scale activity within the current context of the growth, and projected growth in contracted provision of public services

Community development is about communities becoming involved in priority setting. The development of networks begins with individuals but if it remains with them then:

  • it is vulnerable to an individual person moving or withdrawing
  • decisions are unlikely to address the issues of the communities on which they impact
  • public bodies and partnerships don’t realise community empowerment – they might get people’s views represented and change happening but it is not about communities being empowered
  • it is not community development and will not achieve community development outcomes around community empowerment and well-being

The notion of ‘community’ is multi layered and may be understood as:

  • a group of people who live in a specific locality, neighborhood – communities of place or geographic communities, with shared experience and/or shared concerns
  • a group of people who have a shared identity, shared history, belief or perspective – communities of identity
  • interests or occupations that people have in common – communities of interest

Everybody can be a member of a community; that is, of place, identity and/or interest; people can belong to more than one community at a time; people may move in and out of communities, depending on a range of factors including time, motivation and need.
Not everybody may identify as being part of a community. Some people may be excluded from communities because of discrimination, or may choose to exclude themselves. ‘Community’ can be presumed, chosen or imposed.