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Actions speak louder than words

14 January 2022
  • We’re not known for having snappy titles for our national studies here at Audit Wales, but this one’s a mouthful even by our standards.

    Yes, as part of our 2021-22 program of all-Wales local government studies, we’re looking at how councils are “Building Social Resilience and Self-Reliance in Citizens and Communities.”

    We played around with the words for a while. Partly because we enjoy playing around with words, but mostly because it takes us into looking at something quite nebulous – it’s difficult to put your finger on what’s meant by ‘social resilience’ and ‘community self-reliance’.

    Yet most councils in Wales are taking steps in this direction – 19 out of 22 councils have established well-being objectives specifically aimed at broadly improving community resilience. But are they focussing on supporting you to take more decisions and be more self-reliant?

    Years of austerity and a global pandemic have meant that councils cannot continue to be all things to all people, focused solely on providing services. The narrative is clearly changing, and doing more with less has led to councils becoming increasingly focused on ‘enabling’ citizens and communities to do more for themselves.

    What is community resilience?

    The Welsh Government’s definition of community resilience is “the ability of a community to withstand stress and challenges, and encompasses both the ability to adapt and survive adverse circumstances such as environmental, societal, or economic shocks, whilst coping and thriving in everyday life”. Councils’ definitions vary, but if you brought them all together the resulting word cloud would highlight terms such as: belonging, active, connected, cohesive, vibrant, safe and participative.

    But this isn’t just about words. Many of us have relied on public services more than ever during the last two years. They stepped up to provide the safety net and were there when we needed them. But many have also pointed to a growing sense of community, and communities doing more for themselves, during the pandemic.

    Yes, we found new ways of keeping in touch with loved ones who we couldn’t see. But closer to home we’ve also signed for our neighbours’ many (many…) parcel deliveries. And we’ve shared a smile across the street when stood on our doorsteps clapping for those working hard to keep us safe. Research [opens in new window] reflects a growing sense of community across the UK – for example, showing that 31% of people became more comfortable asking their neighbours for help with their shopping during the pandemic. Surely, there must be an opportunity for public bodies to tap into all this to create a better, more resilient future where people and communities decide on the big issues they face and do more for themselves?

    What’s our role in this?

    In our role in explaining how public money is used and how it meets people’s needs, we’re shining a light on what sits behind the words – what it means to build resilient communities, and more importantly – how well councils are doing this. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 requires public bodies to think about the “importance of involving other persons with an interest in achieving the well-being goals and of ensuring those persons reflect the diversity of the population.”

    So, we’re looking at how councils overcome issues like digital exclusion to ensure people receive the right information at the right time, and how people are supported to volunteer and get involved in community groups and activities.

    Clearly, we can’t do any of this without tapping into the hundreds and thousands of changes taking place across Wales. So, we’re launching a survey to find out what makes your community the place it is, and how resilient it is. We want to hear your stories – the things that you and your community have done in the last two years that you’re proud of, and others can learn from. We also want to find out what else councils need to do to support you, your family, and friends to be able to do more for yourself.  

    You can complete our survey here [opens in new window]. We’d love to hear from you.

    About the Author

    Euros Lake is a Senior Auditor in our local government team and has worked for Audit Wales since 2013.