A sense of place and belonging

The 2004 Egan Review into sustainable communities identified social and cultural factors as one of the seven key factors that make a place sustainable, through building a vibrant, harmonious and inclusive community.

Under this heading the Review identified a need for:
  • a sense of community identity and belonging
  • tolerance, respect and engagement with people from different cultures, background and beliefs
  • friendly, co-operative and helpful behaviour in neighbourhoods
  • opportunities for cultural, leisure, community, sport and other activities
  • low levels of crime and anti-social behaviour with visible, effective and community-friendly policing
  • all people are socially included and have similar life opportunities

The conclusions of the Egan review chime with a large body of research evidence.

What factors are necessary for a sense of community to exist?

Research into reducing conflict in communities

Encouraging Belonging:

Living Under One Sun, Haringey, London

In Haringey, the community allotment project Living Under One Sun is inspiring local residents to grow and cook their own produce - while building friendships, skills and communities.

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Balsall Health, Birmingham

Balsall Heath is not a new community, but an inner city area that suffered from stigma and serious problems of crime and prostitution. Over a number of years, they have developed the Balsall Heath Forum and have turned things around dramatically.

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The work of different agencies and individuals can have a positive impact on how people feel about the place they live. Both by intervening in people's lives , for example through the activities of community development officers, or by creating the underlying trends that enable people to develop a sense of belonging.

Community development support can help:
  • people settle into their new homes/environment
  • build networks with other newcomers and with the existing community
  • organise the rituals that begin to give the place a distinctive character and encourage belonging
  • broker differences between residents, and between residents and service providers
  • help to ‘champion' the new community, enable residents to ‘find their own voice', build recognition and accelerate positive identity

A good place for children? Attracting and retaining families in inner urban mixed income communities Emily Silverman, Ruth Lupton and Alex Fenton, Chartered Institute of Housing/JRF (2005

Age profile is significant in terms of attachment and belonging:

"Average levels of attachment are directly affected by the age profile of an area. The age profile is also the major factor affecting turnover and this can have a further indirect impact on attachment through residents' average length of stay. Efforts to promote more 'balanced' or 'mixed' communities therefore need to consider the age profile as well as income or tenureGlossary: refers to the ownership status of a household’s property. It is notable in this context that much of the policy discussion of 'mixed communities' has ignored or played down the need to ensure a mix of ages and household types."

The influence of neighbourhood deprivation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2008)

People are keenly attuned to reading feedback from social environments on whether they belong. These feedback systems - which range from informal networks to politics - explain much about why some very diverse communities feel strong senses of belonging and other fairly homogeneous ones do not, including groups with a long history in the same place.

Research by the Young Foundation has identified 10 Feedback Circuits that can serve as a practical tool to help shape a sence of belonging in communities.

Find out about the Young Foundations 10 Feedback Circuits related to belonging

The role of locality has a different meaning for people of different ages. The 2009-2010 Citizenship survey shows how older people are more likely to feel their community is cohesive than other age groups in the same neighbourhood. Conversely, they are less likely to mix with people from different backgrounds.

Key points from the Citizenship Survey 2009-2010