The shortest definition is that it's about how the different groups that make up communities get on with each other, and whether they have a shared sense of what they want for their neighbourhood.
That sounds simple, but when you think about all the things that might affect it, you start to see that this is a very broad agenda.
The council can't create community cohesion on its own that happens out in communities and it involves everyone. But we do have a responsibility to do try and create the right conditions for community cohesion to thrive, and to remove barriers wherever we can.
Community cohesion is partly about whether people:
- feel they're getting a fair deal
- think others are getting more than them
- trust the Council and believe we're meeting their needs
- think their neighbourhood is one where people get on well
Many Council services influence people's feelings about these things, either positively or negatively.
We produced our first full Community Cohesion Strategy in 2008. But we realise that a long wordy Strategy document isn't the best way to get everyone involved in or excited about a subject.
Also, in the current economic climate we don't have the resources to run a big programme of separate community cohesion activities. Instead, we have to think harder about how we can build community cohesion into what we already do.
So in early 2010 we came up with a short, practical toolkit known as the Cohesion Mainstreaming Framework (pdf, 154Kb). This is aimed mainly at our own services and staff and tries to answer the question ...what can I do about it?"
This means treating community cohesion as something we all deal with as part of our everyday work (the 'mainstream' of what we do) instead of as a separate programme of activities run by cohesion specialists.
This doesn't happen automatically or overnight. We need to think about all of our policies and practices, how good they are at promoting cohesion, and what to do about it if they're not.
The Framework is a clear, simple and practical way to help us to do this, by setting out:
- What makes a community cohesive?
- What kinds of things threaten or damage community cohesion?
- How we can promote cohesion and avoid the risks in the services we provide and the way that we provide them?
The Framework contains a series of checklists. Our services can use these to help 'cohesion-proof' their work, by highlighting any aspects of what they do which might threaten cohesion. After each checklist there are links to a range of other guides and toolkits which help services to respond to any threats they have identified. The four broadest questions we ask ourselves are:
- Could what you are doing be seen as unfair by any part of the community (whether or not you believe it is fair)?
- Could what you are doing mean that different parts of the community will have more contact with each other than they have at the moment?
- Could what you are doing increase or create tensions or conflict between different parts of the community?
- Will you need to communicate with different parts of the community who might have differing views about what you are doing?
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" or "not sure" then we advise our services to do more work, and get more support, to make sure that what they are doing doesn't damage community cohesion.
Some Council services have more specific expertise on different aspects of community cohesion. These services provide support to other parts of the Council to improve their knowledge and understanding of cohesion, help them use the Framework as a 'cohesion-proofing' tool, and support them to respond to ongoing cohesion issues.
- ARCH is part of Safe Newcastle and provides expert support around managing tensions and resolving community conflicts.
- The Community Engagement and Empowerment (CEE) Service is responsible for the Framework and for promoting more preventative approaches to community cohesion.
For more detailed definitions and background, see the Council's full 2008 Community Cohesion Strategy (pdf, 291Kb).
For more information contact:
Community Engagement and Empowerment Service
Chief Executive's Directorate
Newcastle City Council
Phone: 0191 211 5023