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Book Review: Exploring community resilience in times of rapid change

Exploring community resilience in times of rapid change by Nick Wilding, Carnegie UK Trust

I jumped at the chance of reviewing this. I’ll audaciously claim that in my working life, I try to support community reliance (note the word ‘try’!). I’ve worked as a playworker and officer and in Sure Start in a number of northern councils; I’m now a freelance consultant working with local charities. I continue to spend many hours embedded in communities, attempting to resolve some of their tricky, depressing and abiding issues. Was this book going to give me answers, or at least some tools to move things on?

The book is ostensibly about reliance in the face of sudden crisis. It gives us a ‘compass’; a set of dimensions that allow us to consider where a given community may be now and how their reliance could be improved.

  • Healthy engaged people
  • Inclusive, creative culture
  • Localised economy with ecological limits
  • Cross community links

That ‘compass’ is developed from the experiences of real people acting for their communities, often in a time of crisis. These are taken from events facilitated by ‘fieryspirits.org‘ from Cumbria to Cornwall, stories from around the globe and the last 100 years. Those stories are connected to theoretical and practice frameworks that stretch from Paulo Freire’s work on education to Robert Putman’s thinking on social capital (and much more besides!) Elegantly, the book’s creation and tone mirrors its essential message that ‘localism works’. A community can build its own internal reliance, but not by sealing itself off. Local, regional, national and international connections are critical, applying theory helpful, but on the community’s terms.

I find the approach attractive. It’s seeking to establish paradigms that transcend the tides of policy fashion, political imperatives and economic cycles. ‘Move in this direction, and whatever happens, you’ll be coping better’. Refreshingly, the book isn’t trying to impose a hegemony of ideas, from a single professional or field perspective.

It’s not short of polemical views, but those views tend to support and celebrate the concepts of ‘messiness’ and plurality, which I find vital in my work with communities. I feel, therefore, their thinking goes beyond planning for future shocks. Many of the communities I worked within were stuck in shock mode, through poverty, discrimination etc. The model could be applied to regeneration as much as to the augmentation of emergency planning.

Problems? It’s a bit too focused on rural communities? Also, you may feel its exploration of the tensions and fault lines in communities are lacking. It’s there, but not to the extent I (or yourself) may have encountered in our work or neighbourhood. Theory is presented uncritically, but I feel that suits the intentions of the book. Also the books layout will better suit those of a visual bent.

For me these are all side issues. I actually feel the book could actually present a much needed focus for notion of localism. It’s ideas go deep. Whether you’re a commissioner, a funder, a politician or an activist; get reading!

  • Click here to download a Pdf of the book or read it online

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