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On Monday, I was proud to see the launch of CDF’s latest research which illustrates just how fundamental the community sector is for grassroots engagement with politics. Although the report picked up some concerning issues about how much trust in national political structures has been eroded, I feel it is hugely positive that the research shows how community activity is restoring democratic engagement at all levels. While people often feel distant from national political structures, they trust other people in their communities. The research found that volunteering in community activity both increases levels of trust in general, and increases the likelihood of getting more deeply involved in social action.

This will come as no surprise to people who have worked with communities, who will appreciate the huge amount of energy and enthusiasm that people bring to tackling things that they care about in their area. Perhaps this is because what the community sector offers is a purer form of democracy – one in which people’s investment of time, energy and ideas leads to genuine opportunities to make visible changes, locally.

This is the key principle I believe local and national levels of government need to embrace. We need new forms of deliberative decision-making that meet the needs of our era; we need to move beyond simply consultation with communities and put them at the heart of creating the areas they want to live in. These are the experiences that support a sense of being able to make a difference and can truly restore a sense of trust in democracy.

And, by shifting towards more localised decision-making, politics can be brought closer to people and create progressive opportunities to become involved. Here at CDF, we know that communities want to be heard – 92% of community organisations that responded to our Trust in Democracy survey said that local people should be more involved in the design and delivery of their local public services. 72% also recognised the need for community groups to work together with local authorities to achieve shared goals.

There is huge potential for the community sector to be involved in deciding how to shape these services – this means including community groups at the design-stage and not simply as respondents to commissions. I urge local authorities to recognise the community sector as experts and entrepreneurs that can meet the difficult challenges that lie ahead. It is only by working together effectively that it will be possible to overcome them.

Community groups across the country are already making significant progress on difficult issues, often taking pragmatic and often highly innovative action to solve them. I would like to see the Government take steps to support the community sector, promoting their policies to support volunteering through employers, as well as through flagship initiatives which stimulate and support community participation. Because I know that by strengthening our communities, we can truly start to restore trust in democracy.

To find out more about our research, please take a look at our short animation or download the full report over on our research page.

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