New Onward research programme: Repairing our social fabric

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On Wednesday 4th March, Onward launched its latest research programme: Repairing our Social Fabric. Read a summary of the launch report.
5 Mar, 2020

This marks the launch of a landmark two-year review into the state of community in the UK, and what can be done to strengthen and repair the social fabric of local communities. This cross party review is to be chaired by Lord O’Shaughnessy and funded jointly by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Power to Change and Shelter.

Onward will develop a deep understanding of how different aspects of community – from pride and relationships to civic, economic and physical capital, housing and institutions – are changing in different parts of the UK and over time, and offer concrete proposals to deliver a stronger sense of belonging.

Building on Onward’s research into the Politics of Belonging ahead of the 2019 General Election and drawing heavily on qualitative research in local communities themselves, the Repairing our Social Fabric review will track a wide variety of indicators of social connectedness and capital to develop a landmark Index of Social Fabric to measure the strength of community in the UK today, and how different communities in different places fare against different aspects of social fabric.

Lord O’Shaughnessy, Chair of the Steering Board, said: “Our Westminster-dominated politics has ignored the lives of too many of the United Kingdom’s communities for too long, paying scant attention to their need for renewal and repair.

“Making sure that every place in our country is given the chance to thrive is an urgent task, not just for this government but for everyone involved in politics. That’s why I’m delighted to chair this cross-party review, which will give voice to the forgotten towns of the UK and generate new policy ideas that give them back their purpose and vitality.”

Will Tanner, Director of Onward, said: “Last year’s election was a ballot on belonging. Many of the Red Wall towns and working class voters who defied history to lend their votes were driven by the fraying social fabric of their place: the deteriorating high street, fragmenting community or disconnected neighbourhood.

“This makes repairing the social fabric of local communities the defining mission of this Parliament: unless politicians of all parties work to give voters back a sense of local identity and ownership, their votes will increasingly go elsewhere. Onward’s cross-party Repairing our Social Fabric study will explore how community is changing, where in the UK it is strong or frayed, and develop serious policy ideas that politicians can implement to improve people’s lives.”

Claire Ainsley, Executive Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “For years, many communities up and down the UK have been held back by a lack of investment and attention.

“But the disaffection that many people feel towards politics isn’t going to be answered outside promises of transformational change. People in communities themselves need to be enabled so they are in charge of their own futures and it needs to include people on the lowest incomes.

“There is a real opportunity for change and we look forward to working with Onward on this important and timely review.”

Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive of Power to Change, said: “This important review will build on what we’ve learned from supporting over 1,000 communities to come together and take steps to build the social fabric of their places. Communities value the places where they live and are getting involved in making those places better. The time is right now for a wider debate on how strong communities and local connectedness can be supported by policymakers and funders.”

The full steering group will be as follows:

  • Lord O’Shaughnessy, Chairman and former No10 Head of Policy and Health Minister
  • Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham and Chair of the 2012 Labour Policy Review;
  • Danny Kruger, Conservative MP for Devizes and founder of several charities;
  • Dr Eilidh Whiteford, former SNP MP for Banff and Buchan 2010-2017
  • Claire Ainsley, Executive Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation;
  • Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive of Power to Change;
  • Dr Chris Wood, Assistant Director of Policy at Shelter;
  • Alex Smith, Founder, The Cares Family;
  • Richard Clark, former Managing Partner at Slaughter and May;
  • Rob Walsh, Chief Executive, North East Lincolnshire Council;
  • Will Tanner, Director, Onward.


For media inquiries please contact Will Tanner at

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