New research institute to bridge the divide between elites and communities

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The new Institute for Community Studies, supported by Power to Change, has set out its agenda to bring elite institutions together with people and communities to address the big social challenges of our era.
16 Oct, 2019

Speakers at the new Institute’s launch yesterday included Rory Stewart (MP and independent candidate for Mayor of London), Dr. Debbie Weekes-Bernard (London Deputy Mayor for social integration, social mobility and community engagement) and Julia Unwin (former head of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

The Institute – powered by The Young Foundation – will commit to:

  • Developing a research agenda based on deep insight and analysis of what really matters to people and communities
  • Treating people’s experiences as valuable and vital sources of evidence through innovative new research methods
  • Presenting its findings in new and highly accessible ways in order to maximise public engagement with the knowledge it creates
  • Building relationships across elite institutions and communities so that research can lead directly to taking action on the big issues


Emerging findings from the Institute were presented at the launch event. These include an innovative new survey revealing the issues which really matter to communities, which contrast sharply with the picture usually painted by traditional polling.

Guests at the launch event also visited an exhibition space which includes a 3D interactive mapping of community strength across the UK; a participatory video cinema; and digital, art-based and audio-visual presentations.

The Young Foundation has a long track record of incubating organisations which play important roles in social research and how we understand and live our lives. These include Which?, the Open University, the School for Social Entrepreneurs and UpRising.

The Foundation is launching the new Institute for Community Studies in response to the rise of populism, the increasing urgency of our social problems and the need to build better connections between communities and traditional policymaking institutions.

Helen Goulden, chief executive of The Young Foundation, said: “We face huge challenges as a society. From climate change to inequality, the case for action is urgent. But at the same time many are suspicious of the institutions we usually turn to for solutions. Many feel let down by government, and distant from academia. That’s why there has been a new focus in recent times on people and communities themselves as potential agents of change.

“But the truth is that communities aren’t yet taken seriously enough. Many pay lip-service to everyday people without giving them any genuine say. We urgently need to put that right.

“Our new Institute will do that by revealing what really matters to communities, and showing how people’s experiences count as real evidence – not just colourful case studies. By linking elite expertise with the actual experience and knowledge of communities, we will transform our ability to tackle the social problems we face.

“Ultimately, the Institute will seek to bridge the divides between elites and communities. In an age of dangerous and unhelpful binaries, we will take the best from all perspectives. Because in the end, we’re all on the same side.”

Vidhya Alakeson, chief executive of Power to Change, said: “At Power to Change we place a premium on knowledge generation and evidence-based decision making. That is why we are delighted to be supporting the Institute for Community Studies.

“As a UKRI accredited Independent Research Organisation, we are confident the new Institute will enrich the evidence base available to national and local funders through its unique programme of academically rigorous research, grounded in the lived experience of real communities.”


****Spokespeople available on request. Please contact Will Brett ( / 07979 696 265)******

Notes to editors

1. The Young Foundation’s mission is to develop better connected and more sustainable communities across the UK.

2. The Institute for Community Studies website ( went live on Tuesday morning (15th October)

3. The launch event took place at RichMix Cinema, Bethnal Green, London

About Power to Change: Power to Change is the independent trust that supports community businesses in England. Community businesses are locally rooted, community-led, trade for community benefit and make life better for local people. The sector is worth £1.05 billion, and comprises 7,800 community businesses across England who employ 33,600 people. (Source: Community Business Market 2018)

From pubs to libraries; shops to bakeries; swimming pools to solar farms; community businesses are creating great products and services, providing employment and training and transforming lives. Power to Change received its endowment from the National Lottery Community Fund in 2015.

About The National Lottery Community Fund: We are the largest community funder in the UK – we’re proud to award money raised by National Lottery players to communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since June 2004, we have made over 200,000 grants and awarded over £9 billion to projects that have benefited millions of people.

We are passionate about funding great ideas that matter to communities and make a difference to people’s lives. At the heart of everything we do is the belief that when people are in the lead, communities thrive. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, our funding is open to everyone. We’re privileged to be able to work with the smallest of local groups right up to UK-wide charities, enabling people and communities to bring their ambitions to life.