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November 4, 2009

Development trusts boost local democracy

As our representative democracy become ever less popular with voters, other forms of democracy – more participative in nature – seems to be on the rise. New research published by Carnegie UK points to the rapid growth of rural development trusts and suggests that this could be the saving of our ailing representative structures

Rosie Niven

Rural development trusts are short of cash, but provide a flourishing participatory form of democracy, research published this week has revealed.

The Carnegie UK Trust’s manifesto for rural communities finds development trusts punching above their weight when it comes to promoting local democracy as traditional representative structures struggling to attract voters.

The evidence gathered through a collaboration with the Big Lottery Fund and 44 frontline organisations reveals that that while rural and semi-rural development trusts are increasing in number, they are much smaller than their urban counterparts.

The research suggests that many are struggling financially with limited access to assets and earned income, both key indicators of sustainability. This means that many trusts are not achieving as great an impact in their communities as they might.

The report explores in detail ten characteristics of the resilient community of the future. It suggests that dynamic, vibrant and sustainable communities need creative people working together, assets to support their aspirations and agencies, and local people collaborating to an agreed plan.

Development trusts and representative structures each have distinctive and complementary roles, the report notes. It suggests that a local council or community council could commission a local plan and the development trust deliver the actions.

‘A positive relationship with the town or parish council is a strong enabling factor for effective community partnership. Efforts by external bodies to isolate community partnerships from their local council are counterproductive, although a degree of independence is positive,’ the report says.

The experiences of pioneering rural communities in championing sustainable lifestyles can inspire neighbourhoods everywhere, it adds. It builds upon the vision provided by the trust its 2007 charter for rural communities, but acknowledges the accelerating pace of economic, environmental and social change.

Kate Braithwaite, director of Carnegie’s rural programme said: ‘Although this report draws on innovative ideas from rural communities, it is relevant to neighbourhoods everywhere. All communities are increasingly faced with radical change where there are no existing solutions. We need new structures and new thinking to achieve our vision for the future.’