A review of evidence on neighbourhood regeneration programmes in the UK shows they have consistently achieved improvements for residents, but new approaches need to adapt to the current political and economic context.
The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University has reviewed major neighbourhood regeneration initiatives over the past 25 years, including the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, New Deal for Communities (NDC) and the Big Local programme.
It found these delivered positive outcomes for residents including better employment, health, community safety, neighbourhood satisfaction and increased sense of community belonging. Between 2002 and 2008, NDC areas saw an improvement in 32 of 36 core indicators spanning education, health, worklessness, crime, community and housing and the physical environment.
There were substantial improvements to people’s satisfaction with their neighbourhood and their reported wellbeing. These outcomes have economic and fiscal value which substantially exceed programme investments.
The focus of recent policies which have aimed to ‘level up’ inequalities between areas has leaned heavily towards the economic regeneration of cities and town centres, rather than the issues facing residents living in deprived neighbourhoods.
Researchers say that any new neighbourhood renewal strategies must respond to the different context today and the challenges which are impacting on neighbourhoods , including economic instability, the impacts of Brexit and Covid, and the cost of living crisis.
A new approach to neighbourhood regeneration needs to be built on place-based factors that matter to residents and requires attentiveness to agendas around wellbeing and belonging, challenges associated with poor transport connections and new patterns of working and opportunities to provide more local services and amenities.
Professor Sarah Pearson, researcher in CRESR at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "The evidence shows that community-led regeneration can improve outcomes for residents in deprived areas. But we need a new approach tailored to the unprecedented stresses neighbourhoods face today.
"Past programmes show the value of placing communities in the lead and building social capital. This is even more important now as neighbourhoods experience shrinking public services."
The review identifies principles to strengthen the resilience of deprived neighbourhoods. These include investing in social infrastructure, empowering community-led governance, promoting wellbeing and connectivity, and restoring residents' sense of belonging.
The review was commissioned and funded by Local Trust.
Matt Leach, chief executive at Local Trust, said: “Local Trust research has highlighted the extent to which disadvantage is often concentrated at a neighbourhood level, with the worst social outcomes associated with low levels of social infrastructure. In the face of unprecedented challenges facing residents of many of those areas we need a renewed vision for transforming England’s most deprived neighbourhoods.
“Evidence from both the Big Local programme and the New Deal for Communities highlighted in this report shows the transformation impact neighbourhood investment can have, and the value for money it offers in doing so. Both national and local government need a new focus on transforming our most deprived neighbourhoods, and trust local people with the power and resources needed to deliver impactful change in their communities.”
 Local Trust’s experience of the Big Local programme indicated that social infrastructure – defined as places and spaces to meet, connectivity (physical and digital) and community engagement – is a key determinant of the prospects of neighbourhoods. Read more, here.