‘Resilient to what?’
Yet the Strategic Framework document, if read with the thought in mind that it is referring to resilience to peak oil, climate change, and economic contraction, actually reads in places like something Transition Network might have produced (as we will see). That certainly took me by surprise.
Throughout the document, resilience is defined as:
“The capacity of an individual, community or system to adapt in order to sustain an acceptable level of function, structure, and identity”
…and community resilience as:
“Communities and individuals harnessing local resources and expertise to help themselves in an emergency, in a way that complements the response of the emergency services.”
“Resilience is also a key part of other kinds of community activity, for example the Transition Towns movement and the Greening Campaign where resilience is a longer term ambition for communities looking to adapt to climate change”
The aims it sets out rather fascinatingly read like the aims of Transition Network!
- increase individual, family and community resilience against all threats and hazards;
- support and enable existing community resilience, and expand and grow these successful models of community resilience in other areas;
- remove the barriers which inhibit or prevent participation in community resilience at a local level;
- support effective dialogue between the community and the practitioners supporting them;
- raise awareness and understanding of risk and the local emergency response capability in order to motivate and sustain self resilience;
- provide tools to allow communities and individuals to articulate the benefits of emergency preparedness to the wider community;
- and provide a shared framework to support cross-sector activity at all levels in a way that ensures sufficient flexibility to make community
With such a clear recognition in a government publication that these ought to be key aims in terms of resilience, one would imagine that the work the Transition movement has been doing over the past 5 years, and the practical initiatives it has led to the ground, would have deserved more than one sentence in this publication.
Shifting the thinking slightly: a Transition take on resilience
“making a community more resilient, if viewed as the opportunity for an economic and social renaissance, for a new culture of enterprise and reskilling, should lead to a healthier and happier community while reducing its vulnerability to risk and uncertainty …. resilience is reframed as a historic opportunity for a far-reaching rethink”.
The new market in Portobello.
For example, setting up a to create viable links between local producers and consumers, adding infrastructure for local food processing (such as Transition Norwich’s , or Portobello Transition Town’s, see right), creating urban food production and identifying new sites for that, mapping local foodsheds and supporting small farmers, setting up , all build food resilience and a community’s ability to respond in an emergency (), but also have very beneficial impacts on the local economy too. These kinds of things would have helped greatly in building resilience to, for example, the lorry drivers’ dispute of 2000 when food supplies in shops became dangerously low.
The document clearly states the principle that “the Government role is to support, empower and facilitate; ownership should always be retained by communities who have chosen to get involved in this work”. This feels like an acknowledgement of Transition’s role of not waiting for permission but getting started building community resilience from the bottom up. That’s not to say that a bit of more formal support wouldn’t be a good thing from time to time to actually accelerate the creativity that the Transition process can unleash!
“Transition has been framed in terms of building (or rebuilding) resilience in local communities. So far, the movement seems to have successfully used resilience as a motivating framing concept. The lack of specificity used in the framing of resilience has probably contributed to resilience being perceived as an appealing goal by the wide range of citizens who have become involved with the movement”
In other words, it’s not resilience explained in the conventionally accepted way, but something about this expanded definition seems to be working, so maybe we’ll let them get on with it…
Features of community resilience
The Framework also identifies what it sees, from looking at a number of communities, as the key features of community resilience. Viewed with the slight shift in thinking that allows us to imagine it is referring to communities responding to resilience in the way set out above, it makes fascinating reading:
- “People in resilient communities use their existing skills, knowledge and resources to prepare for, and deal with, the consequences of emergencies or major incidents.
- They adapt their everyday skills and use them in extraordinary circumstances.
- People in resilient communities are aware of the risks that may affect them. They understand the links between risks assessed at a national level and those that exist in their local area, and how this might make them vulnerable. This helps them to take action to prepare for the consequences of emergencies.
- The resilient community has a champion, someone who communicates the benefits of community resilience to the wider community. Community resilience champions use their skills and enthusiasm to motivate and encourage others to get involved and stay involved and are recognised as trusted figures by the community.
- Resilient communities work in partnership with the emergency services, their local authority and other relevant organisations before, during and after an emergency. These relationships ensure that community resilience activities complement the work of the emergency services and can be undertaken safely.
- Resilient communities consist of resilient individuals who have taken steps to make their homes and families more resilient. Resilient individuals are aware of their skills, experience and resources and how to deploy these to best effect during an emergency.
- Members of resilient communities are actively involved in influencing and making decisions affecting them. They take an interest in their environment and act in the interest of the community to protect assets and facilities.
Implications and reflections
So, having read the Framework, here are some of the standout thoughts for me:
- Community resilience, they seem to be arguing, is really important, it needs to be led by communities, but there’s no money to help them with that
- The best people to organise and enable community resilience are those communities themselves
- No thought appears to be being given to how the need for enhanced community resilience, the engagement of people in this work, sits alongside the localism agenda and the Plan for Growth, and the inherent conflicts that emerge between the two
- You need to figure out yourselves what it is that you want to build resilience to
“‘Sustainable’ means ensuring better lives for ourselves, but does not mean worse lives for future generations, and
‘Development’ means growth. Accommodating new ways by which we earn our living in a competitive world, housing a rising population, and responding to changes new technologies offer”.
In other words, sustainable development is now any development which sustains growth. So here we have two agendas, one that is about stimulating economic growth at all costs, downplaying climate change and peak oil and removing all obstacles to large businesses doing what they like, and another which is about enabling communities to self-organise and actively respond to those things that they think reduce their resilience. Both are central to the UK government’s agenda, yet they run in complete parallel to each other, seen as entirely distinct and separate. However, if they were seen as being part of the same thing, as the Transition movement has argued, and has modelled in practice for 5 years, the benefits could be enormous. It would take only a fairly subtle shift in thinking, but it may turn out to be the thing that actually stimulates the economic activity, skills, training and investment they are presently so desperately scrabbling for.