Asset Based Community Development and supporting the community response to Covid-19

To apply an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach to engaging and building communities and, following these principles, to coordinate a community response to Covid-19. It focuses on supporting the strengths of communities, encouraging citizens to resolve what they can themselves, and identify what is best delivered by the local authority and third sector. During 2020/21 the ABCD model continued to grow in Leeds, with 237 Community Connectors recruited and 33 new self-sustaining groups formed involving 293 citizens. Research has estimated that up to £14.02 of social value is returned for every £1 invested.

Background and purpose

ABCD is a neighbourhood-based community building approach founded on the principle that given the tools and the opportunity, small groups of citizens can change the things they believe need changing.

Leeds has pioneered the use of ABCD. A recent Leeds Beckett University evaluation (February 2021) stated ‘to our knowledge, there is no other UK city that has committed to roll out an ABCD programme of this size’.  By 2019, the ABCD model was operating in 12 ‘Pathfinder’ communities across the city; each with access to a Community Builder to identify people active in the community and bring others together, and council-funded ‘Small Sparks’ grants to develop and deliver ideas. As of January 2022, Leeds has five new Pathfinder sites, taking the total number to 14 including one with a focus on the ROMA community and another is an arts-based organisation.

Asset-based approaches were then developed across the third sector and within a range of council services, including in the creation of Neighbourhood Networks, a citywide approach to supporting older residents to remain in their communities rather than engaging residential services. This is part of a broader approach to enable people to live better lives using a strength-based approach to social care practice (focused on what people can do), such as making sure everyone in Leeds has at least ‘three good friends’ to impact positively wellbeing and highlighting the importance of ABCD as part of the community response during the pandemic.

What has been delivered?
When the pandemic struck in March 2020, the embedded principles of ABCD enabled Leeds to respond swiftly in coordinating the local community volunteering response. Local trusted partners were brought together into Community Care Hubs in each of Leeds’ Wards from Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations.

These hubs have been on the frontline of supporting individuals and communities through the challenges brought about by the initial lockdown and continuing disruption, with key activities including: food provision, collecting and transporting prescriptions and other essentials, befriending services, health promotion and other bespoke services.

Volunteering efforts have been supported by elected members, both through direct funding of Community Care Hubs and getting involved themselves to support vulnerable individuals in need. Members have kept residents informed through social media, and passed on referrals and intelligence to services from on the ground in their neighbourhoods.

What was the impact/next steps?
A co-produced evaluation of ABCD in Leeds by Leeds Beckett University, Leeds City Council and community organisations has highlighted a range of positive impacts, not least on improving health and wellbeing, and estimated that up to £14.02 of social value is returned for every £1 invested. The research found that ABCD has supported better social connections and new friendships, with greater community cohesion: bridging differences in generations and neighbourhoods being more inclusive of people with disabilities. There are now plans to expand the ABCD approach to more council services.

Community Care Hubs were delivered in all 33 wards of the city by 27 third sector partners, encompassing a range of locally trusted organisations. There has been national recognition of the work undertaken in Leeds and discussions about how it can be adopted in other areas.

Moving beyond the crisis response, it is proposed that the Community Care Hubs are recognised as an ongoing citywide network, aiming to ensure that the work undertaken by the hubs is maintained and grown. This could provide a model for how the city works with people and communities to tackle a range of strategic challenges at a local level – from food poverty to the impacts of climate change.