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Guide to Cohesion and Regeneration

During the spring and early summer of 2001, there were a number of disturbances in towns and cities in England involving large numbers of people from different cultural backgrounds. This brought issues of reducing, avoiding and managing conflict between groups in local areas - usually referred to as ‘community cohesion' - to the forefront of public policy, where they have remained ever since. 

However, the discussions have generated a mountain of competing jargon, and the term 'community cohesion' needs further explanation. The government review of the events of 2001, chaired by Professor Ted Cantle, suggested - as one way of looking at the subject - the following summary of the various aspects ('domains') of Community Cohesion (1):

Although it should be noted that there are various schools of thought, the table above implies that community cohesion is closely related to some other well-known jargon -   

- so a basic understanding of these terms will be useful in trying to work out what ‘cohesion' means in practice.


Social cohesion

Social cohesion is a shorthand developed by the EU and usually refers to overall social inclusion and inequalities issues. This includes racial, disability, and gender equality issues.

Social capital

The four components of social capital are generally reckoned to be:

Together they generate a sense of community, as shown by this definition: 'A community is a web of relationships defined by a significant level of mutual care and commitment'. One possible sequence of events is that people make connections that then make them willing to do favours for the other person. If this is reciprocated, it leads to trust. In practice, all four components both rely on and nurture the other three.

Connections with others are often separated into 'strong ties' and 'weak ties', corresponding to a distinction between two forms of social capital: 'bonding', within a like-minded community, and 'bridging', that occurs between a number of communities. A balance of the two is needed. As an example of the value of bridging capital, the best kind of social network for finding work is rich in ‘weak ties' to a wide range of people who are unlike oneself. An American study, which showed that church membership was the best predictor of getting a job in the inner cities, was originally interpreted as a sign of the value of religion. In fact, it is simply that churches provided more chances to mix with people from different social backgrounds.

Social exclusion

Social exclusion is about more than income poverty - it involves prospects, networks, and life-chances. It is a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas have a combination of linked problems, such as unemployment, discrimination, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime and family breakdown. These problems are mutually reinforcing. Social exclusion is an extreme consequence of what happens when people seem to miss out on opportunities throughout their lives, often because of disadvantage they face at birth. Cumulatively, social exclusion causes more harm than material poverty - to the individual, to self esteem, to society as a whole - and is more likely to be passed down from generation to generation.

Social inclusion

Social inclusion is understood as a process of moving people away from exclusion, dealing with multiple problems, and integrating individuals into society. It is a reversal of socially excluded characteristics such as inability to participate in economic, social, political and cultural life, and alienation and isolation from mainstream society.

Economic inclusion

Economic inclusion concentrates on the economic factors of disadvantage, and describes the process of overcoming the barriers that prevent people from participating fully in the workplace. Being inclusive involves enabling and encouraging everyone to make a contribution to economic life, requiring investment in education and skills to ensure a supply of talented individuals, help for employers to make the best use of the talent available, minimising of barriers to participation in the labour market, help for individuals considering self-employment, start-up business advice and facilities, and steps to maximise the contribution of important sectors to economic inclusion - for example, health, culture and the voluntary and community sectors.

Good practice for community cohesion in regeneration

A factor analysis by the Home Office found that cohesive communities have five key attributes:

Local areas with a high sense of community, political trust, and sense of belonging show significantly lower levels of reported crime. Not only this, but rates for various types of crime are predicted to reduce as sense of community goes up, as shown by the graph below. The research found that as the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) score increases by one unit, violent crime is predicted to increase by 3 per cent, and as the sense of community increases by one unit, violent crime is predicted to decrease by 3 per cent. In effect an increased sense of community negates the impact of high deprivation upon violent crime.

Community cohesion is therefore not simply about avoiding problems and tensions, but about encouraging positive relationships between different groups - most commonly this has referred to ethnic groups, but other examples are intergenerational and gangs and guns issues. The key elements within this are respect for diversity and meaningful interaction (for example, people working together towards common goals rather than mixing per se - see Groundwork's good practice examples. Recent research has increasingly recognised the importance of the quality of the interaction.

The government's Commission on Integration and Cohesion reported its findings in summer 2007, and produced a final report, case studies and research thinkpieces (including an interesting study on Community Cohesion and Deprivation. At the same time, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) produced good practice guidance 'What Works in Community Cohesion' and commissioned 'The Economic Case for Cohesion'.

The I&DeA (Improvement & Development Agency) website has information about measuring equality at a local level in its 'Equality and Diversity' pages. This is important because perceived inequality in a local community can be harmful to community cohesion.  

For further references and information, download RegenWM's references sheet from the bottom of the page.

Practical tips for practitioners and policy makers

Don't leave it to the equalities officer or the diversity champion - all practitioners have a duty to consider access to services, and cohesion-proofing projects at the beginning is a lot simpler than trying to pick up the pieces after mistakes have been made

Do include practices that help staff promote cohesion (in their own work and externally) as part of normal organisational work practices

Don't take a narrow view of equality and diversity practice as just a matter of tackling inequalities and preventing discrimination

Do use equality and diversity practice to support positive relationships between different communities, across a range of differences (age as well as ethnicity)

Don't forget to keep checking the issues on the ground against your policy-document understanding

Do make sure that the community is involved meaningfully in cohesion work - community organisations and networks can be very valuable in signposting services and challenging community misconceptions

Don't lose sight of the balance between targeting and universalism

Do target those groups that are most disadvantaged, and use partnership working to ensure that there is a balanced programme which does not overlook those who share the same disadvantage but are less visible

Don't undervalue the ‘small steps' along the road to inclusion - results may not be immediately obvious

Do look for measurements that capture the issues, ensure projects are well targeted, and be prepared to offer continuity of funding where need is ongoing and evolving  

Back to main Good Practice and Evidence Page »

(1) From Forrest, R., & A. Kearns, 2000, ‘Social Cohesion, Social Capital and the Neighbourhood'. Paper presented to ESRC Cities Programme Neighbourhoods Colloquium, Liverpool, 5-6 June.