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Pioneering community-led projects could be the key to tackling social issues 

A first-of-its-kind community project where local residents create solutions to major social issues could be scaled nationwide, Essex researchers have found.

All In, created by Eastlight Community Homes, gave 20 Essex residents the opportunity to dedicate a year of their lives to one goal – creating a bold solution to a big social issue in their community, and then making it happen.  

Participants were paid an annual salary to focus their efforts on the project.  

Academics from Essex Business School worked alongside the Essex-based housing association for the duration of the project and have “been blown away” by the success of what was the first community project of its kind.

Lead researcher, Dr Rebecca Warren, alongside researchers Dr Lewis Smith and Christopher Cunningham, said the concept could be rolled out to help communities across the country to create new solutions tackling the big social issues affecting them. 

Dr Warren said: “The project saw people working on issues which were important to the communities of north Essex. Not only was it a transformative experience for them, but more than 2,500 people engaged in person with the programme in one year.  

“This programme speaks to the government’s Levelling Up agenda and is a model which could be replicated around the country. They have created a unique approach to tackling change and it is impactful on multiple levels. These are projects which are genuinely important to the community.” 

All In saw four teams of residents work alongside their communities to research, design, trial and pilot grassroots solutions to social issues ranging from the cost-of-living crisis to mental health. In June 2023, members of all four teams secured funding to create standalone organisations and continue their work.

These organisations include Trusted, a first of its kind money confidence programme where the experts in the room were Colchester residents with personal experience of how to make their money stretch. A six-week trial saw 10 participants save more than £40,000.

Trusted Director, Karen Badenoch, said: “We are so grateful for the opportunity and so proud of what we, together with the Colchester community, have achieved.”

The other ideas created were Popcorn, a support group for isolated young people; Kinder Minds, an empowering wellbeing programme; and Grow with the Flow, comprising period positivity sessions in local schools.

The projects made a huge impact on Essex’s communities. 

The participants went through a life-changing experience, working with people in their communities to create four uniquely community-led schemes which, research has found, has already improved lives in the communities.

Analysis of All In through social return on investment methodologies found that for every £1 invested, the Social Return on Investment was £6.26 in its first year alone.

Dr Warren explained: “Social Return on Investment, used alongside other research methodologies, is a way of accounting for and measuring outcomes that aren’t traditionally reflected in financial statements. This could include social, economic or environmental factors that have had a positive impact.

“It accounts for how an organisation uses its resources to create value for the community, so we can see here that the investment made in providing the participants with an annual salary and the support the projects received was worth every penny”. 

James Green, Eastlight’s Social Innovation and Community Empowerment Director, said: “We created All In, the UK’s first community incubator, because we believe the people experiencing the social issues which impact the lives of so many in our communities are the best people to tackle them.

“Our inspirational community entrepreneurs and the thousands of local people who supported them over the last year have demonstrated that in spades. Together, they have built ideas which continue to make a difference to residents’ lives today and could only have been created in this grassroots way.”

All In has received national recognition and won the Neighbourhood Transformation category at the Affordable Housing Awards in November 2023.