3: The changing policy context

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This chapter begins by tracking the way in which community development has evolved over the years and the factors that have shaped this evolution. It then identifies some of the recurrent policy themes that have driven interest in community development and describes the contribution that communities can make to these: welfare and service reform, democratic renewal, restoring community, and regenerating places and economies.

Community development today has many foundations in the past. Some lie in communities themselves: the mutual organisations, co-operatives and friendly societies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example, where, as industrialisation gained pace, working-class people banded together to pool their resources, meet common needs and campaign for improved rights and better conditions. Some can be found in external initiatives, such as the university settlements which, from the 1880s onwards, brought students into poor urban areas to live and work with local communities. More recently, after World War Two, the UK government introduced community development in its colonies as a bulwark against communism and to foster economic development in the interests of empire. It was then deployed to prepare indigenous populations for a peaceful transition to independence. Marj Mayo (1975) traces similar ‘colonial’ antecedents in the US, where, she argues, self-help projects were supported in order to stave off discontent among Black and minority ethnic (BME) populations and ensure a skilled and disciplined labour force.

Community development also has roots in housing and planning. The origins of the tenants’ movement, for example, lie in the rent strikes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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