Recap: Insights from the National Conference on Societal Resilience

In March, Nick, Richard and Alice from the Communities Prepared team attended the second National Conference on Societal Resilience, at the University of Manchester, along with around 180 other attendees from a mix including Local Resilience Forums, Resilience organisations, Central government representatives, consultancies, and academics. So what did we learn, and what does this mean for Communities Prepared?

This was the second year for this conference, and was even better than last year. The 2023 event had the Government UK Resilience Framework as a scene-setter, which had been launched a few months before. This time, the focus was moving into delivery space against the framework – and how to actually bring about the changes to make ‘whole-of-society resilience’ a reality.  Key takeaway messages for us were around Community Development, Funding, Leadership, and tools. 

Despite the broader range of attendees, a question that kept cropping up was “who isn’t in the room?” We’d hope to eventually see more diverse community voices, more business engagement, and especially the finance and insurance sectors – but we recognise that it takes time to build wide buy-in to the concept of “whole of society resilience” – and the size of this conference was just right to allow key connections to be made. It was wonderful to spend time with some long-standing associates of Communities Prepared.

So, more on those key themes. Community Development was the pleasant surprise to me this year – that people were increasingly talking about the sort of work that Groundwork has been doing for over 40 years, as a fundamental foundation to building resilience in communities. As a Groundwork project, Communities Prepared have a lot of wider organisational expertise in this field which we can bring to the table. It seems that people are increasingly ready to hear about this wider experience, in the context of resilience building across the whole of society.

Funding is a particular concern for Communities Prepared – but is a sector-wide challenge – from community groups right up to central Government. Whilst a massive investment is needed in order to realise the ambitions of “whole of society resilience”, the sector doesn’t yet have common ways of describing the business case for resilience funding. This can lead to a short-term funding horizon – and a lot of churn in personnel, knowledge, and relationships. Government Spending Reviews are on the horizon and we await to see what funding for resilience may emerge from this. We look forward to more discussions within the sector (and with government) on how we can jointly influence the funding landscape for this essential resilience-building work.

There were a set of topics that were coming into focus in the Leadership space – including the emerging role of Chief Resilience Officers, more on the need for systems thinking and Social Value indicators, and the changing risk landscape. These topics feel crucial – whether at central government, local government level, or through more organic leadership activity happening at community scale. The type of mindset and skillset that this requires feels a long way from the established culture in emergency response. It points towards different ways of relating and of looking at complex problems. We need to consider how we reflect this in our Communities Prepared offering. 

The final item is around Tools. Thanks to DLUHC’s LRF innovation fund, a number of projects have been developing over the last 12 months – including Communities Prepared working with County Durham and Darlington LRF. We have been making changes to our online platform so it can better support the needs of community emergency volunteer groups and LRFs. Many of these innovation fund projects and approaches are still evolving, and more time needs to be put into sharing lessons from these different strands of work. A similar situation has been happening around hubs, where Communities Prepared and British Red Cross have been working together for a few years on Building Resilience Together – but there are quite a few organisations bringing their own model of hubs to the table – including the University of Manchester. In both these areas of tools and hubs, it was good to have a chance to speak to people face-to-face and share some learnings. 

Overall, the conference was highly valuable, and well organised. It feels quite unique, by being a forum open to such a wide set of stakeholders – including some international perspectives. It was very energising to have so many passionate and committed people in the same room for a day and a half, with a range of perspectives and experiences, having very necessary conversations about practical steps to improve the UK resilience sector. We look forward to further conferences in future years!

Nick Drew

Strategic Partnerships lead, Communities Prepared

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