When Bexley Council in South London moved social exclusion to the top of its agenda it placed two-way communication at the heart of its strategy. A key element in this process was a survey – undertaken by BMG Research – which examined the causes of, and attitudes towards, exclusion amongst local communities.
Realising that much of its work is affected in some way by issues surrounding exclusion, Bexley Council has made its strategy for social inclusion and community cohesion a cornerstone of future plans.
Although the council had been gathering information from a variety of sources (an analysis of partner statistics on crime, health, social services, conferences, workshops, public meetings, borough wide surveys in Bexley Magazine, a Talkback Panel, local area forums and partnerships) it felt there were gaps in it’s knowledge. The council also felt that it needed a contemporary survey to inform its Community Cohesion Strategy and its action planning for the coming years.
A cross party project group of council members wanted, in particular, to get to grips with certain areas where an analysis of statistical data had shown that social inclusion was at a low-ebb and also to have research which brought together the views of residents, communities and organisations in the area.
Bexley Council was also concerned that the survey should be representative of all ethnic groups and different sections within those groups to help them understand better how to bring together the views of diverse communities and how overall cohesion may be achieved.
BMG Research carried out both a quantitative household survey, which consulted some 200 residents face-toface, and qualitative research involving focus groups and 200 face-to-face depth interviews. The in-depth interviews were geographically thorough ensuring that the sample was a fair cross-section.
Part of the remit of the consultation was to engage with residents of different ages and a variety of community bases as well as stakeholder groups, eight of which were identified by the council. The survey brought these stakeholders together for four focus groups as part of the in-depth research and the survey was deliberately weighted to ensure the input of BME communities (black and minority ethnic groups).
The in-depth approach meant the survey was able to draw out residents’ concerns about the area and what they thought contributed to social exclusion. Points were made about all areas of the council’s jurisdiction: transport, housing, local amenities, crime, unemployment, services for children, provision of information and sense of community.
The strongest sense of social cohesion was found amongst residents who had lived in the area for their whole lives, though these people acknowledged that it would be difficult for more recent settlers to get involved. Having benefited from the survey’s insights the council has devised a borough wide, area-based, multi-agency response to tackling social exclusion and promote community cohesion, which it is calling ‘Areas of Opportunity’.
Councillor Grant Blowers, Chair of Bexley’s Social Inclusion Scrutiny Project Sub Group, says: ‘The soft data gathered by BMG Research has played a vital role in informing our future planning and is helping the council to build stronger communities.’