The Commission’s report

This week the Camden Renewal Commission publishes its report – marking the culmination of over a year of work by Commissioners, community groups, partners and citizens. We have all worked together to understand and address the impact of the pandemic and inequality in our Borough, and develop ambitious and radical plans to make things better.

From thinking to doing 

We have been driven by the ambition of our communities. In September we held We Make Camden, our first week of action to bring together and galvanise the community energy we know exists around making Camden a better, fairer, more just and more sustainable place. We will continue to build on this energy – recognising that this isn’t about the Council delivering, but also where our role is to facilitate, step aside and convene.

Some of what we are already doing we have outlined below:

  • As part of our estates mission, we are bringing vacant spaces in estates into community use. This is in recognition of the importance of access to space, particularly in a central London borough where land and access to it is expensive, to community’s self determination and agency.
  • Laying the foundation for our food mission, Cooperation Kentish Town, a community led group in the borough, set up a food co-operative during the pandemic to create an alternative, affordable community owned food offer in their neighbourhood.
  • We’re working with Cooperation Kentish Town to help them scale this approach into a network of food co-operatives in the borough, supported by access to space to store and distribute food.
  • On the diversity mission – that by 2030, those holding positions of power in Camden are as diverse as our community – and the next generation is ready to follow – we are starting to see the power of what a Council’s different levers can achieve to effect change in a place.
  • Through our network of schools, working with Black Curriculum to ensure our curriculum celebrates Camden’s diverse history. We are diversifying school governor boards to ensure the people that live in Camden shape the way the area grows and develops by being the key decision makers in our important institutions.
  • We’ve used our convening power to bring anchor institutions in the borough together (UCL, UCLH, Google, British Library, VAC, residents and Small Green Shoots) and create a set of shared ideas about what we can do together, which will lead in to further detailed work next year.
  • To achieve the youth mission we are working to ensure we have a coherent offer for young people around work, training and education, and give young people real power to shape the future.
  • A new Camden Youth Offer for young people aged 13 to 18, and up to 25 for young people who have a learning disability will encompass a broad range of services including sport, leisure, music, arts and culture as well as employment and training.

Taking the mission forward from here

Whilst we’ve made significant progress on taking forward these 4 important missions in a uniquely turbulent and challenging time, there is further to go. The missions give us the opportunity to work to longer time frames, across political cycles, to give the depth of focus we know is required to tackle complex challenges of this nature. We have the foundations of a network of community and organisational partners who can help us to take forward these big priorities

Now we need to:

  • Identify those key projects that will help us make the best use of our resources and levers as an organisation to make progress towards the missions
  • Measure and track the impact of early work, in order that it informs the work as it progresses
  • Scale up the work we’ve done to enable resident leadership and activism in this first phase of the work, so it can continue to shape and influence the later work
  • Deepen the new relationships we’ve been building with partners – and create new ones

We are so excited to see this work continue to develop and grow, including outlining the concrete actions the Council will be taking to support the missions over the coming years. We can’t wait to do this with our Commissioners, with the new partnerships we have developed through this process, and most importantly with our citizens and communities.

You can read the Commission’s full report HERE.

Visit We Make Camden to learn more about how our communities are taking the missions forward.


Why this matters: renewal not recovery

Before COVID-19 struck, despite high overall employment, many of Camden’s citizens were not benefitting from the growth they saw around them. We had high levels of in-work poverty and insecure work, a gap in the rate of employment between those with a health condition or disability and those without, and a lower employment rate for residents from Black, Asian, and other ethnic backgrounds.

Structural economic challenges have fed into the borough’s wider social challenges too, with a child poverty rate of 43%, compared to a London rate of 37%, and 1 in 4 Camden children claiming free school meals.

It has exposed many of these structural problems and intensified them. It has shown the true cost of an unequal society and economy.

Yet it has also shown the power of community and their ability to come together and lead change.

The Camden Renewal Commission brings together the talent and energy of the many people and organisations that make up Camden to tackle inequality at its source. The core idea behind the Commission is that by working together on ambitious missions (more about what they are later) we can create radical change and that we need to renew, not simply recover.

To help kickstart this work, the Council and UCL’s Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) invited a dynamic and diverse group of people who live and or work in Camden to bring their expertise to tackle bringing place-based renewal to an area with significant social and economic inequalities, whilst supporting the transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2030. They are working with the Camden community, through a wide programme of social action, to develop a policy platform and practical solutions that create a fair, sustainable economy.

It is recognised that this is a bold and complex ambition that will take time and collective commitment. And to succeed, it needs to be rooted in the principles of citizen-voice, community action and mission-led innovation; one that will both be guided by, and help to define, policy and the systems that create change in the borough.  

Citizen voice

The Camden community has demonstrated ingenuity and resilience in the face of COVID-19 and have shown time and again that they have the knowledge and energy to mobilise real change. 

Lasting, purposeful change happens when people with varied expertise, backgrounds and perspectives come together to chart a new way forward. The public sector can’t do this on its own – and we’ve seen the power of working in close partnership with our community.  

Take Camden’s pop-up Think & Do community space for climate and eco action, for example. It encourages and empowers people in Camden to take part and run activities that tackle the climate crisis. The Commission aims to help build on the strengths of this approach, going further to collaborate across our community, in pursuit of achieving ambitious missions together.

Image of the Think & Do community space for climate and eco-action in Kentish Town, a pop up space in a shop. 

Already, we have been listening to resident stories and organisations working with those most affected by the Covid crisis – we have heard challenging stories of loneliness and food poverty, but also of human compassion and mutual aid. These stories form part of the robust evidence base that we’re collecting: from data on income and jobs, to the state of the environment, to health and wellbeing in the borough.

Mission-led innovation

Radical change needs original ideas and new methods of working. The Commission is using a missions-based approach to innovation, and we are fortunate to work in partnership with the IIPP at UCL as experts in this field to help galvanise our efforts.

The thinking goes like this: society’s grand challenges are by their nature big, bold, difficult and complex. To achieve them, they need to be broken down into pragmatic steps or ‘missions’ that frame the stimuli needed for innovation.

It shifts the focus away from sectors and on to the problems that matter to all. Missions purposely don’t stipulate how to achieve success, given one person or group can’t hold the answers to such complex challenges on their own.

We hope it will also help broaden leadership to our partners, democratise decision-making and mobilise activity across the borough – with residents, voluntary and community groups, and the business community.

Our draft missions are:

  • By 2030, those holding positions of power in Camden are as diverse as our community
  • By 2025, every young person has access to economic opportunity that enables them to be safe and secure
  • By 2030, everyone eats well every day with nutritious, affordable, sustainable food
  • By 2030, Camden’s estates and streets are creative and sustainable

Radical change is not only about the new

It’s an old cliché, but ‘not reinventing the wheel’ is less about resisting new ideas, and more about reminding us to maximise the existing knowledge, partnerships and work that is already underway.

The Commission has reinvigorated many of our existing programmes, such as testing policy on Universal Basic Services on digital and transport, the Camden Climate Action Plan, the Good Work Camden programme and a High Streets Taskforce.

The Council’s Inclusive Economy team were already co-designing services to create an economy in which people have access to good work and growth, in step with a commitment to de-carbonise by 2030. Inclusive economy means rethinking the purpose of economic development to further involve citizens and capture the benefits of growth.

And there’s some compelling examples of delivery too.

Good Work Camden – a new programme that supports more residents into good work and drive long-term reform – was a response to what we heard from residents. It’s creating ways of delivering employment support rooted in neighbourhoods, and as a result, over a thousand residents are projected to be supported into good work in the next couple of years.

The hyperlocal Good Work Camden Job Hubs, for example, take the time to build relationships and trust with residents seeking work, and provide holistic support that is so often missing.

This whole approach is anchored in the Council’s commitment to early intervention and prevention, recognising that getting people into work that is right for them can be instrumental in achieving other outcomes around health, wellbeing and happiness.

The Commission missions are designed to capitalise on what’s working. Through renewal, new systems can combine with existing ones to shape an economy that is inclusive and sustainable.

It’s a radical vision for a borough ready to take on the challenge of renewal.  

By Nick Kimber, Director of Corporate Strategy and Policy Design at London Borough of Camden