How do we build social integration?

10 min readFeb 26, 2022

Social integration is about improving the connections between people from different communities so they feel a sense of collective belonging to the places they live in, trust in the neighbours and people in those neighbourhoods and solidarity towards them. At its best, social integration builds trust between individuals, groups and communities. Through that trust and solidarity, people can also feel safer, adapt to change and build on the local skills and resources to make a difference where they live. It also encourages people to want to tackle inequalities and isolation in their communities.

The connectivity and geography of Newham coupled with its access to the arts and cultural landscape have the potential to entice longer-term financial and social investment. Historically the London docks were a destination for people all over the world and to this day, that level of diversity continues.

Newham’s ethnically diverse population is to be celebrated, with 72% of residents from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups and 27% non-UK nationals (figure 2 refers). Bangladeshi 12.5% Black African 11.1% Black Caribbean 4.1% Indian 14.9% Other Asian 6.6% Other White 13.5% Pakistani 9.9% White — British 13.3% Figure (2 Newham’s diversity is also reflected in its religious preferences (figure 3 below) and languages are spoken; only 58.6% of the population have English as their main language, which represents the lowest percentage in the UK. The borough boasts over 100 languages of which 7.4% speak Bengali, 4.4% Urdu and 3.3% Gujarati

People from different backgrounds are brought together, with opportunities to learn about each other and build connections. These experiences allow people to have more positive and frequent shared cultural interactions, which foster greater dialogue and empathy within the community.

We can provide the opportunity for people of different backgrounds to share a common sense of place and celebrate and understand the history of the borough and its people. Newham’s heritage is about people as well as places. How we approach heritage affects how we choose to grow. An important part of this lies in understanding Newham’s heritage and its significance. In turn, better understanding will help to create high-quality placemaking that responds to emerging agendas on race and equalities such as Black Life Matter. We can be confident that we conserve what we should and use cherished heritage to create inspiring new environments.

Over the last year, we have seen an unprecedented set of events from the Covid-19 pandemic that have affected the global landscape. Within Newham, it exposed the vulnerabilities of the most socially and economically deprived within the borough and had a disproportionate impact upon black and minority ethnic populations.

The mobilisation of VCFS organisations and mutual aid groups in the borough in response to Covid-19 has been significant. The coordinated effort has supported thousands of people, assisting with food, befriending and prescription deliveries. During a time where society has been instructed to observe physical social distancing, Newham saw growth in collaborative networks of people working to socially connect, help and support vulnerable communities in the crisis.

The VCFS and civil society have a vital role to play and a central part of the strategy is ensuring we understand what they are currently doing and what can be done to further,

in partnership, promote social integration. ‘Together for Newham’ is a key relationship in supporting this agenda.

Young Newham Framework is committed to nurturing safe spaces and relationships for young people at risk of isolation from society through exploitation and serious youth violence.

• A review of the Council’s approach to indebt and levels of debt will inform a more relational and person-centred approach to financial inclusion.

  • Strengths-based approaches to adult and children’s social care will further enable vulnerable families and individuals to build self-reliance and develop greater agency in resolving the challenges they face

We are committed to and delivering record numbers of affordable homes, including 50% on all Newham land, which will result in more mixed communities, less poverty and exclusion.

Our Newham Work, Newham’s job brokerage service has successfully increased the employment rate in the borough. A service review is presently underway to explore pathways to support harder to reach groups and those with complex needs. We will develop a skills strategy to help residents to develop their careers and access higher paid and better-skilled jobs with a focus on those currently excluded.

Nearly 50% of the borough live in poverty after housing costs. Newham council has become an accredited Living Wage employer for the first time and is encouraging other employers in the borough to do the same.

We have launched Brighter Futures for families with young children ensuring that it embeds social integration principles of bringing different groups together.

We are one of the London boroughs benefiting from the launch of early help hubs which bring together schools, childminders and nurseries to ensure children are ready to start school and aimed to create more opportunities for social mixing.

National programmes such as Black History Month, LGBT History Month, Pride, Women’s History Month and Windrush Day provide distinct opportunities for people to participate in events to mix with others, celebrate and understand different backgrounds.

Newham Heritage Month is back for 2021! The festival took place throughout May under the theme Shops, Docks and Factories with live participatory events and online activities taking place across the borough to showcase the rich and diverse heritage of Newham.

Volunteering has always been part of everyday life in Newham.

The contribution of volunteers during the Covid- 19 pandemic has been significant.

It’s important to recognise that this huge effort was facilitated and supported by a solid foundation of existing volunteering activity.

Volunteering has a great impact — it brings a host of benefits that are social and personal not only to the individual but also to the organisations that they support to deliver so many services.

There is great value to be realised from Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV), where staff from organisations and businesses are supported to volunteer in their community, and allowed to contribute the act of giving time and support to their community.

Experience from the Covid-19 pandemic response saw some of London Borough of Newham’s workforce support the establishment of #HelpNewham, where staff helped in the effort of responding to the call to help put together food parcels at foodbanks and made befriending calls to vulnerable residents who were shielding during the lockdown. This was a crucial lifeline to those who were lonely, isolated and in need of support.

The council is committed to building upon this approach by introducing a council-wide Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) Programme

Newham Businesses Newham based businesses also have a continued part to play in contributing toward the ongoing volunteering effort in the borough, whether it is through encouraging more of their staff to volunteer locally or building closer links with smaller enterprises or supporting schools.

Improved coordination of volunteering across the borough will harness volunteering opportunities and encourage greater contribution of corporate social responsibility.

Attempts to estimate how many residents volunteer in Newham is a challenge, as volunteer recruitment and coordination can happen at a very local level. Establishing a Newham Baseline — This is still work in progress and will be compiled by the Newham Volunteering Hub, once established, and updated as soon as is possible.

We have been committed to a co-production approach from the outset. We have been determined to ensure that the action plan resonates with all stakeholders and partner organisations and reaches out to all members of our Newham communities.

The ‘Open Space’ meeting — We began the journey with an Open Space meeting in December 2019 where over 30 stakeholders and partners came together at Canning Town Library to co-design the process of writing the action plan. The Visioning group — A Visioning group of 13 was quickly assembled in January 2020 to create the North Star for the strategy

The working Group meetings of up to 12 attendees were then held in February and March to progress the thinking and the content and then the pandemic arrived, we entered the first national lockdown and the work was suspended. National volunteering week — We did however stage a range of events — largely online — to celebrate the significant role of volunteers in Newham during the first phase of the pandemic in June.6 The working Group reconvened — The working group was reconvened with additional partners on 28 July to check in with the progress to date and to make sure our approach would be relevant to the new ‘Covid world’ in which we were now operating. We had 20 attendees. This meeting was followed by informal coffee drop-in sessions for all working group members to ensure all views and contributions were heard and we could explore issues in greater detail (8 attendees). The project team — We then assembled a cross-sector project team of 6 to write the action plan — a truly collaborative effort!

The individual volunteer — developing a clear process to recruit and deploy volunteers in Newham By providing clear communications of the types of volunteering opportunities available across the borough, volunteer recruitment messaging will be clearer. This clarity will allow potential volunteers to easily and clearly identify the right volunteering opportunity for them, helping to reduce volunteer dropout. With data-backed knowledge of the needs of Newham’s volunteers, organisations that have supportive processes for volunteer onboarding, monitoring and signposting at the end of the volunteering opportunity, create better environments for volunteers thereby increasing volunteer retention rates.

The aim is to recognise that volunteering is an important part of the career journey for many, whilst others choose to volunteer to give back, socialise with others and share expertise gained through professional employment or lived experience. Whatever the motivation — we hope that volunteering enhances feelings of wellbeing and connectedness and that this strategy can embrace all volunteer needs.

Support partner organisations to recruit, train and place volunteers Organisations will benefit from the development of the Volunteering Hub and its tailored resources and support will ensure that organisations have the tools and enhanced know-how to deliver high standard services to all of their volunteers. The increased awareness of the range of individuals that pursue volunteering activities in the borough will enable host organisations to frame the way they engage with volunteers. This will result in the provision of meaningful experiences for their volunteers and a network of volunteers that are engaged, fulfilled and receiving mutual benefit from being part of their organisations. Ensure the impact of volunteering plays a positive role in building a more cohesive, united and fairer borough Covid-19 has already shown the importance of volunteering across the borough. Not only has it been vital in delivering essential services across the borough, but it also plays an important part in the wellbeing and connectedness we feel like a community. Supporting and promoting the development of good quality volunteering opportunities with community partners will have a direct impact on wellbeing, social connectedness and belonging as we bring people together around shared causes and ensuring our residents know where to go for help and support. As well as playing a role in creating a strong sense of community, volunteering also provides opportunities for people to build the social and cultural capital required to access and participate actively in society, to have their voice heard, and share their skills and experiences with others. Newham has a diverse population and it’s also the youngest borough in the country in terms of population profile. It’s therefore important that the strategy reaches out to everyone!

The strategy, therefore, contains actions around how we celebrate and recognise volunteers, how we acknowledge the roles of people who wouldn’t necessarily think of themselves as volunteers, such as Mutual Aiders and how we don’t miss out on the chance to engage underrepresented groups that include, but are not limited to those with disabilities, on low incomes, and in BAME communities.

Evidence that the beneficiaries of volunteering feel supported and their needs are met With the introduction of robust evaluation methods, organisations will be able to measure the impact of the volunteering opportunities they offer from the perspective of the volunteer, the host organisation and beneficiaries. Taking first-person accounts from volunteers and beneficiaries and amplifying their voices will ensure that Newham’s volunteering offer makes the broadest possible impact. Utilising data from the evaluations will provide information that can be used to provide improvements to all elements of the volunteering journey.




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese