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Levelling up after Covid: the value of social infrastructure

This event has now passed.

01/03/2021 | 5:30pm to 7:00pm

Leading experts from academia, the charity sector and government – Professor Eric Klinenberg, Professor Diane Coyle, Dame Julia Unwin, and Stephen Aldridge – discuss the value of social infrastructure in building socially cohesive and economically vibrant communities, and ways to do it.

Read the blog by Research Assistant, Tom Kelsey, that captures the debate between our guest speakers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed huge strain on local communities. Hospitals have come close to being overwhelmed; vulnerable and elderly citizens have become isolated; mental-ill health has soared; families have been separated and jobs have been lost. Many of these pressures have been felt most acutely by those communities which were already struggling.

Throughout the pandemic, however, we have witnessed the strength and resilience of many of our communities. Across the UK, mutual aid groups have proliferated, armies of volunteers have emerged and acts of neighbourly generosity have become commonplace. But some places have found it easier than others to build strong local networks of support.

To what extent does the mobilisation of local people in response to moments of crisis hinge on the local conditions of the place they live? Much is understood about the importance of physical infrastructure – roads, railways, bridges and airports. But what about a place’s social infrastructure? Do communities which boast well-funded libraries, properly maintained parks, a smattering of bustling pubs and a thriving community hall find it easier to come together and support one another when things are tough? And what role will this social infrastructure play in levelling up our communities as we turn our attention away from the immediate health and economic shocks of the pandemic towards the post-Covid recovery?

This debate includes the “why” and the “how” government, businesses, charities, schools, the media and community groups can all play an important role in levelling up ALL parts of the UK through social infrastructure.


  • Professor Diane Coyle, @DianeCoyle1859, Inaugural Bennett Professor of Public Policy.


  • Eric Klinenberg, @EricKlinenberg, Professor of Sociology, Helen Gould Shepard Professor in Social Science, Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University.
    Eric’s latest book is “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life” (Crown, 2018).
  • Dame Julia Unwin, @juliaunwin, was the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society 2017-2019,  is the former Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and has spent a career on issues relating to community development and the social infrastructure.
  • Stephen Aldridge, @saldridg, Director for Analysis and Data, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
    Stephen’s interest in social infrastructure arises in a broad range of issues on which he works in MHCLG including: levelling up and local economic performance; local public services; and communities. That interest spans: what exactly is social infrastructure; how best can or should it be measured; what aspects of social infrastructure have the most significant impacts on economic and social outcomes; and what can or should policymakers do about it. What works?

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