The power of place in child poverty and cost of living crisis

Find out more about our first Place Forum event and hear about the power of place and collaboration in child poverty and cost of living crisis.

An illustration of a child riding a bike with their sibling. There are buildings in the background with people walking and running.

How can placemaking tackle child poverty?

Our first Place Forum, held in March 2023, explored the theme of child poverty and cost of living crisis in Scotland and showcased a range of case studies to address the theme in the Scottish context.

The theme for the event reflects one of the core themes emerging from the 2022-23 Programme for Government: child poverty and the cost of living crisis. How can the key institutions that help shape our places work together to make place-based strategies relevant to tackling these themes?

The power of place 

Event chair Heather Claridge summarised the key takeaways from the event. Emphasising the power of place, the event tackled a lot of hard-hitting issues, including: 

  • thinking about the power of place and the idea of it not just being a physical place, but actually a social environment where relationships and bonds and bridges are made
  • we thought about, and heard examples of, the infrastructure, assets and ideas we need to make those social and physical environments better, 
  • to not label and do things by stealth and the need to have real strong leadership to achieve radical change, but also ending on the idea that we need to redesign systems to help us do better.

The speakers contributed blogs related to their talks which are available to explore below. You can also read highlights from the Questions and Answers session. 

Speaker's blogs

After providing a brief overview of the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling child poverty, the presentation sets out ongoing work on a Place-based Child Poverty Programme across 3 pathfinder projects in Glasgow, Dundee and Clackmannanshire to support families affected by poverty.

The pathfinders are examples of partnership working to overcome systemic and organisational barriers, rooted in a place-based approach that builds on local services and assets, whilst working flexibly to respond to circumstances affecting the community.

Read more about the Scottish Government's presentation from the Place Forum here.

Child poverty affects children’s wellbeing and development, and has been exacerbated by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. For built environment professionals, a key intervention point is the poverty of experience that can result.

Their presentation outlines how a strategic focus on child-friendly, place-based approaches can confer benefits to all. It draws out particularly on examples from APiC’s participatory practice to propose improvements to opportunities to play, hangout, and feel included. And further explores the barriers that remain in the way of fulfilling children’s needs, and explores strategies through which they may be overcome.

Read more about A Place in Childhood's presentation from the Place Forum here.

Renfrewshire Council continue to prioritise employability as a key theme of council work and recognise the impact it has on communities, poverty and quality of life for individuals. Partnership is key across all service delivery and place shaping has been a theme for many years in both the Council and Community plans.  

In their presentation, they spoke about place partnerships, how they aim to address the needs of their local community, person centred support and provided examples of what this support can look like through sample scenarios.

Read more about Renfrewshire Council's presentation from the Place Forum here.

A2B is a pilot run by Sustrans on behalf of Transport Scotland. Set in schools within three local authorities across Scotland A2B provides fleets of bikes and on hand expertise. Using existing staff knowledge of pupils and the building of a supportive community centred around the fleets, A2B tests a system for providing access to bikes to children in poverty.

Challenges faced by lack of resources and legacy building are overshadowed by the successes: increases in active travel, a free path to bicycle ownership, and improved employment prospects. Learning from A2B’s place-based approach can guide future interventions.

Read more about Sustrans presentation from the Place Forum here.

Young Scot's talk showcases how the free Young Scot National Entitlement Card (Young Scot NEC) can reduce the impact of poverty on the lives of young people.

They shared information about Young Scot as an organisation and the free services connected to the Young Scot NEC, including in-person and online discounts, proof of age and access to free bus travel and discounted public transport, and how they are benefitting all young people – especially those facing poverty. Attendees also heard about #YSAttain – the partnership with the Scottish Government and local authorities linked to the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

This partnership working is using the Young Scot NEC in innovative ways to improve the health and wellbeing of young people facing inequalities, helping to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap in a non-stigmatising way, and reducing the cost of the school day. These include interventions at a local level to reduce food insecurity/holiday hunger, reduce the cost of transport, create opportunities to access leisure facilities.

They showcased how these approaches can be easily adapted by different providers in local areas, and shared insight and direct feedback from young people about the impact #YSAttain has made to their lives.

Read more about Young Scot's presentation from the Place Forum here.

A person watching the live Q&A session from the first Place Forum event with guest speakers on the computer screen.

Q&A highlights

As part of the event, participants were asked to submit questions for the chair and speakers. The highlights from this section can be found below.

Gillian Cross (Scottish Government)

In terms of our place-based programmes, sometimes we are thinking of placing a more abstract sense, so it was good to hear some of the more physical built environment elements. Really interested in hearing more about Renfrewshire Employability Partnership. Can see real links there to the work we are doing in Dundee around the child poverty pathfinder and the links between the LEC and the jobcentre and DWP.  I would like to see if there is anything that could be shared across those two areas.

Dr Jenny Wood (A Place in Childhood)

Interested to hear about the more abstract idea of the social environment. I think the things that really stuck with me, that were common across what everyone was saying, is that any approach we do needs to focus on removing the barriers to people in any form that is. The importance of relationships came out really strongly that we cannot improve anything if we don’t focus on these relationships.

Maurizio Carlino-Rackett (Sustrans)

Enjoyed hearing about the sheer depth that people went into in their own specialisms. In the sense that it was really fascinating to hear about the support we have provided to adults and how they are navigating poverty and supporting children within that. Often a lot of good work happens in a silo, and hearing about other projects helps us think about how can we link into that and how can we support that.

Ruth Cooper (Renfrewshire Council)

Struck by how much we are doing, and immediately thinking: “Do we have this scheme as well?” and “I must tie up with them”. Even though you work in partnership at a local level, there are still parts missing that are a bit wider than what your partnership is about, but the impact of bringing them all together by making it as wide as possible brings a lot of added value.

Mary Cane (Young Scot)

The sense of place and what place means to each individual can be different, it can be a physical place or a community. But also everyone has highlighted the importance of how young people that we are providing services to are involved in the development and the design of those services.

Ruth Cooper (Renfrewshire Council)

Not particularly, lots of people have made employability work for them. More stigma around foodbanks – feel people are looking and judging. With employability there is not the same amount of stigma because it’s about advancing and growing yourself.

Gillian Cross (Scottish Government)

The physical places and spaces that Jackie (Brennan, Scottish Government) talked about in the presentation and making those really high quality and there is also something around the approach and how services approach people. Some of the things the Dundee key workers have done have completely flipped the way they have that first engagement with someone. 

Rather than saying “I am from x organisation and I am here to support you with employability” they say “I am here as part of a partnership that is looking to help you. What is on your mind today, is there anything I can support you with?” It can be anything, and sparks the conversation and makes the person feel in control of the conversation.

Jackie Brennan (Scottish Government)

Tackling stigma is a big thing. I touched upon the importance of bridging and bonding relationships, etc. It is important not to isolate and label people. Having services that are for poor people here and people with mental health issues over there, where you are excluding people. 

A lot of tackling stigmas is by providing services “by stealth” – offering other activities. E.g. if you use music and the arts, people go there for that purpose, but actually many of them are receiving support round about that.

Building up relationships – this is massively important, the reciprocal part of the relationship. So that it is not about having a separate service user and a service provider, opportunities for people to give back, so they have dignity and respect in that setting. Labelling and targeting creates that stigma, bridging and bonding helps break down that stigma.

Maurizio Carlino-Rackett (Sustrans)

Services by stealth is such an apt phrase. The pupils that were often stricken by poverty did not know how to ride a bike. They were not going to take a free bike or attend any of the public sessions about learning to ride a bike because they would get teased by their friends, etc. We did 1-2-1 sessions at times that were convenient and not publicly visible.

Dr Jenny Wood (A Place in Childhood)

That is the real challenge. We are always looking to try and connect not just doing research and finding out what could be better around children’s places, but how would that actually lead into action. 

Unless the specific project we have been commissioned for is to actually lead to action with an existing commitment often that is the uphill battle of “we have shown what needs to happen but then how to we lead that into implementation?”. That can often be the gap. 

Good to see people here that are actually leading these kinds of changes on the ground in specific places. We will take inspiration from that from today in trying to help partners we work with bring into practice. It comes from a commitment from people to actually see things differently and to look beyond their silo and system. When it comes to the built environment it can often be a long-term process to make change on the ground.

Gillian Cross (Scottish Government)

Biggest challenge is translating [our work] into bigger change and systems change. Particularly around some of the partnerships we are involved in, big organisations, local authorities, governments with big cultural shifts to make, service design and organisational change at that level is difficult. Third sector and small organisations often do this a lot better than big organisations. 

Feels like there is a real appetite and a growing appetite amongst senior leaders and ministers to look at some of this. The challenging fiscal context we are operating in and the growing pressures on us to deliver on things like child poverty targets and other initiatives means there is recognition that we do need to start doing things differently, and these place-based programmes are a really good place to start and a foundation to build on.

Jackie Brennan (Scottish Government)

Age old challenge of “something works in one environment. How do you scale and replicate it?” This whole issue of system change comes back to one of the core words – design and designing a system. Something about enabling and creating conditions for change. We can talk about wanting to change, but the system we have designed is not fit for purpose any more. 

In the enabling environment there is something about acknowledging this, and that you need to go through a redesign process to make it fit for purpose. We tend to add on. The big challenge is to go through the design process. Talk about moving from a welfare to an enabling state, but a lot of our systems are locked into a welfare state, this is a big challenge. Part of our work is to recognise those parts of the system that need a complete redesign. 

The whole issue of partnership is key. The place-based approaches are actually changing the relationship between Scottish Government and local authorities and different other sector partners to recognise the different assets around the table, and to recognise there are elements of the system that need redesigned quite significantly in order to review some of the barriers that are in the way.

Mary Cane (Young Scot)

More and more of what we are doing as we are developing these programmes of work, to tailor our wider services around the card, is very much looking at that idea of a 20-minute neighbourhood and what is it young people are able to access within their immediate area. 

This is definitely something that is influencing how these programmes are developing as we are moving forward, particularly for young people who are in poverty and experience other barriers, what is in their immediate space that supports them?

Ruth Cooper (Renfrewshire Council)

The other side of that in employability is that there are a lot of people we are supporting, and it is a 20-minute employment journey that they want to do. The more you earn the more you are prepared to travel in a day. 

For a lot of people, it is about local jobs and local opportunities especially if you are a parent. 20-minute neighbourhoods are important in our side of the service delivery, not just about delivering services local to communities, but the job opportunities where you go and how you get there. Really important concept.

Dr Jenny Wood (A Place in Childhood)

We talked about the 20-minute neighbourhood concept when we worked with young people and they really buy into it. It worked as a good child-friendly way to look at the world. They are on board with being able to walk and cycle to opportunities and their parents like the idea of them being freed up, lifts, etc. 

Lots of young people we have spoken to have talked about the national entitlement card and how that is opening up lots of opportunities.

This question relates to the Sustrans Access to Bikes (A2B) programme.

Maurizio Carlino-Rackett (Sustrans)

This was at the forefront of our concerns. We specifically, where possible, chose bikes that were attractive, some with brand names, etc. The other aspect was that at the start there was quite a big lull, which was not expected. 

There was a lot of hanging around allowing time to build relationships, some of those relationships were with the pupils. Sited on the school grounds, the pupils were able to try out the bikes. Pupils would show curiosity and build what we offered based on that. 

The mountain bikes were the most successful. There would be a max of 10-15 bikes that looked the same (with a spread of size) which out of 50 meant there was enough variety of choice for each size. Young people would choose and go away with a sense of ‘this in mine’ and they were encouraged to sticker it up or to modify it.

Event conclusion

As the event chair, Heather Claridge concluded Place Forum by inviting all speakers to answer the following core question: “What is the call to action for child poverty and cost of living crisis in your opinion ?”

Mary Cane, Young Scot

Remove stigma by using the Young Scot Card in a way that it can be used to support young people in the local community to help remove stigma.

Ruth Cooper, Renfrewshire Council

Improve local outcomes, the reason that we are here is to make changes and design new products and services. Whatever area of work you do, it is about increasing opportunities in the local area and supporting outcomes so that people are able to fulfil their lives. Collective responding and realising lots of things link together and overall make better lives and opportunities for people.

Gillian Cross, Scottish Government

Collective power and collective action to make things better for people, where there are people where they are so support to tell that story and help us to the influence in these places.

Jackie Brennan, Scottish Government

Empower. We are all leaders in this area in some sort of way, so it is really important to reflect on how much power we hold and how much we use that for good to challenge the system when it needs changed. But also, really critically when to give that power away to make partnerships far more effective. Especially when we are talking about voice and agency and community and working with third sector organisations working in partnership that sometimes, holding on power can be a barrier to change. So reflect on the extent that power is both an enabler and also a barrier to change.

Maurizio Carlino-Rackett, Sustrans

Put in time to projects to collaborate. There is wonderful work being done, and we know it is happening. But if it is not part of the project, it inevitably gets pushed to part of an afternoon or evening. So, if there is going to be sustainable collaboration think about how much impact could the delivery have, to have daytime included talking to people who are already doing good work.

Dr Jenny Wood, A Place in Childhood

Give time to speak to children and young people and recognise if you are in an area where there is quite a lot of poverty you need to give more time, where you have engagement strategies, where you just have this allotted amount. But in some places, you need to go in and build relationships and trust to get at the real issues and bring people on board. Sometimes a lot of young people just think a lot of stuff gets done to them and does not get done with them. So, put in the time to really work with them so they see their insights are actually be an efficiency saving. Overall, if we are going to talk about the money it will actually be better for the whole process and it will be the right thing to do.

About the Place Forum

The aim of Place Forum is to bring together practitioners and decision-makers from all sectors and all parts of the country. It provides professionals, community groups and local authorities with a platform to share experience and learning, and capture issues related to place-based working.

The Place Forum promotes a better understanding of the barriers that still exist in working collaboratively and focuses on place-based approaches.

Find out more about Place Forum 2: Towards zero carbon places (June 2023) here.