Welcome to the Neighbourhood? Participation and Inclusion at a Local Level

Katherine Tonkiss

Earlier this month, a group from the Birmingham Social Inclusion Process (People Key Line of Inquiry) held a one day workshop with representatives from across the voluntary and community sectors in the city, to explore the notion of ‘welcome’.  As part of its Social Inclusion Inquiry (Giving Hope, Changing Lives), the partnership is considering options for making local communities more welcoming to new entrants (anyone moving into a neighbourhood), in a drive to improve levels of social inclusion.  I was invited to facilitate a session on the meaning of welcome, and participants were asked to brainstorm as many factors that they could think of that characterised, for them, a good welcome.

The results showed a three-pronged definition of a good welcome:

  1. Basic Needs: unsurprisingly, the image of a smiling face and a warm greeting was invoked by the majority of participants – as well as a warm, safe and welcoming environment.
  2. Inclusion, Help and Support: Knowing about the local neighbourhood, having access to facilities, sharing problems and communicating with neighbours was also viewed as a source of support that could contribute to feeling welcome.
  3. Interest, Recognition and Participation: Recognition of the individual and the provision of opportunities to participate and contribute were linked to feelings of being wanted and useful, which was also seen as key being welcome and included.

The particularly interesting aspect of the findings from this session is the division between inclusion as support, and inclusion as participation.  The two are related, in that the need for help and support for new entrants is likely to be more immediate – and in obtaining that help and support new entrants find themselves in a position to participate more fully in their community.  Yet the analysis does highlight that viewing new entrants such as international migrants as passive receivers of help and support as they adjust to their new surroundings is clearly problematic.  In effect, participation is central to inclusion because it involves taking part in a group activity, and helping to shape the local community.

One of the reasons that the ‘passive’ viewpoint is problematic is in how it conceives of integration.  The definition of integration here is one-sided, in that it is something that the newcomer does in order to be included into their new community.  Integration as a two-way process, with the community itself adjusting to reflect its new entrants as much as its existing demographic, is more conducive to the inclusion of new entrants.  Enabling the participation of new migrants, as I have demonstrated previously, means that local neighbourhoods can be shaped by those new voices.

However, the notion of integration as a two-way process is quite absent from national level politics, and this has a real impact at the local community level.  As I have argued elsewhere, the rhetoric of the Government on immigration and community cohesion[i] has reflected a traditionally conceived British culture into which migrants are expected to assimilate.  Further, Government discourse on human rights also reflects an inherent emphasis on a fixed notion of British identity and culture, where this discourse is utilised to reinforce traditional British citizenship and identity.  At a community level, this impacts on the inclusion of new entrants who often fall outside of the ascribed definition of the collective ‘we’ and are left relatively excluded from opportunities to participate and shape their local surroundings.

Being ‘welcoming’ might seem, on the surface, quite a straightforward idea.  Yet we are not talking about welcoming a guest – rather, the issue at stake is how to welcome a potential co-citizen, and the challenges here are considerably more complex.  Catherine Durose’s recent blog defined citizenship as practice, and the idea of participation as inclusion is certainly consistent with such a viewpoint.  Yet facilitating this form of participation is reliant on a wider transformation in how we conceive of inclusion and integration more broadly.


Katherine Tonkiss is a Research Fellow in INLOGOV.  She is currently working on a three year, ESRC funded project titled Shrinking the State, and is converting her PhD thesis, on the subject of migration and identity, into a book to be published next year with Palgrave Macmillan.  Her research interests are focused on the changing nature of citizenship and democracy in a globalising world, and the local experience of global transformations.  Follow her Twitter feed here.

[i] Tonkiss, K. (forthcoming 2013) Post-National Citizenship without Post-National Identity?  A Case Study of UK Immigration Policy and Intra-EU Migration.  In press, Journal of Global Ethics.

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