What is the future of civil society in England?

Julia Unwin, Credit - Adam Fradgley

We're excited to be a part of Civil Society Futures, a national conversation about how English civil society can flourish in a fast changing world.


Every one of us is involved in some way in civil society. Whether it’s a parent-teacher group, local faith group, a trade union or a chess club, giving to charity or helping out your neighbours once in a while - all of us have parts of our lives which aren’t about either the marketplace or the state.


English civil society has faced enormous changes in recent years. From the internet to public funding cuts; an ageing population, labour-market shifts and changing identities; organisations from national charities to community groups and churches to activist networks have had to adapt to survive. New ways of organising have sprouted. Old structures have died back. And the rate of change is unlikely to slow in the coming decade.

Change has always been inevitable: it’s the only constant in history. It brings vast opportunities as well as risks. But citizens and our organisations must find ways to understand it, to grasp it and to shape it. And that is what this two year inquiry is about. Together, we will develop a clear vision for the role of civil society in England for the next 10 years.


The conversation will be guided by independent panel of people with perspectives ranging from theatre making in South Wales to tech investment in Gaza, local government in the North of England to the world’s alliance of civil society organisations. It will be chaired by Julia Unwin, the former chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

The Inquiry has been funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Baring Foundation, Barrow Cadbury, Paul Hamlyn, Lloyds Bank Foundation, City Bridge Trust, Lankelly Chase and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Research support has also been provided by NCVO.


We are an Inquiry into Civil Society in ​England​. 

We are looking at England rather than the UK as a whole because each of the nations of the UK is important in its own right and has its own distinct questions to ask. We make no prediction as to the constitutional future of the nations of the UK, but it’s increasingly clear that to lump them together and treat them as the same would be a mistake. And we are looking at all of England: with events in communities right across the country, and research examining what’s happening everywhere.


Through community events, academic research and online debate, Civil Society Futures will create a space for a much needed conversation among those involved in all forms of civic action – from informal networks to vast charities, Facebook groups to faith groups.

Considering how both the nature of civil society and the context it exists in are changing fast, we will investigate how to maximise the positive effects of civic action and provide a guide to how to release its potential to drive positive change.

We need your opinions on civil society. Take part now and have your say.

Find out more about Civil Society Futures here.