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The War on Poverty in Britain: Documents from the Community Development Projects

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From 1970-1978, inspired at least in part by the US War on Poverty, the British government funded 12 Community Development Projects (CDP) in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in England, Scotland and Wales. The CDPs were given resources to hire paid community workers to work alongside community residents toward the goal of ameliorating deleterious local conditions. The projects began in a spirit of great optimism and although they were expected to be short-lived, by 1978, all twelve projects had been de-funded and were shut down, some amidst a great deal of acrimony. In a few cases a successor project, scaled back and with a more modest brief, continued. The programme as a whole, however, closed.

In the tumultuous political climate of 1970s Britain, many of the community workers hired to staff the projects ended up developing radical critiques of the government’s policies on poverty, including criticisms of the CDP, itself. In addition, in working with residents of beleaguered communities to secure vital resources, the CDP workers created additional controversy by engaging in direct confrontations with their local councils.

Each of the 12 projects included both an action team and a research team. The extent to which these functions overlapped one another varied from project to project depending on the local personnel. In any case, over the course of the CDP’s lifespan, both the local teams and a central research team, which was established later in the life of the Projects and which continued into the early 1980s, after the local Projects had been disbanded, produced an extraordinary corpus of reports in which they analyzed the causes and consequences of poverty. These reports contain astonishingly prescient documentations of the process of de-industrialization and the changing policy initiatives that once constituted Britain’s comprehensive welfare state.

There were three categories of reports:

I. National reports: These were largely issued by the CDP Information and Intelligence Unit (IIU) based in London and produced in the name of all or most of the local projects. The Unit was actually closed down some time before the last project closed (Benwell, 1978) and Benwell CDP and its successor project, the West End Resource Centre, took on responsibility for producing and then selling and reprinting these from 1976 onwards.

II. Local project reports: Each local project produced a number of formal, published reports: in some cases, this comprised a few mimeographed reports during the life of the project and one large consolidated final report at the close of the project. In other cases, this comprised a collection of complementary, well-produced and illustrated reports, each focussing on key aspects of the local social and political economy.

III. Community Development Project Political Economy Collective: After the IIU closed and most projects had also been closed, some of them in a hurry by discontented local authorities, the CDPPEC – a collective of ex-workers – continued to publish a series of reports in the same format as the national CDP reports. Some of these had been in the pipeline when projects closed, others took up the themes addressed earlier or themes on which the IIU had not been able to publish. These reports were produced up to 1981.

Clearly, there has been something of a revival of interest in the CDP experience in recent years and many of the issues raised by the CDP have not only had continuing salience but are likely to come to the foreground again during the current period of economic restructuring. Most of the original material in the first three categories is now only to be found in the archives/attics of individual workers, both those associated with the CDP and other workers of the period.

The 12 Local Community Development Projects

The first four projects were establishing in the following communities and were launched in 1970:

Glamorgan (Upper Afan, Wales)
Southwark (South London)

The next four projects were established in 1971-72:

Benwell (Newcastle)
Newham (East London)
Batley (West Yorkshire)
Cleator Moor (Cumbria)

Shortly thereafter, the final four projects were initiated:

Paisley (Scotland)
North Shields (North Tyneside)
Oldham (Lancashire)

By 1978, all of the projects had been phased out.

In this collection, we are missing reports from the Paisley project. We hope to rectify this omission soon. All of the other projects are represented by at least one report. Several of the Inter-Project Reports, which remain key texts for understanding the analyses and critiques of politics, poverty and policy developed by the CDP workers, are reproduced on this site. These reports are difficult to procure and are perhaps less well-known than they deserve to be outside of the UK and even in the UK. As an institution, IUPUI has an on-going interest in British studies and is increasing those linkages through the work of Associate Professor Jason Kelly, Director of IUPUI’s Arts and Humanities Institute. In addition, this collection reflects on-going research being carried out in England by Associate Professor Susan Hyatt in the Department of Anthropology. As there is something of a revival of interest in the politics and social policy of the 1960s and ‘70s, these reports are key primary sources for scholars carrying out research in those areas and for teaching on such topics as Social Policy; Poverty; Community Development and Community Action, among others.

Many of these Reports are still available in printed form from Judith Green, who was very generous in allowing us access to her own archive. For information about ordering printed copies, please contact:

Judith Green
85-87 Adelaide Terrace
Newcastle-upon Tyne
England NE4 8BB

Thanks are also due to Gary Craig, another key CDP worker, who contributed many of the National Inter-Project and Benwell reports, who managed the distribution of CDP and CDPPEC reports until 1984, and who supplied many of the more difficult to locate reports for scanning from his own collection. He also hosted Professor Hyatt during her stay in the UK in 2013. Professor Craig, now at Durham University, can be contacted at:


In the course of field work in England, Hyatt discovered an archive of photographs from all 12 CDP project communities that were commissioned by the Home Office, the British Government Department (largely equivalent to the US Department of Justice) which founded and administered the CDP. These photographs are now held by Judith Green, one of the CDP workers from the Benwell project in Newcastle and one of the workers who contributed to several of the key Inter-Project Reports. We have made every effort to contact and secure permission from the photographers whose work we are displaying on this site. Anyone whom we have not contacted who has any concern about the public display of these photographs should contact Susan Hyatt at or Kristi Palmer at

Many thanks as well to Judith Green for allowing us to scan these photographs.

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Last updated by lcalvert on 04/22/2014