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September 9, 2009

Surplus assets – Councils need help

Faced with severe financial constraints, most councils have assets that are either surplus to requirements or that they can no longer afford to maintain.   While some councils would pass these assets onto community groups, often their physical condition is such that the building would become a financial millstone.  In England, a special fund has helped to get round this problem.   Councils in Scotland could do with this kind of assistance

The £30m Community Assets programme has funded 38 projects across England, enabling local authority buildings to be renovated and transferred to community organizations.

The Community Assets fund, a £30 million programme was established to transfer public buildings to local organisations, Community Assets offered grants of between £150,000 and £1 million to refurbish local authority buildings, ensuring they were appropriate for transfer to the third sector. The programme was funded by the Office of the Third Sector and delivered by the Big Lottery Fund.

The programme was aimed at strengthening third sector organisations, to enable them to more imaginative in providing services to their communities; and benefit local people, who will be able to use high quality spaces for community activities.

Phil Hope, the Minister for the Third Sector, said:

“Community Assets is about bringing people together and giving communities control over their own affairs, not simply painting buildings and fixing roofs. Taking on ownership of an asset will help third sector organisations to develop a base of independence and sustainability, which will enable them to grow and respond better to the needs of local people.”

In advance of the Fund starting for business, the Government consulted on how Community Assets should work. A summary of the consultation and the Government’s response can be found in the consultations section of the website.

An example of the impact of the Community Assets Fund is Birtley Community Hub which opened its doors last week, the first project to completed with a grant from the scheme.

The Birtley Project, based in Tyne and Wear, received £166,755 from the scheme to help convert the town’s library into a new centre for community use.

The new hub will provide office space for charities and community groups, meeting rooms, an ICT training suite and a café.

Birtley Community Hub project leader Ian Caddy said: ‘This could not have come at a better time for Birtley – we will be able to deliver help, support and hope not only to the local community and businesses but also to the surrounding area.’

The Cestra Credit Union, Northumbria Police, Citizens Advice Bureau and the North East Council of Addictions are leasing space in the building.