Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

December 8, 2010

Community retail therapy

There wasn’t a huge amount of money at stake but it was enough to convince over 350 local people to give up whatever else they were going to do on a bitterly cold Saturday and attend the first ever Leith Decides.  29 local groups pitched their ideas and asked their community to back them with cash.  With not enough money on the table for everyone some hard decisions had to be made

The voting event for Leith Decides took place on Saturday in Leith Academy. There were 29 projects, worth £25,237 in the running for funding, from a pot worth £16,600. And even though a couple of projects withdrew at the last minute – clearly not every application was going to be successful. Anyone who has been to a ‘typical neighbourhood partnership meeting’ will know that some are more successful than others when it comes to getting people through the door. Indeed, they sometimes come in for criticism for not generating enough input or support from “ordinary” local residents.

This event showed that, with a little creative energy, and a commitment to giving people real decision making power – local residents will show up in large numbers and take part. In this case – at least 350 people turned out to vote, despite the freezing temperatures and the snow and ice. 

Hermitage Park School Association managed to come top of the voting for two projects. We managed to grab a very short interview with Kirsty Barr, the chair of the association on how she felt about the process:

The full list of the successful projects is as follows (in order of votes):

1. Hermitage Park School Association – Eco-Garden and active play space for infants.

2. Hermitage Park School Association – Smartboard for nursery children.

3. ARTS Afternoon for Pulse of the Place – Travelling kit of drums for youth group.

4. Citadel Youth Centre – A youth volunteering project helping young people into employment.

5. Friends of Leith Primary School – Climbing Wall in play area.

6. FABB Scotland – Music technology workshop for young disabled people.

7. Saheliya – Counselling and support activities for young girls who have witnessed or experienced atrocities.

8. Dr Bells Family Centre – Create a new outdoor play area.

9. Bethany Christian Trust – New cooker for men in residential centre, to help them learn cooking skills and move on to independent living.

10. Pilmeny Development Project Youth Clubs – A laptop and printer to support young people at youth club.

11. Friends of Montgomery Street Park – Planting a small community orchard in Montgomery Street Park

12. Access to Industry – 2 day accredited media training for vulnerable people.

13. Families Together in Leith – A family focussed weekend event.

14. Leith Festival Association – Celebrations for the “switch on” of the Christmas Lights at the Foot O’ the Walk.

15. Stanwell Nursery School Parents Committee – Developing courtyard into attractive area with trees, shrubs and flowers to attract wildlife.

16. 154th Leith Scout Group – New Modern Lightweight Tents.

17. Leith Acorn Centre YMCA – 2 night residential weekend for young people who attend the youth clubs.

18. Access to Industry – Food Hygeine training and work experience for 12 people.

19. Leith Central Community Council – An exhibition and consultation to develop ideas on the improvement of Leith Walk and the surrounding streets.

20. Victoria Primary Parent Teachers Association – A bulb planting project in the school garden, and planters in the playground (part funded).

You can find out more about the individual projects on the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership website.

Given that the project was a pilot (and we’re sure that most folk would agree that there are lots of ways that it could have been improved), overall we think it was a huge success, and shows that Neighbourhood Partnerships can play a role in promoting local participation and democracy. At the very least it should give those who are proposing that they be scrapped to save money, food for thought.

We’d like to see more council budgets allocated this way – and more resources put into supporting the staff who deliver events such as these. This event relied on the goodwill of a small number of council officers, local councillors, and local volunteers to work – and so unsurprisingly it was a bit chaotic, and perhaps under resourced in places.

We understand that it was hard to make the case for spending more than a few thousand pounds on organising the event, as the total grant money awarded was £16,600. It’s easy to see that allocating much larger sums of money would more than justify the organisational expense – and encourage even more people to participate in the process. It will therefore be interesting to see if other Neighbourhood Partnership follow Leith’s lead in the future.