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March 23, 2011

BIG gets ready to reopen GCA

When BIG’s Growing Community Assets programme reopens for business in June, communities may encounter a slightly different emphasis in terms of what the Lottery is looking for. In particular there will be clear focus on tackling local need and all applicants are required to show how their project will meet those needs.  There will however be no change in the assumption that public sector bodies will be expected to dispose of their assets to community groups at significant discounts

Urban areas of Scotland are being urged to take advantage of up to £60m of lottery funds through a similar scheme to the one which helped transform the island of Gigha.

Gigha was bought by islanders nine years ago after the lottery funded Scottish Land Fund gave them £3.5m made up of a grant of £2.5m and a loan of £1m which was subsequently repaid.

The Big Lottery Fund in Scotland is now launching the second phase of its Growing Community Assets (GCA) fund, which is designed to have the same transformative effect in Scotland’s towns and cities. An event in Glasgow on Friday will bring key figures in the area of community asset development together with existing GCA grant holders.

The first phase of the programme saw more than £48 million spent between October 2006 and April 2010, funding 127 projects, and Big expects to hand out another £60m by 2015 after applications for GCA reopen in June 2011.

Existing successes include Glasgow’s Whiteinch Centre, which was taken over by members of the local community after they received a grant of £116,092 in 2009 to help the centre support 80 local organisations and offer learning, health and employability services to 850 people each year.

Jackie Killeen, director of Big in Scotland, said: “These projects work because local people themselves are best placed to identify what their own community needs to develop. Our job is to support them in doing this, not just through awarding funds, but also by using our experience of supporting communities through the Scottish Land Fund and Growing Community assets programme.”

However she urged public bodies to see the bigger picture and support communities to take over local assets. Ms Killeen said: “It’s clear that Lottery funding should be used to directly help communities and people most in need, and not to fill the coffers of councils and public landowners.”

Glasgow City Council, for example, has embraced the opportunity by enabling buildings such as the Whiteinch Centre and Maryhill Borough Hall to move into community hands, she said. “We want communities to have the best deal possible. If councils can help ensure communities take full ownership at a significant discount or no cost, that means funding from Big is not swallowed up before the community gets to work.”

Other councils have been less quick to take advantage of the funds, Big says. Awareness of GCA-funded projects remains highest in rural areas, reflecting perhaps the success of the Scottish Land Fund, and while Glasgow received one of the highest number of grant awards in the first phase, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh received relatively few.

Friday’s event aims to showcase successful projects so others can learn from them. “Urban and small town Scotland can learn a lot from the successes in rural areas,” Ms Killeen added. “The important thing is that communities we support can make sure what they are taking on really is an asset, not a liability in disguise.”

In an increasing number of cases, GCA is funding renewable energy schemes such as windfarms, which can help generate an income and make a project more sustainable. “This is about not only ambition and confidence, but the best projects are like a slow-burning chemical reaction–in time they can bring social, economic and environmental benefits,” Ms Killeen said.

One advantage is that urban communities will often be taking over assets from some form of public ownership, which can mean the existing owners are more proactive – or as Big’s director puts it: “Dialogue is much more possible when the owner is a public body, rather than an absentee landlord registered in Lichtenstein.”