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September 7, 2011

Church led regeneration

The regeneration ‘industry’ often seems to ignore the contribution of faith groups. Yet in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, it is faith groups that are the most enduring of community anchors.  With a combination of local staff, a network of volunteers and buildings, a church group represents a potent mix of resources which many believe are underutilised. An exciting new project from Church of Scotland, The Chance to Thrive, could point the way ahead

The Chance to Thrive: Building for the Future


The Chance to Thrive is an innovative and creative programme designed to develop and deliver major new and sustainable church based community facilities in some of Scotland’s very poorest neighbourhoods. In the first phase, attention will focus on eight neighbourhoods. However, the Chance to Thrive is not primarily about buildings – it is about people and their aspirations for community. It is about a model of regeneration which recognises the importance of inter-dependence – that in order to build places where we all want to live everyone needs to be involved. The project is being led by the Church of Scotland – Scotland’s largest charity – although the project will operate around strong partnership models.


The Church of Scotland has important assets of volunteers, staff and buildings in every community in Scotland. Its buildings are often vital community assets. Over the last decade the Church of Scotland has doubled its level of financial support in the poorest 58 neighbourhoods in Scotland (corresponding to the poorest 5% of communities). This has resulted in increased staffing, engagement, activities and improved buildings as the Church has sought to live out its declared commitment to increasing the quality and value of life for Scotland’s poorest and most

marginalised citizens as one of its core values. This commitment has helped to improve the quality of life in some of Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods. For example:

 In Cranhill (Glasgow), Cranhill Community Project ( currently caters for 800 people of all ages and cultures – and has become a vital hub for community activity across the neighbourhood, winning awards across Glasgow and beyond.

 In Holy Trinity Wester Hailes (Edinburgh), the congregation ( provides a range of community activities, including debt counselling and a community café operating in a largely re-developed building following extensive vandalism and fire damage.

 In Chalmers Ardler (Dundee), the local congregation has played a pivotal role in the development of Ardler Village Trust ( as well as the extensive refurbishment of the church building as a major community resource.

In the Gorbals (Glasgow), Bridging the Gap ( provides peer mentoring for young people moving from primary to secondary schools as well as a welcoming environment for many of the asylum seekers and refugees in the area. Although it has achieved a great deal – particularly working in partnership with Faith in Community Scotland (an interfaith regeneration company it helped to establish in 2005) – the Church of Scotland is committed to achieving even more over the next ten years (Priority Areas Action Plan, General Assembly 2010). These 10 years promise to be particularly challenging in terms of the effective delivery of public and third sector

services. They are also years that without the development of effective and creative responses to the huge social and economic issues which are facing Scotland, many more people will be forced into poverty. In December 2009, One Church 100 Uses ( (led by Lord Andrew Mawson, founder of the Bromley By Bow Healthy Living Centre and one of the UK’s leading social entrepreneurs) facilitated a gathering of senior leaders from within the Church of Scotland (and other interested partners) to develop a strategic, entrepreneurial and deliverable response to the current challenges and opportunities facing Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods and the part which the Church can play in addressing these. The Chance to Thrive has arisen out of this


What the issues are

While the standard of living has increased dramatically for the great majority of Scotland’s citizens over the last fifty years, Scotland’s very poorest neighbourhoods in 2010 are virtually co-terminus with the poorest neighbourhoods in the early 1960s. Despite massive public sector investment remarkably little real progress has been made in persistently poor neighbourhoods. In our research, and arising out of our experience, the Church has identified a number of key issues which have to be addressed if lasting change in our very poorest neighbourhoods is to be achievable and sustainable.

Although there has been a great deal of talk about the need for innovation, creativity and enterprise, the majority of investment has been dependent upon the public sector. With the imminent collapse of public sector finances it is now even more important than ever that solutions are developed which are entrepreneurial, cost effective, economically, socially and environmentally sustainable as well as significantly less dependent upon a grant giving culture.

 Worklessness, a dependency upon insufficient state benefits, the growth in addictions, low levels of educational attainment alongside the fragmentation of communities have all contributed to the perpetuation of poverty. Although there has been massive investment, particularly in physical regeneration, the lack of involvement of local people in the whole change process (there has been consultation in many cases, but not total involvement) – and the inability to significantly back local creativity and innovation – has meant that whilst the physical infrastructure within many communities may have improved, poverty both in terms of economics and also of aspiration remains


The money invested in local neighbourhoods has substantially ‘leaked back out’ of those areas. Jobs created have substantially gone to people living outwith the neighbourhood and external private companies have benefited disproportionately from the supposed investment in our poorest areas. Investment has been substantially short-term and disjointed and responsive primarily to changes in regional and national policy as opposed to local knowledge and aspiration. Real change has to be generational. This is an inevitable challenge to those whose effectiveness has to be

demonstrated over an election cycle.

Whilst the quality of housing in many neighbourhoods has improved – and is to be widely welcomed – this is not matched by a corresponding improvement in the quality of the overall built environment. The current strategy encourages independence (every person

existing for themselves within their own house) whereas there is a need to promote inter-dependence with high quality public space and

opportunity for people to engage creatively with each other. 

 The rise in regulation and bureaucracy has also stifled creativity and innovation. Local people and organisations have found it increasingly difficult to navigate their way through the regulation labyrinth and have, as a result, left much of the major development work to external

experts who lack local knowledge, skills and insight. By focusing on the very poorest neighbourhoods in Scotland The Chance to Thrive will seek to contribute to changing this reality. The Church –

with its unique assets of people (staff & volunteers), buildings and resources (financial and people) alongside its long term commitment to Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods – is well placed to support the effective delivery of change.

What the Church wants to do

The Church wants to play its part – with others – in the development of thriving communities. A thriving community will be a place where people want to live and share with others – and where they want their families to live and share also. It should celebrate religious and cultural diversity,

as well as being a confident, lively and fun place to be.

Over a five year period through the programme ‘The Chance to Thrive, the Church wants to alongside local people from 8 of the poorest neighbourhoods in Scotland to develop new resources designed to help the local community to grow its own capacity to flourish and thrive. Although it is likely that each of these initiatives will involve the development of a new (or substantially refurbished) community resource the focus of the work will be on people and embedding skills and attitudes which will lead to long-term and systemic change. It is fundamentally about creating the spaces and opportunities which enable communities with the confidence to change – street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.

Why the church is well placed to achieve this

With its existing resources of staff, volunteers and buildings in every one of Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods alongside its long-term commitment to these neighbourhoods, the Church is well-placed to undertaken this work. Key attributes which the Church brings to this work include: 

 A local community with a national infrastructure. While the Church operates at a local level, there is a supporting infrastructure at both city and national level upon which ‘The Chance to Thrive’ will draw. A proven track record in supporting and enabling community change over the long term. Many housing associations, credit unions and community organisations have their roots in the commitment of local congregation and church members. 

 A high level of trust amongst key stakeholders. At a local level, churches, along with schools and medical centres, are often the most highly trusted agencies. Within the private and public sector, there is a broad recognition of the pivotal work of the considerable contribution which churches make to the wellbeing of every community, particularly the most disadvantaged.

 Over the last decade the Church, at a national level, has deliberately bent its resources towards the poorest neighbourhoods and has  committed to continuing to do so in the future.

Although present in the very poorest parts of Scotland, the Church is also present in the very richest. This gives it an almost unique ability to draw upon the considerable resources of money and people from across the country.

An increased knowledge and expertise in the fields of social action and community change with strong links to key public, private and third sector agencies.

A core team of highly effective leaders who have successfully brought about a significantly increased commitment to community engagement within the Church at local, regional and national levels.

An underpinning set of values – grounded in faith – which continues to see potential and hope in local people and places.

Churches were often the first organisation in – and often the last remaining – in many of our poorest communities. In many of the post war estates which now house our poorest communities, Churches provided the first community facilities – helping to create and support the community – and the Churches are committed to remaining

Our approach

The Chance to Thrive will seek to reverse the traditional focus on physical regeneration whilst not minimising the importance of the physical environment. The work will be developed in three stages:

First the Life: Drawing on the insights of appreciative enquiry and the Church’s experience that people living in our poorest communities have huge strengths, the foundational element of the programme relates to the building of confidence in local residents, developing local skills and enabling people to develop their own long-term, creative and sustainable vision for their neighbourhood. This is a long term, and ongoing, process but without the effective engagement of local people any changes are likely to be superficial and will not help people (or

places) to achieve their long-term potential. 

Then the Space: The spaces between buildings are often more important than the buildings themselves. It is in these spaces that new relationships are formed and new communities created. There is the need to create spaces – temporary and permanent – where people want to belong and where they can both enjoy the present and imagine the future. Too often in the recent past places have been created without giving the time which is necessary to ensure that plans emerge from within and reflect the particular heartbeat of a neighbourhood.

Without that space, their places will quickly become sterile and excluding.

 Then the Buildings: The built environment matters but buildings need to reflect the values of a place. The development of new resources through The Chance to Thrive needs to be buildings which reflect and nurture both the community’s and also the Church’s values as places of safety, creativity, neighbourliness and hope. They need to be resources which are adequately staffed and appropriately governed.

Underlying each element of this work is the importance of developing and building confidence – thriving communities are communities which believe in their potential and capacity to succeed. (The three stages were inspired by Jan Gehl, the Danish Urban Designer)

What we will achieve

By the end of the pilot phase we will have

1. enabled eight church communities to have developed their vision of their role in their local community

2. supported the development of local leadership and creativity, including social enterprise

3. assisted those eight church communities to have procured the kind of buildings that will help deliver their vision in partnership with other players in the locality

Any buildings will be developed with a low (or zero) carbon footprint and will have a sustainable ten year business plan ensuring their long-term viability and sustainability. Their capital and revenue development will focus heavily upon the growth of social enterprise and social entrepreneurialism, supporting local people to become leaders and encouraging creativity whilst deliberately reducing dependency on grant funding and external agencies. New operating models – reflective of local aspirations and needs – will be developed. Over the initial five year period the project will enable around £20million of inward investment into the identified communities. Lessons learned from the initial work will then be used to broaden the scope of The Chance to Thrive to a range of other disadvantaged communities throughout Scotland.

How we will know that we have succeeded

The sort of systemic change and transformation which The Chance to Thrive is looking to achieve will take a generation to achieve and will be different in each community. The Church, along with others, is committed to this long-term change process which is prepared to tackle the root causes, as well as symptoms, of poverty. At the same time, key indicators of effectiveness can be identified which demonstrate that the right trajectory is being achieved from the outset.

The project will build in a clear Monitoring & Evaluation process supported by key academics and research organisations. 

Key indicators of success will include: increased individual and community confidence; growing levels of social action & community engagement; increased numbers of local artists; reduced levels of poverty and increased population stability; vibrant new transformational spaces and resources.

First steps

One of the critical lessons which the Church has learnt over its work in Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods over the last ten years is the importance of starting small and focusing on the local. The first phase of The Chance to Thrive will be with eight local areas drawn from amongst the poorest 5% of Scotland’s neighbourhoods. A volunteer Enabling Panel will be established bringing together a core team of up to 40 people who will have considerable knowledge in the

essential core competencies to assist local people to develop and drive forward their visions. Key skills will include: community development, entrepreneurialism, social business, change management, income generation, architecture, asset management and business planning. The first Panel members will have been identified by February 2011.

Communities will be identified through a competitive process and the leader partner will be the local church. The choice of areas will be based around: local energy and commitment; existing and potential partnerships; entrepreneurial flair; geographical spread; and interest from other core agencies. The first eight local areas will be agreed by May 2011.

 Work will be undertaken within each community to identify key individuals (residents and professionals) with the necessary attributes and potential to offer critical leadership for change over a sustained period of time. An extensive programme of bespoke training, including secondment, will be undertaken with these individuals over an 18 month period.

Shared site visits will be developed both within the initial group of eight (peer learning) but also to other locations of best practice both within Scotland and beyond. This will be a collegial activity with a strong emphasis on the implementation of shared learning.

How much it will cost – and how will it be paid

 The costs of project coordination (including staffing and the Enabling Panel expenses) will be a maximum of £60,000 per annum (limited to £50,000 in 2011) which are being met jointly by the Ministries Council and General Trustees.

Local costs will be covered as follows:

• Existing local staff will be trained and, where appropriate, new staff will be recruited to develop and deliver the work in local neighbourhoods. Through grant funding and its central staff budget the Church will meet up to 50% of these local costs.

• Each neighbourhood will establish a local training and support budget of a minimum of £10,000 per annum to support individuals and organisations.

• Each new (or refurbished) building is likely to cost up to £1.5million (based on current projects) and will have an average projected running cost of £150,000 per annum. The Church will provide 10% of the initial capital costs (plus the value of the existing building/land) as well as an ongoing contribution towards the annual revenue budget. Up to 60% of running costs will be met through income generation and social enterprise.

This initial investment will not, in itself, change neighbourhoods but it will enable the Church to play a critical role in a process of neighbourhood transformation where change is enabled from within the community which will have a long-term ripple out impact.


Manuel Castells, one of the world’s leading urban theorists, asks: What makes for a good city? A whole host of data and theories could be used to answer such a question. For Castells, however, the answer is a relatively simple one: It is a place where his eight year old grand-daughter can

grow up safe and happy.

The Chance to Thrive is a practical attempt to turn that aspiration into a set of realities in some of Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods. It is about the realisation that Castells’ granddaughter – and every of citizen – will have the best chance to be happy and safe if they have been enabled to

play their part in making that city. Together.


For more information contact

Martin Johnstone

t: 0141 248 2905

m: 07710 509061


The cost of implementing The Chance to Thrive involves first the cost of developing an enabling programme for the eight local congregations and

secondly the cost of any building programme. The Chance to Thrive will be looking for a range of short and long term investors from the private,

public and third sectors to work in partnership with the Church.

The Church contribution will be as follows:

– Central coordination and administration costs will be kept to a minimum with the employment of an additional 1 member of staff (National

Coordinator). Administrative support will be drawn from existing staffing

– The Enabling Panel will provide 4000 hours per year across the eight local communities with a projected in kind contribution of up to £200,000

per annum. Volunteer expenses and costs (where appropriate) will be met by the donor organisations (e.g. the individual’s workplace or church).