October 5, 2011
Community led regeneration needs investment
We expect the Scottish Government to launch its new Regeneration Strategy towards the end of the year. We know that the favoured option – perhaps the only option given the financial climate – is to focus on an approach which depends on communities taking the lead. ‘Community led’ is a much used phrase but possibly not always understood. In this short paper, the Alliance sets out a definition of community led regeneration and argues that it won’t happen without direct investment.
The Scottish Government acknowledges that current approaches to regeneration have either failed to deliver the desired outcomes or are now severely impaired due to the fundamentally changed economic circumstances within which regeneration has to take place. Despite the substantial sums that have been invested in a variety of regeneration initiatives over a sustained period of time, the key indicators of social and economic disadvantage that triggered this investment in the first place have shown little signs of improvement.
The conclusion to be drawn from the evidence of the past thirty years is that top down, physical regeneration does not, of itself, create long term and sustainable solutions. The assumption that appears to have underpinned previous regeneration strategies is that it is the job of government, both national and local government working together, to resolve the complex sets of challenges facing our most disadvantaged communities. It is this assumption that now needs to be laid to rest if the challenge of how to deliver community-led regeneration is to be met.
What is community-led regeneration?
Community-led regeneration means that the emphasis in the shape and direction of the regeneration process shifts from being determined principally by external stakeholders (local government, public agencies) to being determined principally by internal stakeholders (local people). Regeneration strategies in the past have typically incorporated some degree of community involvement with the aim of providing local people with an opportunity to feed into the process and to have their voices heard. Essentially, the role of the community in previous regeneration strategies has been consultative and passive. Community-led regeneration demands a much more proactive contribution from the local community and as such it is not necessarily an approach that will suit all communities.
Community-led regeneration can take many different forms and these will be determined by local context.
However, where community led regeneration occurs a number of features are likely to be observable in each instance:
• one or more local organisations playing the role, or with the potential to play the role, of a community anchor (providing a degree of local leadership and offering support to less formal types of community activity)
• significant assets under community ownership or control
• community owned enterprises generating an income stream
• a locally conceived community plan or ‘charter’ which identifies the short, medium and long term priorities for action as determined by local people
• a level of engagement with external stakeholders which reflects a sense of genuine partnership and mutual respect
• an absence of top down, unilateral public sector-driven initiatives
Community led regeneration requires significant culture change on all sides. Communities need to realise that the public sector is no longer in a position to meet all of their needs or to ‘resolve’ many of the problems that they face. Public sector agencies need to realise it is neither appropriate nor realistic for them to imagine they should seek to be doing this. In essence, community-led regeneration requires the relationship between the state and communities to be recalibrated so that there is a much greater sense of mutual respect and equality of status.
Existing models of community-led regeneration
Examples of community led regeneration can be found in many different parts of the country – from the island based community buy outs where local people have assumed control over virtually every aspect of community life (Isle of Eigg, Isle of Gigha, South Uist) to more urban communities where various combinations of development trusts and community based housing associations have acquired control and ownership over a wide range of assets and enterprises and where local people are now instrumental in shaping their own futures (Renton, Neilston, Easterhouse). While all these communities are prime examples of community led regeneration they all share a story in common which describes many years of struggle in order to get to the stage of development that they are now at. In particular, all the community leaders involved would, in part at least, ascribe that struggle to varying degrees of opposition encountered from across a range of external stakeholders. While there may be some merit in the argument that the process of engaging in a struggle of some sort can forge a deeper level of commitment in the long term, the fact remains that community led regeneration has evolved as it has in spite of the attitude and behaviour encountered from external stakeholders –rather than because of them.
Successful community led regeneration should not be as difficult to achieve or as costly in human terms as it has proved to be in many cases. Nor should the whereabouts of the successful examples be as randomly haphazard and dependent on the fortuitous presence of key individuals or local circumstances. If the new regeneration strategy places an emphasis on community led regeneration, it will be essential that a more systematic and strategic means of achieving this is identified which can also reduce the length of time that the process takes.
Investing in community-led regeneration
If the Scottish Government is committed to a regeneration strategy that is community led, then investment will be required to bring this about. It is worth noting that several existing policy initiatives which the Government is already committed to are also geared towards communities taking on more responsibility and control over what happens at a local level :
- Encouraging the transfer of public assets into community ownership
• SG investment in the new DTAS service to support community ownership
• Commitment to legislate to make it easier for communities to access under used public assets (Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill)
- Renewable energy roadmap
• New target for community owned renewable energy of 550 mw by 2020
- Christie Commission – Future Delivery of Public Services
• Focus on communities – the need to build autonomy and relience
• Focus on prevention – enhanced role for community transport providers, and others???
- Zero Waste Scotland
• Targets for community recycling and reuse
- Other policy links in the fields of community horticulture, greenspace development and woodland management, community health initiatives etc
However, the successful implementation of all these policies is contingent on communities having a sufficient level of capacity and local organisation in order to respond. As argued elsewhere in this paper, experience tells us that the required levels of capacity do not necessarily exist in every community – indeed in the areas of most severe disadvantage and where the regeneration challenges are greatest, the required levels of local capacity and organisation are less likely to be present.
A funding proposal is presently being worked up for submission to Scottish Government based on the principles and rationale as set out in this paper.
October 4th 2011