December 4, 2013
Regulator against community control
Last Friday, Scotland’s community controlled housing associations held their conference in Glasgow. A really impressive gathering. 250 delegates, mainly tenants elected by their peers to run these organisations. But there seems to be a real problem with the Housing Regulator (not in attendance) who seems dead set against the whole culture and tradition of community controlled housing. It’s hard to fathom quite why. The evidence seems overwhelming. A new report – Beyond Bricks and Mortar – adds further weight.
Beyond Bricks and Mortar
1. This is a summary of the research about the wider activities of community controlled housing associations (CCHAs) carried out for GWSF by ODS Consulting. The full report is available on the GWSF website – www.gwsf.org.uk .
2. Given their strong roots in the community, CCHAs have always been aware that there is much more to creating strong sustainable communities than the provision of good housing. A broad range of wider activities has been undertaken. Recent policy discussions in Scotland have highlighted the important wider role played by CCHAs (and similar ‘community anchor’ organisations).
3. GWSF wished to get a more accurate picture of the range of services provided by CCHAs which went beyond the provision of housing services. The research was carried out between February and June 2013.
4. Over recent years, the policy debate around regenerating communities has focused on the importance of engaging communities in the decisions that affect them. The Christie Commission in 2011 called for building services around people and communities – and a focus on prevention and early intervention.
5. The Scottish Government’s Regeneration Strategy in 2011 set out plans for a stronger focus on community-led regeneration; empowering local residents; and supporting community organisations that can anchor long term sustainable change.
6. At the GWSF Conference ‘More than Bricks and Mortar’ in May 2013, the Minister for Local Government and Planning, Derek McKay MSP said:
“The Scottish Government recognises the critical role that community controlled housing associations can play in delivering a wide range of better outcomes in our neighbourhoods.”
7. There were three main elements to the fieldwork:
• a questionnaire survey which was sent to all GWSF members – with 37 CCHAs completing the questionnaire;
• interviews with eight CCHAs to allow us to develop case studies of interesting approaches; and
• interviews with six partner organisations in Glasgow to assess their perceptions about the impact of CCHAs.
8. ODS Consulting presented the initial findings from the research at the GWSF Conference ‘More than Bricks and Mortar’ on 17 May 2013 and got feedback through a series of facilitated workshops at the conference.
The Survey of CCHAs
9. Every association that responded to the survey is involved in some form of wider activity – and many are involved in an impressive range of imaginative and important contributions to the wellbeing of people in their communities.
10. For example, of the responding associations:
• 97% supported employment and training initiatives;
• 97% promoted financial inclusion;
• 95% undertook neighbourhood management and sustainable development;
• 94% provided community services;
• 89% undertook wider housing activities;
• 85% actively promoted volunteering in the community;
• 81% played a role as ‘community anchors’;
• 76% promoted community safety; and
• 59% provided services and support to other local organisations.
11. Most associations worked in partnership with other associations to develop and deliver their wider role – with 81% confirming that they worked with other associations on wider activities.
12. CCHAs were asked whether reductions in public expenditure and changes to the welfare system had made then more or less likely to become involved in wider activities. Two-thirds of those responding said that they were more likely to be involved – and less than a fifth said that they were less likely to be involved.
13. Many felt that in these challenging times there was likely to be even more demand for services and projects to mitigate the impact of welfare reforms on individuals and local communities. However, some expressed concern that the welfare reform changes posed a significant threat to their revenue streams and their ability to fund and support wider role activities.
Views from Partners
14. The views of partners in Glasgow were generally positive with particular value placed on CCHAs’:
• authenticity and credibility;
• local assets;
• local governance and empowerment;
• local knowledge;
• wider engagement; and
• local leadership.
15. However they felt that the impact of CCHAs was reduced because:
• the number of CCHAs in Glasgow made communication difficult;
• there was a lack of awareness in some organisations of the wider activities undertaken by CCHAs;
• CCHAs did not have a ‘single voice’; and
• CCHAs were not well engaged in community planning.
Reflections from the Researchers
16. The research report concluded with reflections from the researchers. The main reflection related to the remarkable volume and range of activities being carried out by CCHAs. ODS say ‘While we knew that CCHAs were involved in many wider activities, the sheer scale and variety surprised us.’
17. However, CCHAs were not always gathering basic information on their outputs and outcomes as part of their routine procedures. And until now, there had been no real attempt to share the lessons learned or measure the full impact of the work of GWSF members. It was suggested that CCHAs should all gather some consistent information using a relatively small number of shared indicators. This would allow more regular and robust reporting of CCHAs contribution.
18. The ‘post-Christie’ focus on the reform of public services has at its heart a move from reaction to prevention and early intervention. From the survey it is clear that CCHAs are undertaking work in a way which focuses on prevention and early intervention. If this work was not being done, then there would be higher costs for many other organisations – such as councils, the NHS, Police Scotland and Job Centre Plus. Given that most CCHAs are operating in some of the most deprived areas in the west of Scotland, the wellbeing of the people and the community would be reduced significantly without this input.
19. The report includes health warnings about estimating the scale of CCHA wider activity. However, it suggests that, as a very broad estimate, each year CCHAs may be providing:
• over 1,000 training opportunities (including about 300 apprenticeships);
• support that results in more than 100 people moving into sustainable employment;
• welfare or other financial advice to over 25,000 people;
• energy advice to over 9,000 tenants;
• community halls or other local facilities used by over 55,000 people a year;
• sports initiatives used by about 25,000 people;
• health and wellbeing projects for over 6,000 people; and
• diversionary activities for young people involving over 7,000 young people.
20. These figures should be treated with caution. However, they do provide an indication of the importance of the contribution that CCHAs are making. And they make clear the substantial and wide ranging positive benefits that CCHAs provide for the residents of their areas.