Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

March 26, 2014

Key role of community anchors

There are many examples of where communities have managed to evolve relationships with their public sector partners in ways that have made a real difference to how public services are delivered.  For his PhD, James Henderson has explored the role that community anchor organisations play in this process and has investigated in great detail the experiences of three very different communities.  Through a series of short articles, he highlights both the differences and similarities in what these communities have achieved.  This is the urban story.



Public sector, community sector and community: a developing matrix in Govanhill

Govanhill is a complex place. It’s a densely-populated, diverse and multi-ethnic working class urban community of some 15,000-plus people within Glasgow’s Southside. There’s a mix of social, private rental and owner-occupied homes; of residents long-standing and newly-settled; and of a rich community life with a diversity of community networks, groups and organisations. But it’s crucial to recognise that many, many people are struggling in the face of economic and social inequalities and associated poverty. As part of my research, staff, activists and volunteers from Govanhill Housing Association (GHHA), a community anchor in that community, and other people more widely from within the local community sector, took the time to help me recognise these complexities. I began, as well, to learn from the local public sector: for here the two sectors are finding ways, over time, to keep talking to each other about what’s happening and what needs to be done. 

In my first article/blog looking at the working relationships between public sector, community sector and community – see here . I reflected on my study trip to Northmavine in Shetland, and the understanding gained of the role of Northmavine Community Development Company as a multi-purpose community anchor working across local economic development, community-building, service provision and advocacy for community interests. I argued that the working relations between the community sector/community in Northmavine and the public sector/state, as Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Shetland Islands Council, had been one of a longer-term commitment over a decade, and that this has proven of significant benefit for all. In this second article on Govanhill, I’m looking further at the potential of such a committed, long-term relationship between these two sectors, given ongoing developments in Govanhill since 2008. 

Govanhill was born of a growing industrialisation within Glasgow and its satellite villages/towns during the 19th century. Migrant workers and families arrived to find work, in particular at the local iron works, and tenement blocks were built as homes. Irish, Italian and East European Jewish communities were the earliest to settle; later, by the 1960s/1970s, Pakistani/South Asian families were settling too. During the 2000s, East European peoples, given the growth in the number of European Union member states, have been arriving and settling; in particular people from Slovak and Romanian Roma communities fleeing hardship, racism and discrimination. Walking round the main thoroughfares, the range of shops, buildings and peoples confirms this rich cultural diversity and heritage; see for instance this recent article in the Scotsman on the Govanhill People’s History Project. Yet, as with working class communities more generally, it remains highly vulnerable to the changing economic and policy dynamics within the UK state and the global economy; which continue to impact on levels of suitable local employment, local investment and provision of services.

Investment in housing has proven particularly problematic over the long-term, given the extensive older privately-owned tenement blocks in south-west Govanhill. Such older housing remains a vulnerability more generally in Glasgow, and one constructive response in the late 1960s/early 1970s was that of the ‘community-controlled housing associations’ (CHHAs) managed by local committees of tenants and residents. These CHHAs developed from a community approach pioneered in Govan by Raymond Young and ASSIST, working with the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Architecture. When Glasgow Corporation and the District Council actively developed the initiative more widely, with funding support from central government via the Housing Corporation, GHHA became one of the earliest of these associations. The strategy gained ground across the city, with Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Association’s 50-odd member organisations in Glasgow now owning and managing some 58,000 homes, and leading on a significant and diverse array of community regeneration activities. 

By the early 2000s, GHHA had been responsible for over £100m of Scottish Government funded housing improvements across Govanhill. However, changing state policy and funding meant that the refurbishment of Govanhill’s tenements was not to be fully completed with 13 housing blocks in the south-west remaining ‘unimproved’. Further, many private sector landlords were now failing to invest in the maintenance of their properties and associated tenement blocks, yet were renting out these properties in appalling states of repair to the arriving and vulnerable migrant workers/families; with the latter, on very low incomes, being forced to live in dangerously over-crowded conditions. By 2008, GHHA was estimating that the costs of bringing almost 2000 such properties back-up to a safe, decent and liveable standard would be in the order of £180m. It is in working to meet this current crisis within the local housing, and the need for a continuing community regeneration, that the critical role of GHHA and the local community sector has come to the fore, and in three distinctive ways.

Firstly, GHHA and community partners have worked to sustain significant leadership and advocacy for local community interests over the longer-term. In order to generate the necessary recognition as to the scale of the ‘slum housing crisis’ in Govanhill, GHHA along with community partners – Govanhill Law Centre and Crosshill & Govanhill Community Council – petitioned the Scottish Parliament’s Petition Committee in 2008. The Petition ran to 2011 and influenced Scottish Government legislation aimed at empowering local authorities to deal with private rental housing problems – the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2011. In the process, it has established an active working relationship between the community sector/community, Glasgow City Council (GCC) and the Scottish Government on the local housing crisis; one that has channelled £18m of state funding into Govanhill’s tenements over the last six years – more on this partnership below.

Such a sustained community leadership and advocacy has been enhanced by the formation in 2010 of Govanhill Community Action (GoCA) as a forum for the growing number of community organisations and groups, and which could ‘represent’ the diversity of local community interests. Further, a growing range of self-advocacy groups and initiatives have developed including: Romano Lav (‘Roma Voice’) for the Slovak Roma community supported by Oxfam Scotland; resident and tenant groups supported by GHHA; and a wider matrix of community organisations and groups working with the diversity of local people – across ages, ethnicities, faiths, tenures and gender. 

Other larger community organisations have played crucial roles too with Crossroads Youth and Community Association supporting self-advocacy with asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants; the Govanhill Baths Community Trust – born from the community campaign to save and re-open the public swimming baths – working for a wider social, cultural and physical community regeneration; and Govanhill Law Centre researching and advocating on employment and welfare rights, and campaigning against discrimination within (state) employment and benefit services. Media work led by GHHA and Oxfam Scotland has brought constructive stories of the Govanhill community back into both local and national media, so countering a negative and prejudiced narrative that had been growing.

The community sector has and is providing an invaluable, diverse and, at times, challenging  leadership and advocacy that sustains attention on the complexity of what’s actually happening on-the-ground, given the high levels of inequality and associated deprivation the community faces. Over the longer-term, the public sector/state is being both supported and challenged to sustain its attention on the housing crisis and the need for a wider regeneration across the community as a whole.

Secondly, GHHA and the local community sector are ‘providing traction’. They have been the means of ‘getting things done’ in ways that the public sector would be unable to achieve by itself. A Govanhill Service Hub has been created to coordinate public service provision and day-to-day management of local services; with GHHA providing the accommodation for the Hub and officers from key local public sector services. Within this Service Hub, GHHA now acts as local housing agent for GCC across social, private rental and owner-occupied housing as a whole. Meanwhile, GoCA acts to support joint-working within the community sector and with the public sector in service provision, neighbourhood and community auditing/plans, and more generally community consultation and dialogue.

GHHA’s community development trust – Govanhill Community Development Trust (GCDT) – and the wider local community sector now provide a complex matrix of projects and functions: more formal community-based services such as employment training and volunteering; more informal community-building alongside community and resident/tenant groups; and a developing focus on community social enterprise activity, including work with the minority ethnic resident and tenants group (MERG Welfare). The members of GoCA have completed a participatory budgeting pilot, as part of the Scottish Government’s Equally Well initiative, and they directed funding to relevant local projects and activity – the Baths Community Trust, the Law Centre and Govanhill Family Support Group.

GCDT also provides ‘infrastructure’ for a wider regeneration: providing office and workshop space for community organisations and local businesses; and leading on council-funded improvements to the local environment, shop fronts and other public spaces. GCDT/GHHA have also played a leading role in winning support and funding for Sistema Scotland to establish its second Scottish children’s orchestra in the local primary schools; with GCDT able to provide (‘in-kind’) the community-base for this ‘Big Noise Govanhill’. 

Thirdly and finally, GHHA/GCDT, GoCA and the local community sector have sustained this rich mix of community leadership/advocacy and the structures/networks to ‘get things done’ across a multitude of layers of decision-making and influence: working within the community, within local community planning structures, with the wider local authority, at a national level with the Scottish Government and Parliament, and with both local and national media. Such a multi-layered approach continues to be sustained over the longer-term. Currently, for example, GCC has developed a proposal – focused on the partnership between the community, GHHA, itself and the Scottish Government – in which substantially more housing funding/investment from central government, potentially of the order of £30m, is now being considered. The aim would be to refurbish the outstanding 13 key tenement blocks in south-west Govanhill, and with GHHA to take a key management and ownership role. If such a proposal is agreed, then here would be an intervention on a scale much closer to that originally identified as being necessary to actually tackle the private rental housing crisis. 

Govanhill is a complex place, and this article alone cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of the work being undertaken by the GHHA, GoCA and the local community sector in working alongside the public sector there. However, my research time there has helped me to better understand the very significant opportunities and benefits for the public sector in working with community anchors, the community sector and the wider community. Crucially, the gains in Govanhill have required the public sector/state to be willing to sustain listening and learning over a number of years and to work to find the necessary resources – the community sector and community cannot be understood as a ‘silver bullet’ that tackles society’s ills through minimal funding and investment. In the case of the housing crisis in Govanhill, for instance, the finance needed to resolve it will have to come through state interventions in various forms; the private rental sector and the market by themselves have failed, while the third sector, for now, lacks suitable financial institutions.

In the next article, I’ll turn to my third and final case-study on the Creetown Initiative in Dumfries and Galloway to think further on the ‘public-community’ working relationship; this time by considering the potential for community anchors to take the lead on local economic and social development.

James Henderson is a researcher and about to submit a PhD to Heriot-Watt University on the community sector.