Starting out as a community worker, I remember being asked to help a group who wanted to build and run their own pub. I didn’t know much about anything back then, but I was (privately) pretty sure it couldn’t be done. A couple of years later, and absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with me, a community owned social club opened its doors. That was my first lesson in the capacity of communities to achieve pretty much anything and also how that potential could be thwarted by popular misconceptions and prejudices (such as mine). Fast forward forty years, and I’m spending the day at New Gorbals Housing Association which, to all intents and purposes, is the embodiment of what’s possible when local people take responsibility for something as fundamentally important as housing. The Gorbals – once a byword for all that was wrong with social housing – has been transformed by stunningly good design, thoughtful and caring management and control being vested with the people who live there. But despite their palpable successes, it’s widely held that policy makers remain deeply sceptical about community control of housing or, for that matter, anything else that’s particularly challenging or complicated. Such prejudices run deep.
In the most recent briefing…
With the deadline for census returns fast approaching, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we owe this particular civic responsibility to the work of Sir John Sinclair and his efforts to compile the Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799). Sinclair hoped that the Statistical Account, gathering data from parish ministers about local history, geography, agriculture, and the economy, would reveal the ‘quantum of happiness’ of the nation. Drawing on these same enlightenment principles but aiming for a more ‘creative account’ of Scotland rather than a purely statistical one, the People’s Parish is an opportunity for communities to reflect on their cultural backstory.
Whatever form a community’s cultural heritage takes (see People’s Parish above), it plays a central role in shaping local identity and civic pride. Local history groups and museums of all shapes and sizes will be found in most communities. On the Isle of Harris, a remarkable man has spent most of his life recording the lives and family histories of the Hebridean people. Now these unique genealogical records of the Western Isles, celebrating the culture and heritage of its people are to be gathered together in a spanking new visitor centre. A community share offer has just been launched.
Despite the onslaught of social media channels, the humble local newspaper has proved to be a remarkably resilient survivor of the online age. Every time I visit somewhere new, I seek out the local rag – it’s a bit of an obsession. But beyond this hyper-local level of independent journalism, there has been concern for some time that ‘public interest journalism’ is at risk. Towards the end of last year the Scottish Government published its report – Scotland’s News – suggesting how to deliver a sustainable future for public interest journalism. Some interesting recommendations – a community right to buy newspaper titles among them.
It has long been an established fact that the way Scotland’s land market has developed over the years has resulted in the most concentrated pattern of land ownership of any developed country. And recently, for a variety of reasons, that market, particularly in rural Scotland, has been hotting up. The Scottish Land Commission has just published some interesting research into some of the factors that seem to be driving this. The study identified some new categories of investor with their own distinct reasons for buying and a growing trend in off-market acquisitions. Community Land Scotland shares some very real concerns.
There’s something distinctly underwhelming about these forthcoming local elections. In many areas, to call them elections at all is pushing it with candidates being told they have already been ‘ratified’ as there aren’t enough candidates prepared to stand. Why is the prospect of becoming a councillor such an unattractive one? Long, anti-social hours with little remuneration will have something to do with it. Also that councils are so large and remote from the communities they purport to serve. Jim Hunter reflects on the problem in the P&J. You can learn more and have your say at this Nordic Horizons event.
The idea of a universal basic income has been around in one shape or other for hundreds of years. Thomas Paine, whose radical thoughts spurred the American Revolution, proposed a tax plan that would provide a guaranteed income for everyone, rich or poor. Part of its appeal is that if everyone wasn’t forced into a wage slave existence in order just to survive, it would release time and energy for more creative or caring pursuits which would benefit society as a whole. Interesting experiment about to launch in Ireland – a Basic Income for the Arts.
The WAT IF? area covers the three rural villages of Woolfords, Auchengray and Tarbrax, along with several small hamlets and outlying settlements. 90% of the area is in South Lanarkshire, with 10% in West Lothian, covering the small hamlet of Cobbinshaw. The Trust was formed in 2012 to ensure that community benefit funds from the various windfarm developments in the area were distributed in the local area for community led projects and improvements. Although the villages are classed as rural, they are easily accessible from Livingston and Edinburgh, however infrastructure is lacking and one of the key priorities for WAT…Find out more