I often cycle past the UK Government’s shiny new, seven storey ‘hub’ which sits in the dip behind Waverley Station, and I’ve become increasingly curious as to what its purpose is – particularly as, for the past twenty years, its entire Scotland Office has been accommodated within a single townhouse in the New Town. I got some sense of it last week after being invited to meet with a team from the UK Government’s Union and Constitution Group. They asked for a potted history of Scotland’s community sector and for my part, I wanted to glean some understanding of why Westminster is now directly funding communities without any reference to the Scottish Government or the many funding relationships already in place. Scotland’s story of community empowerment is, on the face of it, a compelling one, and even more so when laced with references to land reform and the promised revival of local democracy. But it’s also a story without a consistent, central narrative – a national strategy designed to ensure that Scotland’s community sector is equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. Perhaps it’s this absence that explains why Westminster has been able to begin rewriting that story with so little apparent resistance.
In the most recent briefing…
Next year between March and October, a massive festival of creativity is being planned in locations right across the UK. Unboxed – a fusion ofscience, engineering, mathematics and the arts – is being hailed as the most ambitious creative programme ever staged in the UK. Organised around ten big ideas, Scotland’s home based project is Dandelion. Variously described as the largest ever community-led growing experiment, a Harvest Festival for the 21st century and Cubes of Perpetual Light, you’ll get the picture that something unusual is about to happen and probably in a community near you.
A perennial frustration for those on the fringes of mainstream policy making, is that certain unshakeable assumptions seem to underpin all this activity which no one seems prepared to challenge. An example being the unspoken belief that rural and island communities need to ‘catch up’ in some way with their urban counterparts in order to meet the challenges that they face. Research released earlier this year by the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme (with substantial Scottish island input) argues the complete opposite and this publication suggests Uist might be a good place to begin this rural policy reappraisal.
With retailers pushing Black Friday offers and reminding us that this is the busiest and best time of the year to be buying more ‘stuff’, that low carbon lifestyle we talk about should be pointing us in the opposite direction – where we mend things when they break and resist the incessant urge to own stuff ourselves but instead consider shared ownership. None of this transition is going to be easy which is why Circular Communities Scotland (formerly CRNS) is helping to establish a national network of repair cafes and sharing libraries. We’re all in this together.
If nothing else, COP26 laid bare the global inequities of climate change. Examples of which were highlighted by representatives of indigenous groups from the Global South speaking of their desperate struggles to defend ancient land rights. Community Land Scotland and Kilfinan Community Forest hosted a visit from the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities and while acknowledging their very obvious differences, it didn’t take long to identify some common themes. In his subsequent blog, Calum MacLeod identifies the universal characteristic of land being constantly exploited as a gateway to further riches.
Earlier this year, the then Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop set up a Working Group to consider the future of ‘public interest journalism’. With significant input from local independent publishers The Ferret, Greater Govanhill Magazine and Shetland News, the Working Group has come back with a series of recommendations urging the Scottish Government to act quickly. There is a sense that unless action is taken now to safeguard public interest journalism it could be lost forever. Amongst the 8 key recommendations is one to give communities a right to buy local media outlets.
When the idea was first mooted to create a ‘common platform’ for the community sector to come together and explore the extent of our shared interests (when Scottish Community Alliance was still an informal gathering of community based networks under the strapline – Local People Leading) we wondered who might be useful ‘strategic partners’ to help us promote our interests. We thought we might find some common ground with the trade unions but our approach to them back then to engage with us came to nothing. Last week I received this discussion paper plus an invitation for a chat.
When you get divorced from someone like Jeff Bezos, unless you work very hard to avoid it, you end up with a shed load of money. Reading an article about McKenzie Scott’s approach to her multi-billion dollar settlement, I was struck by something she said when describing her approach to getting rid of it. When she hands over money to an organisation she imposes no strings whatsoever. ‘These people know much better than I ever will what to do with it.’ If the proposed ‘Community Wealth Funds’ ever emerge, that combination of funder humility and trust would be very welcome.
Although I hope at some point to catch the bug, gardening and growing things has thus far proved elusive as a hobby. Which makes me an unlikely but nonetheless massive fan of community growing, guerilla gardening, allotmenteers and all things in between. I put this down in part to a ‘lecture’ I had years ago from the redoubtable Judy Wilkinson about the social and political value of allotments. I’ve just came across this excellent article by Charlie Ellis in the Scottish Review which explains why community growing is so much more than the growing of plants.
A former regeneration area, with strong industrial links, Greater Maryhill has seen a renaissance in recent years. However the community still has a poor health record, and suffers from youth gang territorialism. A diverse community, with many cultures living alongside each other, Maryhill still has the spirit of “old” Glasgow and the friendly community feel within the City Centre. Community Central Hall was built in the early 1920’s and when the building came up for sale in the early 1970’s, an action group was formed to prevent the building being sold for private development. Over the past 35 years CCH…Find out more