I did something recently I haven’t done for years – I gave a hitch hiker a lift. As I slowed to a stop on the edge of Elgin, I could see that my prospective passenger had lived a hard life and I’ll admit my first instinct was to regret my decision to stop. But having clambered gratefully in, with kitbag stowed, my passenger sat in relative silence for the first few miles. Then gradually, he opened up about his life of homelessness, of living with alcoholism and more recently with cancer, and of how he gets by on a loose patchwork of support – some from professionals and some from his fellow travellers. Without a trace of self-pity, he seemed genuinely grateful for small kindnesses shown to him on his travels around the north of Scotland. But the insights he shared were of an unremittingly harsh existence – the Beast from the East was spent in a disused caravan. Back in Edinburgh, and witness to more street begging than I can ever remember, the imprint of that journey continues to linger. The lived experience of poverty and homelessness is, for most of us, simply unimaginable. And perhaps that’s part of the problem.
In the most recent briefing…
It will take time before Scotland’s urban communities fully grasp the implications of the community right to buy. In part this is due to the lack of any official promotion of these new powers but it’s also because the process is complex and much more expensive (because of land values) than in rural areas. Nonetheless, once momentum picks up it seems inevitable that it will become an important force for change in the dynamics of urban life. The latest example of a community spotting the strategic value of a local parcel of land is from Aberdeen.
Ask any rural community to list their top three concerns and it’s a fair bet that broadband connectivity will be up there. For years communities have been fed the line that before you can say dial-up-connections everyone will be enjoying the latest in superfast broadband. Understandably, some have got a little fed up waiting for that particular miracle to arrive. Others, like the folk in Balquidder, have dug up their own little miracle by acquiring broadband speeds that no one else can get close to – even in cities.
As anyone who has laboured over lengthy funding applications will know, it is a process that can generate great highs or great lows with very little in between. Everyone knows that demand outstrips the supply of available funding but there is a certain responsibility on the part of funders not to string communities along during the application process. No one is pretending this is straightforward but something looks to have gone badly awry in the case of the Scottish Government’s dealings with the folk at Govanhill Baths.
How to get young people involved? That’s the great conundrum that seems to have afflicted every part of the community sector for years. With 2018 being the Year of Young People perhaps we’ll see some progress. One area of activity which might be able to legitimately claim some success is participatory budgeting. David Reilly at SCDC has been dipping in and out of PB events all around the country and that experience has left him convinced that young people of any age have a massive contribution to make. In this blog he reflects on his visit to the hugely successful Leith Chooses.
The housing association movement, from the outside looking in, appears to be going through a period of transition. On the one hand there are the huge, acquisition and merger hungry, corporate beasts that are often difficult to differentiate from any mainstream volume house builder. Without the public subsidy of old, they are being forced to play by the same rules. On the other hand, the community-controlled housing associations, also starved of public subsidy, are increasingly unable to develop new social housing. So what next for housing associations? Neil Gray, writing for Bella Caledonia, argues it might be game over.
Whenever the case for more land reform is made, the principal argument used (although there are many others) is that the pattern of land ownership in Scotland has become far too concentrated – with too few people owning too much land. The Scottish Land Commission has been charged with the task of maintaining the momentum on land reform and have commissioned a series of papers (Land Lines) to stimulate discussion and debate. The most recent paper focuses on this central issue of too few people owning too much of Scotland.
Over the past fifteen years, Scotland’s fast growing development trust movement has become an established feature of the policy landscape. But these are complex organisations that develop in very different ways according to the needs of their communities. Such variability across the movement begs the question as to whether it’s in any way possible to measure performance or capture their impact in a way that is consistent. Education Scotland have had a close look at six development trusts and have concluded that a framework based on a system of peer review could be the answer.
Tourism has always been a mainstay of the Scottish economy, with £4.5bn spent annually by visitors to our communities. It is odd, although perhaps not all that surprising, that the national body charged with responsibility for growing this sector – Visit Scotland – has only recently began to view communities as active partners. The national tourism plan – Tourism Scotland 2020 – has a target of growing visitor spend by more than a fifth by 2020. Community-led tourism is seen as being key to achieving this. The latest in a series of excellent briefing papers from Senscot shines the spotlight.