When asked the ‘what do you do’ question, I’ll usually say I’m a community worker but I realise, for most people, that isn’t very enlightening. But here’s my problem – the longer I do it, the less sure I know what it means myself. When I was younger it was simple. Being a community worker meant pitching myself firmly on the side of whichever community I worked for. And back then, sides had to be taken – it was attritional work against an openly top down, municipalist culture. But over the years those old certainties have become blurred – at least on the surface. Slowly but surely our sector was encouraged to step inside the ‘tent’- we became ‘strategic partners’, we were being listened to (if not always heard) and a body of legislation was on our side. It seems churlish to suggest that this doesn’t represent progress but there are times when it seems wholly illusory. That there was nary a mention of our sector in the most recent Programme for Government left many slack-jawed given the scale of the challenges facing the country. Remember all that post pandemic rhetoric – If not now, when? Perhaps we should be spending less time inside that tent.
In the most recent briefing…
Last weekend at the Wigtown Book Festival, I attended an event at which journalists Brian Taylor, Joyce McMillan and Gavin Esler discussed the UK’s current perpetual state of crisis. During the audience questions, I asked whether they thought we might see a more active intervention from civil society given that our politicians have been so inept. They didn’t hold out much hope but it brought to mind an article by Janey Starling from OpenDemocracy in which she sets out why our sector is too fixated on doing ‘good’ and being polite when it should be fighting for social justice.
The oft-used phrase of American sociologist Margaret Mead referring to the enduring power of small groups of people achieving change, accords perfectly with the heroic efforts that are being played out across our shorelines and inner waters. Whether it’s fighting the powerful fish farm developer through the lop-sided planning system or contending with rogue fishing boats who continue to dredge the seabed for prawns and scallops and destroy sensitive and protected marine habitats, these local defenders of the sea deserve greater recognition and our thanks.
October may seem an odd time of year for planting, but later this week seeds (of inspiration) will be scattered across the country. Community Land Week aims to plant these inspirational seeds in the imaginations of communities, leading eventually to a whole new crop of community land owners. And the appetite for community ownership shows no sign of slowing as the benefits become more widely known. With 63% of residents on Bays of Harris Estate recently voting in favour of buying the land they live on, and the community of Tayvallich aiming to follow suit, these are exciting times.
I haven’t checked but I’m certain the most frequently raised issue in this briefing is the housing crisis, particularly in rural areas, where the lack of affordable housing is chronic. Everyone understands that the market is broken and that the only solution is for the Scottish Government to intervene. But there remains an unfathomable reluctance to take the necessary steps. The Welsh Government is about to take some truly radical action which the Welsh First Minister considers critical to stabilising the long term future of some communities. If it can be done in Wales, why not here?
It’s the trap that no one tells you about until you fall into it. It’s when the long years of working in the same field teach you that the latest policy ‘excitement’ is likely to have as little substance as all the previous ones. And yet you still have to choose between engaging with the new excitement or emitting that sigh of world weary cynicism that reveals you’ve seen it all before. Outgoing SCDC chief, Fiona Garven, manages to fall somewhere in between with this blog assessing the potential of the latest buzz in the policy world – community wealth building.
Working on the principle of there being nothing new under the sun, an interesting piece of research by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) suggests that some answers to the longstanding concerns of population decline and community resilience amongst Scotland’s islands may be found in Japan. Japan has 700 islands and a long history of developing policies to tackle problems in their island communities that are very similar to our own. With ideas like ‘empty house banks’, ‘chance to try’ facilities and the Japanese experience of building inter-island bridges, it seems that there is indeed nothing new under the (rising) sun.
Established in March 2008, MACC was formed by a group of people who shared the same passion and determination to see the airbase facilities used for the benefit of the Kintyre community. Coming from all walks of life, the group included the site’s former Works Service Manager, local business people and other members of the community. Embarking on one of the largest and most complicated community buyouts ever seen in Scotland, board members worked tirelessly to gain the support they needed. Four years down the line, MACC finally purchased the estate on May 11, 2012 from the Ministry of Defence…Find out more