Last Sunday, I dropped by Leith Crops in Pots – a community growing project. A group of toddlers had just picked some vegetables and a pot of soup was on the go. No science lesson required. Just a natural understanding, embedded early in life, of where food comes from. What a contrast with today’s food systems – so out of whack that we no longer care how food is produced just so long as the price is right. But now the true cost of this disconnect with food is emerging. Intensive and prolonged use of pesticides has devastated insect populations – a staggering 75% of insects have disappeared in two decades. And insects, as pollinators, are critical to all plant life on the planet. How have we allowed this ecological disaster to unfold? It’s almost certain to have something to do with our diminished relationship with land and how we use it – because when people are truly connected to land, good things tend to happen. This self-evident truth was on display in abundance at the recent annual gathering of community woodland groups. Their ability to extract a multiplicity of public benefits from an area of woodland is remarkable. Thriving insect populations come as standard.
In the most recent briefing…
Of all the statues in Glasgow which commemorate the great and the good (and the not so good) from the city’s past, only three are of women – and one of those three is Queen Victoria. Later this month, a fourth statue will be unveiled in Govan in memory of the political and community activist, Mary Barbour. Last year, the Mary Barbour Award was established to honour Glasgow’s rich tradition of women community activists. This year’s worthy winner has been changing lives in Possilpark for over fifty years.
In the last edition, we highlighted the crisis at the heart of Scotland’s fish farming industry and the threat of ecological collapse in our seas that it poses. Those communities that have managed to get themselves organised in order to oppose what is happening on their doorstep, are now being confronted by some highly aggressive and cynical tactics by the industry. A whistle blower has leaked some internal documents which reveal the extent of industry plans to subvert local interests. When is Scottish Government going to step in?
Seventy years ago, hutting in Scotland was at its peak with hundreds of small, low impact huts dotted across Scotland. Families would pay a small ground rent to landowners in return for permission to erect their own little hut in the country. Although with the advent of package holidays and cheap flights, popularity of this simple pleasure waned, it never quite disappeared. And now Scottish Government has eased the planning rules to encourage its revival. Scotland’s hutters hold their rally later this month to encourage, inspire and restore this great tradition.
When the Community Empowerment Act was just a twinkle in the eye of policy wonks writing the SNP 2011 manifesto, few saw a connection with the world of allotments. But for those steeped in the allotment movement, and who knew all too well the constraints of working with out of date legislation, this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. Few interest groups worked as hard and diligently as SAGS did to argue their case. And they continue to do so, to ensure the published guidance makes sense. They encourage all allotmenteers to respond accordingly.
All the big funders of Scotland’s voluntary sector occasionally meet up as the Funders’ Forum. I imagine one of the hot topics is how to ensure consistency, transparency and accountability for the decisions they have to make. Demand for funding usually exceeds the amount available to disburse and so, to some extent, it’s inevitable that a proportion of applicants will end up disappointed. Nonetheless, something must be awry with a process that can leave a community high and dry after years of work and thousands of pounds invested in developing the proposal.
If necessity is truly the mother of invention then it’s likely that we’re going to see some very interesting innovations around how our sector is funded going forward. With local authorities seeking to make massive cuts to their budgets over the next few years, one area of potential growth is in the area of financial partnerships. Nesta have just published some research into councils that have been helping community organisations unlock funds through ‘matched crowdfunding’.
Whenever UK Government defends its uneasy roll out of Universal Credit, at some point the argument usually contains a reference to ‘making work pay’. No one ever seems to counter with the argument that if no benefit is received for six weeks or longer, any kind of work, however badly paid and insecure, is preferable. These reforms seems specifically designed to degrade and humiliate. They also add weight to the argument for a Basic Income. Writing in Social Europe, Ulrich Schachtschneider critiques the usual criticisms that are made of this radical alternative.
Churches are facing a massive challenge. Not only have the numbers who regularly attend fallen by more than half in the past thirty years but 10% of church buildings have been declared surplus to requirement over the same period. These buildings are nonetheless prominent, sometimes iconic community assets and so the issue of how their value to the local community could be maximised has become a critical question. Some interesting work is about to be embarked upon down south that our church leaders might care to have a look at.