Community-owned or merely ‘based’ in the community?

Early research findings suggest the cuts are impacting on the sustainability of community-led housing programmes.

Public sector cuts are threatening the resilience of community-led regeneration, according to Rob Rowlands & Mike Beazley

Cast your mind back ten years. Labour ministers were trumpeting the investment in community-based organisations as the way forward for embedded housing-led regeneration.

Now come back to the present, to an era of deep public sector cuts. Is this community approach as embedded as we thought? What do the cuts really mean for frontline services in community-based organisations? And what do the effects of cuts in these organisations mean for the local communities they serve?

While it is too early to provide a detailed account of this, early evidence from areas that we have been working in suggests that these organisations have not been as embedded as they could or would like to be.

The early evidence of some cuts suggests that community-based regeneration might be a less resilient model than was previously suggested or promised. Ongoing – albeit tapering – support is required, together with a diversification of income sources to make these programmes sustainable.

Imagine then an estate-based regeneration project, a task-and-finish programme focussed around a community-based housing organisation.  The regeneration programme received considerable public subsidies over a 15-year period and drew in a significant amount of private resources.  A community-based housing association was set up to which the local authority owned housing stock was transferred, its community focus designed to see off opposition to the perceived privatisation of council housing.

Its aim was to be shaped and run ‘as far as possible’ by the residents and today the regeneration defines its success as the provision of innovative neighbourhood management delivered through its strong resident-led capacity. It identifies the retention and reuse of assets within the local area as a significant strength.

3 Comments

  • Storm Cunningham

    Great article! For too long, people have seen citizen-led initiatives as a panacea for top-down programs. But as long as they rely too heavily on the public sector, community-based regeneration will never have the autonomy or resilience it needs to survive downturns.

    This is why crowdsourcing–backed by crowdfunding–is catching on so quickly: it provides the ultimate in diversified funding support. A good example is at http://RevitalizNOW.com

    There are at least four other factors that are essential to resilient community-based regeneration. They are detailed in this excerpt from my upcoming third book, Rescuing Our Future: http://bit.ly/lK3Btw

    Thanks again for an excellent article! – Storm

  • Neil F

    I think it’s important to draw a distinction between ‘public spending’ and ‘public sector’. Clearly there needs to be some clear water between the public and private sectors when it comes to independent community led activity, but ‘public spending’ is not quite the same as ‘public sector’ and has an essential role to play in the process of regeneration.

    I don’t see public spending as ‘subsidy’ as the article kind of suggests, but investing in social outcomes that will generate a social (and possibly a wider economic) return. Let’s not forget that huge amounts of private sector activities are ‘subsidised’ from tax breaks through to tax credits for employees which it could be argued subsidise low wages. There’s no guilt or apology there.

    Storm Cunningham makes the point about community regeneration surviving downturns. But this raises the question about what is the purpose of regeneration and in particular its role over the last 30 years? It is important to correct and heal communities in response to the failings of a neo-liberal economic model. The downturn isn’t an aberration but an inevitable failing of that model – albeit a spectacular one.

    So rather than ask why regeneration schemes struggle with an economic downturn and/or significant spending cuts, perhaps we should be considering why the economy fundamentally struggles to deliver fairer and more equal outcomes and how can any government be allowed to pull the plug on areas that need regeneration the most?

    Now is the time to be considering what form of regeneration we’ll need next to repair communities and local economies from the devastation caused by the downturn and this government’s austerity measures. Let’s also ensure community regeneration organisations are part of a debate as to how we rewire our economy so that it isn’t always the ‘same old areas’ that lose out and ensure that job and wealth creation flourishes most in the areas where the need is greatest.

    If national politicians can draw one observation from community regeneration and economic development over the last decade, it is that many areas that are economically poor can be socially rich – and vice versa. Achieving sustainable solutions to achieve healthier and happier communities is the real challenge right now. Community led projects have great deal to contribute in this regard. The challenges facing the sector/movement are not of our making.

  • Dave Hollings

    The problem for many of these organisations is that they are not owned locally – there is a democratic deficit.

    There may be residents on the board, but these are not elected (and often become well meaning oligarchies) and the organisations are not accountable locally. So, when push comes to shove, local people do not feel that these organisations are theirs and will not fight for their survival.

    In the end, ownership matters.

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