What works in community regeneration

The Portal - Create Crew youth groupScotland’s independent regeneration network, Surf, has collected a bank of evidence on what works in local communities. As the country approaches further devolution, Derek Rankine suggests some tips for the post-referendum generation of practitioners

In the context of austerity measures, rising demand, and apparently entrenched degenerative economic forces, the considerable long-term difficulties for those working to regenerate disadvantaged communities in Scotland share many obvious parallels with those in other parts of the UK.

Despite some helpful policy divergences, such as the Scottish government’s focus on community empowerment and community led regeneration, it is hard to summarise the general climate as anything other than: ‘less funding, more challenges.’

What works in regeneration
Whether the 18 September vote results in independence or increased autonomy within the UK (as seems increasingly likely in the event of a ‘no’ outcome), Surf has developed a freely accessible bank of innovation and inspiration for the post-referendum generation of regeneration practitioners to draw on.

Our independently judged Surf awards for best practice in community regeneration, which we deliver in partnership with the Scottish government, is now in its 15th year. Annually, we highlight the work of 15 shortlisted initiatives across five categories that cover all scales of regeneration activity, from large-scale infrastructure and town centre development projects to more modestly resourced community-led and arts-based interventions.

While it is important to celebrate success and innovation, we also strive to draw out transferable lessons from the winning projects. Many elements of a successful regeneration process are, of course, particular to a specific place and local circumstances, but others can be used to usefully inform similar aspirations in other contexts and geographies. To that end, we arrange a series of study visits where we encourage winning projects to talk openly with the Surf network about the challenges their initiative faced and how these were – and weren’t – negotiated.

PHOENIX_CINEMA-OBAN_CELEBRATES_BIRTHDAY_A_YEAR_SINCE_ITS_RE-OPENING_04_AUG_2013Among the winning projects in the most recent iteration of the Surf awards are:

  • the Stromness townscape heritage initiative in Orkney (‘town centre regeneration’ category);
  • The Portal, a community arts hub in Govan, Glasgow (pictured above) (‘creative regeneration’);
  • and the community-run Oban Phoenix Cinema (pictured right) (‘community-led regeneration’).

Despite big variations in budgets and urban contexts, these projects shared a remarkable common strand in successfully transforming neglected local buildings into thriving hubs of social and economic activity. They did so by establishing committed long-term partnerships built on solid foundations of local enthusiasm.

Project SEARCH - work placement (Jonathan Donnelly)Community assets extend beyond buildings

The two other 2013 Surf awards category winners:

  • the innovative supported employment programme Project Search (‘Support to Work’), which operates from a number of delivery locations including north Lanarkshire and Aberdeen (pictured right);
  • and the Orkney micro-renewables initiative (‘Infrastructure and Social Benefits’), which invests income from small-scale energy generation schemes into local economic development plans – followed a similar approach.

They demonstrate that the concept of ‘community assets’ extends far beyond physical buildings, which is an understandably common association, into such areas as renewable energy and the generally under-appreciated value of those with learning disabilities to our economy.

In our recent study visits, we are sometimes disappointed to learn that, regardless of past achievements and despite continuing political rhetoric to the contrary, secure long-term funding is not a reality for many successful regeneration projects (although Surf awards success clearly helps initiatives to demonstrate their value to funders and partners). This being the likely reality for the foreseeable future, it is all the more important that we capture lessons around how to derive the maximum possible value for all investments in the regeneration of our disadvantaged communities.

We are therefore once again looking forward to the 2014 Surf awards process, which opens for entries from across Scotland from 23 June. We’re in no doubt that this year’s process will produce a plentiful harvest of exciting new examples of effective regeneration achievements. We look forward to celebrating, studying and sharing them in whichever constitutional arrangement Scotland emerges with after the referendum dust settles.



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