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26 Jan 2012

Community Rights Made Real: What will the Localism Act mean for communities?

With the Localism Act (the government’s new policy giving increased decision-making powers to communities) soon to become part of our planning system, there is a lot of talk about how our communities and neighbourhoods will be affected.

Among the increased powers are 3 new Rights for communities:

  • The Community Right to Bid – i.e. the transfer of buildings or land to the community
  • The Community Right to Build – i.e. neighbourhood planning
  • The Community Right to Challenge – i.e. the transfer of service provision to the community/voluntary sector or private companies

I went along to an event run jointly by NAVCA, Urban Forum and Croydon Voluntary Action to hear about these new rights and join the discussion on the concerns and opportunities they bring.

The Community Right to Bid could mean that assets which are valuable to communities continue to provide for them and act as hubs – giving people a space to interact and socialise. It may also help to preserve buildings of historical significance. We heard from the Stanley People’s Initiative about their building, and their story revealed how the support of the Local Authority is crucial for achieving success. You can read more about this tenacious group and how they are campaigning to take over the Stanley Halls here.

The Community Right to Build was deemed by the majority of us at the event as the right most likely to increase community influence. It will allow planning to be more proactive than reactive and will mean that an area develops as its community wants it to. However it is complex process - setting up a representative group to work on the plan, defining the neighbourhood it refers to, ensuring the plan conforms with policy and other local plans – which can be off-putting. The importance of trust between stakeholders in this process was emphasised by Donna Turnball of Voluntary Action Camden. Donna urged for fresh methods to be used (and traditional ones such as formal meetings avoided), to ensure an effective neighbourhood planning process.

Attendees felt apprehension towards the new Community Right to Challenge. Some are sceptical that it will actually allow community and voluntary organisations to take on Local Authority services, despite them being best placed to do so in many cases. The major concern for such organisations is that deprived and marginalised communities they work with who are most in need of support receive the best possible quality services.

It is crucial that Local Authorities and support organisations like us give communities the help that they need to fully take advantage of the opportunities presented by these recent legislative and policy changes, whilst helping them to avoid any dangers these new community rights can bring.

There are several free events on Community Rights scheduled around the country over the next couple of months

Community Rights Made Real

Residents in Kirdford analyse the neighbourhood for their Village Plan

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17 Jan 2012

Glass-House Enabler shares session experience


Glass-House Enabler Andrew Dobson recently helped us to deliver a training session to a group of residents and staff from Islington & Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA). The training session provided introductory architectural and urban design principles to the group to help them to contribute to the ISHA Design Forum.

Andrew is an Associate with John Thompson & Partners and you can read a news item about the session on the JTP's website here.

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17 Jan 2012

Big Insights: What next for community spaces?

Last week I attended an event organised by Big Lottery Fund to help them consider the future of their funding for community spaces. Various organisations and charities who work with and support local people on public and open space projects were there to listen to others and to share their own experiences.

The public space agenda of different government departments was presented by landscape consultant, Peter Neal. We then heard about the Barnfield Estate Wellness Garden – a community open space improvement project that has been very successful in Greenwich thanks to effective partnership working. Group discussions followed.

The key thoughts and questions arising from the day were:

  • Any support organisation or project partner working on a community open space needs to have a full appreciation and understanding of the area in which they’re working (its history, residents and level of affluence/deprivation)

  • The success of the Barnfield Estate scheme is thanks to the mutual trust and respect between the residents, the council and the other support organisations. We discussed the importance of this equal relationship and the role of independent facilitators in community space projects

  • There are a wealth of resources available to community groups working on open spaces, but how do groups find out about these? We agreed that people and especially facilitators give the greatest support, but with limited capacity and jobs under threat this isn’t always possible. We need to ensure that infrastructure is built to allow community groups to share knowledge and experiences. (I know through our Study Tours that one of the most valuable things for community groups is the chance to meet one another and learn from each other’s successes and challenges.)

  • We felt that there is potential for community open space projects to engage more with the private sector and this ought to be explored

  • One of the key challenges for community open space projects is securing long term funding for their management and maintenance. Groups need to be encouraged to think about this from the outset

The overriding sense was that we need to create better communication and links between groups, networks and support organisations working on community spaces. In the current climate, I think this need for collaboration is greater than ever.

Big Insights

Myatt's Fields Park

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16 Jan 2012

Ethical Property Foundation launch 'Property Advice Service' nationwide


The Ethical Property Foundation have launched their award-winning Property Advice Service nationally in England, having previously serviced charities and community groups in London and the South West since 2005.

The Property Advice Service offers friendly and expert advice on property matters to charities and community groups. Issues such as negotiating with landlords, deciphering leases and managing a building can be time-consuming and daunting for groups and this service offers not only advice and support, but also access to the Ethical Property Foundation's National Register of property professionals who offer their services pro bono or at a reduced rate to charities referred to them by the Foundation.

Find out more at www.ethicalproperty.org.uk

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9 Jan 2012

Reflections on the Portas Review

The Portas Review, an independent review into the future of our high streets by Queen of Shops Mary Portas was published recently and made for a thought-provoking read.

The review is incredibly relevant to the work of The Glass-House and the groups we support. One of the main areas of focus is just how important high streets and town centres are and how much they can contribute to creating sustainable communities and places. The review states:

“Our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community”

HG blog Portas Review
(Illustration taken from the Portas Review 2011)

Portas highlights how high streets can and should be places where people mix and engage with each other and their local area. High streets have historically been importance places for social and commercial interaction and if they are made “accessible, attractive and safe” they can be again. There is also a call for planning and regulations to encourage meanwhile use of empty space and cheap market stalls for small businesses but to more explicitly discourage out of town developments.

The review stresses that high streets should form a key part of any neighbourhood plan and that neighbourhood planning as a concept should be better explained to local people to encourage them to get involved. Portas feels that communities should create a strong vision and brand for their high streets – to give them recognisable identity and character which will guide their development and create better places.

The focus on local people taking action and collaborating to improve their high streets is where The Portas Review really chimes with our work. It calls on all relevant stakeholders (the public sector, landlords, retailers and the public) to come together to make their high street work for them, whatever their interest may be. Portas also explains that through her research, she has found that the biggest successes have been where excellent communication and collaboration between local people are in place. There is a good balance in the review between encouraging local communities to take action and an appreciation that they will need local backing and wider support to be successful. Like us, Mary Portas believes that communities will be successful when they are ‘inspired and empowered’ to create change.

HG blog LondonST

What strikes me having read the review is the potential local people have to make some really positive changes to their town centres and high streets. The recommendations are overwhelmingly positive, given the context they are written in, but there is a recognition that structure and guidance are required for local people to achieve change. The review seems to echo our organisational values:

“The public should no longer be seen simply as customers but as co-creators of place. At the heart of it, will be you”

It will be interesting to see how much of this potential is realised – hopefully with the right support, local people can be at the heart of changes to their town centres.


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