Opinion: Flourishing communities
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities
Construction firms awarded contracts on £3 billion West Midlands Framework
By Kevin Gulliver, director of the Human City Institute.
It has been a difficult time for cities such as Birmingham in the wake of drawn-out economic recession, public spending cuts and growing youth and long-term unemployment.
Alongside, the operating environment for the housing and third sectors presents challenges if quality, affordable housing and services are to be provided to tenants. And if improving the quality of life and life chances of disadvantaged communities in the inner city is to be furthered.
The effects of growing unemployment, entrenched and long-term deprivation in some inner city neighbourhoods, and the recent riots, can, however, sometimes distort our view of inner city life. Despite the challenges faced, Birmingham and other English cities have shining examples of successful regeneration of housing and neighbourhoods, built on partnership working, localised solutions and the undimmed spirit of people living in social housing, despite constant sniping from the media. A report by independent think tank the Human City Institute (HCI) highlights one of these regeneration successes in Birmingham through a community-based and highly consultative case study.
The HCI report, which explores community, ethnicity and cohesion on the Waterworks estate in Ladywood, shows what can be achieved with local government working closely with voluntary and community agencies, the police and residents to turn around a neighbourhood in one of the most deprived wards in England to create a flourishing community.
The research illustrates how the city council has been a focal point for improving the quality of life on the estate working closely with other organisations and residents. The result has been a concerted and systematic series of actions against two of the estate’s main social problems - drug dealing and prostitution. Crack houses have been shut down and prostitutes, often drug dependent, have been helped off the streets rather than just shunting the problem elsewhere.
Community anchors include Perrott’s Folly - one of Tolkien’s Two Towers (Tolkien lived a few minutes’ walk from the estate) - and its embryonic community interest company, the Trident Social Investment Group, the Karis Neighbourhood Scheme, the Safe haven Youth Club, the Ladywood Project and the Sure Start centre, which have all made valuable, individual and combined contributions to help improve the estate.
The report draws some conclusions about why transformation of the ‘Waterworks’ estate has been successful. Firstly, despite considerable deprivation, the estate shows high levels of community cohesion: key strengths are cross-ethnicity community feeling and a real sense of both pride and compassion that crosses ethnic boundaries.
Secondly, the estate benefits from the activities of a range of organisations working in concert to improve the quality of life of local people with the help of a supportive local authority. Thirdly, area improvement requires active residents, but those residents cannot act in isolation. Real change requires active and effective partnerships across sectors.
Fourthly, maintaining positive change requires on-going work - it isn’t just a one-off - and needs agencies which are based in the community for the long-term. Fifthly, small actions within a ‘social investment’ framework can have a major impact - regeneration doesn’t have to be about big interventions but lots of small ones that accumulate and create forward momentum.
A key ingredient in the estate’s successful regeneration has been what HCI calls the ‘hidden assets’ of active local people willing to work with the city council and community agencies to achieve a remarkable transformation. As one resident quoted in the report says: “Despite problems, it’s a great community to live in because we all support each other.”
This chimes with the city council’s strategy to tackle social exclusion - ‘Giving Hope, Changing Lives’ - and the commitment from communities to drive forward new and improved ways of doing things. The research shows that people living on deprived estates, with support, can help create flourishing communities and go beyond media stereotypes of CHAVs, skivers and scroungers which so distort housing and regeneration policy debates in this country.
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