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The Big Society
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The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 created greater opportunities for community and individual involvement in local decision-making. It emphasises a further shift away from individuals as passive users of services and information to active participants in determining what's best for their communities. These changes present a considerable challenge to local authority officers and members, local services and community organisations.
The programme being delivered at regional and sub-regional level, for both Elected Members and Officers, has included a high level event and a diverse range of showcase events/workshops that have encompassed developing better working relationships with other agencies, alongside an emphasis on leadership, networking and brokerage, devolved budgets, performance management and influencing service delivery.
Neighbourhood Warden Support and Delivery Support for Front line Workers, Elected Members and Residents. Two neighbourhood resource centres have been commissioned to build capacity within communities, third sector organisations and partners. See Neighbourhood Resource Centre.
Regional Empowerment Partnership Support - project management and resources have been provided to deliver a baseline survey of support being delivered in neighbourhoods. In particular EM IEP have worked closely with the East Midlands Empowerment Partnership on their programme which will provide targeted support for communities. EM IEP has also supported the ‘Councillors Shaping Communities' Conference in February which reached out to inspire all members with an interest in community engagement and to identify member champions. The EM IEP is also supporting the development of a Community Achievement Award and funding 10 awards to purchase equipment for community projects.
Councillors Shaping Communities - The EM IEP funded ten Empowerment Achievement Awards of £2,000 to purchase equipment to further community projects. These awards were presented at the Councillors Shaping Communities conference, which was funded by EM IEP and run in partnership with the East Midland Empowerment Partnership. Councillors learnt from the ten Empowerment Achievement Award winners about projects which have made a real difference to local people, improved their quality of life and are a celebration of determination, good practice and councillor support.
Examples of Two Empowerment Achievement Awards:
1. The HOPE Project - Since 1997 the Hope project on the Hemmingwell Estate, Wellingborough, has transformed a run down pub into a thriving community centre and become a local employer with a full complement of paid staff and a range of spaces and activities on offer. It has established a youth club, offered a Community Family Support Team providing emergency intervention for families where children are at risk, organised an annual summer ‘Hope Week' of fun activities for the young people, created a new- Community and Skills Centre for social and learning opportunities, and converted an old garage area into a music studio.
2. The Focus Challenge Programme - During 2009, working with local schools, Focus Challenge Programme enabled over 650 young people aged 13-17 in the East Midlands to plan and deliver projects that directly benefited their local communities. The programme is particularly targeted at young people in inner-city areas and in deprived communities, schools often use it as a way to re-engage students in learning and has been delivered with Pupil Referral Units in Blaby, Nottingham and Mansfield, and at Holgate School in Hucknall, it was offered to young people who had experienced behavioural problems.
The Challenge Programme empowers and inspires young people to have a positive impact in their local community. It enables them to develop communication, leadership, project management and problem solving skills, whilst offering tangible benefits to local community groups. Examples of the young people's projects include creating a lively mural to brighten up a room in a nursery, converting an area of waste ground into a community garden, and writing and performing a play for Year 6 pupils at a junior school about the transition to secondary school.
After the ‘Councillors Shaping Communities' Conference councillors were determined to "Go out more into the community. Making sure that all ages are listened to" "Consult face to face...get people talking, "Take on some innovative work in line with some ideas in other areas". Participants were able to see themselves as people who can make a clear difference and raise the bar about what councillors can achieve. Members saw that there is consensus across all political parties about giving local people more influence over the decisions that affect their lives. They were able to explore their crucial role in delivering this agenda and the implications for themselves as elected members.
The Conference was followed by 5 practical half-day workshops to support councillors who wanted to champion empowerment. By attending workshops nearer to their Ward, more councillors were helped to tackle issues specific to their locality and had the opportunity to discuss the barriers and challenges to promote community empowerment and how they could be overcome
The aim is to develop a regional vehicle for a larger number of members and others to come together in order to secure some momentum in making a difference to ordinary people's lives. This EM IEP wider scheme will be supported, through the East Midlands Empowerment Partnership Targeted Support Programme.
An additional award scheme will be developed, which recognises communities that, with the help of the public sector, have developed their own solutions for local problem
Steps to Successful Asset Transfer
Asset transfer; the transfer of statutory assets into community ownership by freehold or more often leasehold, has been happening for years. The 2007 ‘Quirk Review', confirmed that there were no legal barriers to the transfer of assets and set out the potential benefits for community ownership of assets stating quite clearly that ""...optimising the use of public assets is not the primary objective: the over-riding goal is community empowerment".
The government response to the Quirk report accepted all the reports recommendations which is almost unheard of and launched a number of programmes to stimulate and support asset transfers across the country, these initiatives, the learning and continuing developments in asset transfer are collated and supported by the "Asset Transfer Unit", a partnership between Community Matters and Locality.
The Localism Bill 2010 further develops the vision for community ownership of assets through the ‘Community Right to Buy', which allows communities the opportunity to bid for both public and private assets and facilities. . The Bill widens the scope to include private and public assets, where community ownership can allow a different business model which could make an asset viable again.
This is a short guide for communities and local authorities working together to achieve asset transfer. Steps to Successful Asset Transfer
Lois Dale, Programme Support Officer