Saturday, February 2, 2013

In community...

I spent the last two days visiting community development trusts in South Uist in the Western Isles and in and around Glasgow run by deeply committed and quietly imaginative people seeking to reweave the possibilities of community and develop practical projects that will provide facilities for their community, whilst generating employment and income. This latter piece of the picture is increasingly critical given the shrinkage of support from the state. It has never been more important to be self-reliant.

But self-reliance is grounded in collaborative sharing within communities and between them and my two days were spent exploring how the trusts could be supported with common services increasing their availability to each by sharing their development and cost.

I was struck by how we have a common addiction to 'headline' projects that will be 'the' solution. Politicians are especially fond of them - not simply I think because of 'ego' and their glossy contribution to profile and their all important bid for re-election but because they are simpler to execute - spending a few million on one project 'carefully planned' not to go obviously wrong (even though they can and do) is easier than allocating the same amount of money to a range of projects (some of which will manifestly fail and on these failures, ripped from context, our omnipresent media will inevitably focus). There was in South Uist a splendid wall apparently protecting the causeway road from an encroaching sea - built at the coast of several million pounds - christened by locals as the "Maginot Line' as the sea was washing around at both ends! There were more cost effective, yet complex measures, the local authority could have taken but these would have been less noticeable and would have required, frankly more thought and community negotiation: all too difficult apparently! 

I was struck too by the importance of work to our identity. We met a woman, small bird like, quietly talkative, in the kitchen of one of the organisations I visited. It was only afterwards I was told that when she first came to work there, she could barely look at a stranger. Our guide there told us of a talk she had heard the day before at a conference of a woman entrepreneur who had abandoned working at a government sponsored programme for the long term unemployed that focused on building up a person's 'self-esteem' and 'making them employable' when she realised that what the people she was working with actually needed was a job. So she started an enterprise and got those very same, societally labelled 'unemployable' people into work! It did wonders for their self-esteem.

And, finally, I was struck by how land and buildings are so important to the regeneration of local communities and it should not, wherever reasonably possible, be left idling in the hands of people who do not know what to do with it (or more culpably sit on it hoping for its value to rise). We should have a simple rule - use it or lose it (and in Scotland, at least, the community can trigger buy outs though they remain, outside the Highlands and Islands, consensual). 

This brings me to the evil Tesco who using a shell company bought up the town centre of Linwood and squeezed out the shop owners by racking up the rents and left a derelict shell for several years while they planned (machinated) over where to build their next store (a process that is ongoing). At least, now, they have been forced to demolish the dangerous eyesore but still, as yet, have no plans for what to do with the empty space.  Frankly I would have the government sequester it and sell it off to someone who does know what to do with it (and without compensation). We need a reverse land grab act...  


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