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31st May 2017

Last week I watched two very different but equally compelling documentaries depicting life in the 1960’s.  One marked the 50th anniversary of Celtic’s famous victory in Lisbon, the other told the inspiring story of New York journalist turned community activist Jane Jacobs, who stood against powerful vested interests intent on ‘redeveloping’ her city.  Celtic’s European Cup triumph was movingly retold by a small number of players and fans, recalling not just the match itself but also what life was like back in 1960’s Glasgow. Although unashamedly nostalgic about the strength of their communities, the harsh living conditions were laid bare - overcrowded slum dwellings, with poor health and poverty as constant companions. Eventually the slums were cleared, but in so doing, those tight-knit communities were broken up and scattered across sprawling new housing estates on the city’s edge.  The same thing at the same time was happening to America’s great cities – whole neighbourhoods being uprooted and relocated to ‘housing projects’ with devastating social consequences. Jane Jacobs understood that cities, above all else, were about the people and their communities. She also absolutely understood the raw power that a few engaged citizens can exert. Both films, for different reasons, well worth catching.

In the most recent briefing…

On the ground

  • Economies of scale are illusory

    In 2015, City of Edinburgh Council chose to engage the services of the Manchester based mega-charity – Lifeline  – to provide Edinburgh’s  alcohol and drug addiction services rather than continue working with community based voluntary organisations that had been delivering these services for over thirty years. Despite widespread concern at the folly of this decision, particularly from the medical profession, the Council pushed ahead.  And now, less than 18 months later, Lifeline has collapsed. Ironically, one of the community projects that Lifeline replaced, Craigmillar’s Castle Project, closed its doors permanently only days beforehand. When will we learn?


  • No trust in system

    The Achilles heel of Scotland’s planning system has long been its inability to build and sustain a positive relationship with communities. As part of the most recent consultation on how the planning system could be improved, Scottish Government commissioned new research into why this relationship with communities is so problematic and what, if anything, can be done to improve it. Curiously, and rather unhelpfully for those who wanted to respond to the consultation, the report wasn’t published until long after the consultation ended. To distil the report’s 130+ pages, the key issue is one of trust.


  • Five lessons learnt

    For over 30 years, business support agency Community Enterprise has been offering its services to communities across Scotland. Over that time, hundreds of community groups of all shapes and sizes, have been helped along the road to become a little more self-sufficient. Often that work involves helping to bring in extra investment. Recently, their efforts to do this across a number of communities came to fruition simultaneously– applications for £10 million all green lighted in the space of a fortnight. CE believe there are five big lessons to be learned from their experience. 


  • Get rid of lines and signs

    Falkland is a small conservation village in the north of Fife.  Recently concerned by a steady increase in visitor traffic through the village streets, the community have been discussing some radical proposals that would transform the relationship between pedestrians, vehicles and public space. Before proceeding to the next stage, Falkland’s community council would like to meet up with any other community that has managed to resolve similar traffic congestion issues. Sounds like an opportunity to take advantage of the Community Learning Exchange


Policy talk

  • Place plans are coming

    It seems inevitable that communities are going to be encouraged down the path of developing local place plans. It’s an idea that keeps cropping up in consultations and policy debates and in many ways it’s the logical next step in the community empowerment journey.  But if local place planning is to become the norm, much thought will have to be given to the practicalities involved in delivering such an ambitious project. The Place Standard has been around for a while and is likely to play an important part in whatever comes next.


  • They're not listening

    Parts of our sector have a habit of behaving somewhat irrationally in the run up to a general election. While all the political parties are expected to publish manifestos so that we can have some sense of what they have in store for us, many third sector organisations feel compelled to follow suit. Presumably the logic behind this is that some of these aspiring politicians are more receptive to new ideas.  Completely flawed logic, says Joe Saxton at Third Sector mag. Politicians are in broadcast not listening mode. Don’t waste your time. 


  • Public wealth for public good

    Occasionally we cast envious eyes towards those countries who had the vision and foresight to create a sovereign wealth fund. One reason we don't have one is because we view finance in binary terms – it is either for private consumption or it comes to the public purse for government to spend as it sees fit.  But there is a third way - one which seeks to capture public revenues for long term social good. Locked away from the sticky fingers of government, a wealth fund could underpin any number of social investments. Interesting blog on this from NEF.

  • Want to farm?

    Because the implications of leaving the European Union are so complex and in many respects unknown, politicians are still getting away with banalities such as taking back control, no deal being better than a bad deal and so on. But we know some things are going to change radically. Farm subsidies for instance. The current regime seems to encourage the concentration of land into ever larger land holdings making it harder for small scale farming and new entrants to the industry. With support from Nourish Scotland, the newly formed Scottish Farm Land Trust aims to reverse this trend.


About Scottish Community Alliance

Scotland's leading community sector networks have joined together as the Scottish Community Alliance in order to campaign for a strong and independent community sector in Scotland.

The Alliance has two main functions - to promote the work of local people in their communities and to influence national policy development. We email regular briefings to our supporters on both these themes. More about us here...