When a former Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government admits that the organisation he once had responsibility for was ‘misguided’ in its approach to running the country, people tend to listen. Sir John Elvidge was contributing to an event last week which, when he was running Scotland’s civil service, would almost certainly have passed him by. The Economics of Friendship has its origins in India where over 100 million women living in abject poverty have transformed their lives by becoming involved in a mass movement of small self-help groups. By supporting one another, these women learn new skills and create micro-businesses that generate vital new income. In 2011, a group of women from some of Glasgow’s most disadvantaged communities travelled to India to observe this remarkable story at close quarters. Inspired by what they saw, they quickly adapted this simple but powerful idea to suit their own local circumstances. Supported by WEvolution, Self-Reliant Groups (SRGs) are beginning to emerge right across Scotland. These groups are so bottom-up and determinedly independent that they can make what we think of as ‘community led’ appear almost top-down. On the evidence, SRGs undoubtedly transform lives. Now John Elvidge reckons they should transform the way government works as well.
In the most recent briefing…
Walk through any large area of council housing stock and it’s impossible not to notice those little parcels of grassed land located on street corners or between blocks of flats. They serve little purpose, are usually poorly maintained and often littered with depressingly pointless Council signs forbidding ball games or dog walking. Did anyone think the provision of such spaces would ever add to the quality of people’s lives? Some residents in the Granton area of Edinburgh could see their potential but knew they would have to dig deep to unearth it. So they did.
One of the things that strikes any casual observer of allotment sites or any community growing project, is the sheer range of materials that are being used, reused and endlessly recycled to support the principle task of growing fruit and veg. And it is in the construction of the allotment shed that this creativity is most apparent. A beautiful little book by artist Emily Chappell – A Hut of One’s Own – illustrates the particular ingenuity involved in shed construction and indeed how any old material can be put to good use on your plot.
Over the past year, a collaboration between Voluntary Arts Scotland and Cinema For All has worked with over 20 communities around the country that were selected on the basis of how accessible mainstream cinema was for local people. The idea being that if local people, for whatever reason, can’t get to the cinema, then perhaps the cinema should come to them. Small amounts of training and equipment have resulted in 20 community cinemas being established. And all the lessons learned have now been published in a simple how-to guide
It’s fast becoming clear that Participatory Budgeting (PB) can make an impact on several levels. At a macro level, it can help determine the big spending decisions which shape our day to day lives. At a very local level PB can have an equally profound impact. Leith Links Community Council were one of very few community councils to seek Community Choices funding. Their PB event generated project ideas from all corners of this small community and nearly a thousand residents voted. Some cash was dispensed but the real dividend came in the social capital that was generated.
Party conferences nowadays tend to be highly stage-managed. But they do occasionally go off script, as happened at the 2015 SNP conference when a motion from the floor calling for much more radical land reform won conference support. A similar thing seems to have happened at last weekend’s SNP conference in Aberdeen. This time the call was more specific – to bring forward proposals for taxing land values, thereby removing the primary driver of speculation. Land reformers believe the only way to return land values to realistic levels is through taxation. This could be a breakthrough moment.
Scottish Government is rightly proud of the targets it has set itself to combat climate change – they are the most ambitious on the planet. And following on from the Paris Agreement, there will be new Climate Change legislation with new, even more ambitious targets later this year. Before then, agreement has to be reached on the Scottish Government’s Climate Action Plan. SCA has tried to engage with this Plan because we believe that community actions have a big part to play in tackling climate change. In this respect, we think the Plan is weak.
One of the ideas that are being mooted to improve our planning system is to give much greater prominence to the part played by Local Place Plans. These plans would be drawn up by communities and would be an expression of local aspirations. Having access to good baseline data will be a prerequisite for this kind of hyper-local planning. There is of course no shortage of data available – the trick is to know where it is and how to use it. A digital data tool – Understanding Scottish Places – has just had a major upgrade. Worth playing around with.
When complete system change is called for – as in the case of how public services are to be commissioned and procured in the future – it's sometimes all too easy to forget the challenges of changing the habits of a lifetime. It’s reasonable that some folk working in parts of the public sector need help to adjust to this new world of local by default. Locality have just published a helpful five step guide for councillors and commissioners.
Govan was the centre of world shipbuilding during the industrial revolution, but subsequent closure of the shipyards lead to unemployment, a high crime rate, derelict land and a decimated business community. A grass roots kick-back against that decline has led to community-based regeneration of the area and the Pearce Institute (locally known as the PI) has been at the heart of the initiative. The PI is well linked to Govan community groups, many of which are either housed in the PI, or rent space for their meetings. The PI works to encourage training and employment, promoting Goven as a centre for the creative and media industries, while cherishing the roots and heritage of the community.
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...