Birmingham city council published a white paper Working with Neighbourhoods in January 2019. The paper recognises that there isn’t a single fit and that a bottom-up, flexible approach is necessary for success. This is something at the core of LWM’s mission so we’re glad to see it’s been understood. It identifies that people need to be empowered to deliver their own solutions to issues in their local areas. One way they propose to do this is through supporting the initiation of parish councils to deliver community agendas. Parish councils can also take on the running of services or management of assets where there is a local community desire to do so. Recognising that council funding is limited, it proposes one solution – using internal community assets (i.e. the skills of people within the communities) to resource the solutions.
The USE-IT project that LWM is a partner of shares the aim of identifying and leveraging assets within the community. We think the learning from the USE-IT project should guide the design of similar projects. The paper also highlights the possibility of the value of peer learning networks, where one neighbourhood learns from another. The concept of using peer mentoring for community development is something we’re currently exploring too (see here to give us your views).
The appendices are particularly useful, spreading the news of existing good practice and great examples of work being carried out across Birmingham. But we remain concerned about the capacity of civil society groups, and individuals themselves, to simply take on roles the council has typically performed. Our work with civil society on the WMCA’s Inclusive Growth Plan tells the story of the stretch to breaking point of organisations. Individuals might have more capacity if we could move from having some of the longest working hours in Europe to a 4 day week, but in the meantime we need to be wary of simply reallocating challenges to others who also lack capacity.
We think it’s time for investment in issues that are important – how about the Green New Deal?