Claire Martin reflects on the waves of policies that have washed through her career, summarising the CWB case studies from North Ayrshire but questioning how Scottish and UK funding frameworks relate to each other.

Claire Martin works at Community Enterprise. She has more than 20 years’ experience of working in the public, private and third sectors, including as a solicitor and Children’s Reporter, as manager and developer of a wellbeing hub for a Development Trust and as a funding officer for the Scottish Land Fund.

At the start of 2018, I left my job in community development in Scotland to be near my parents, while my dad recovered from a broken hip. During that year, I managed a Health and Wellbeing Hub in Bexhill, a project which was funded by the local NHS trust, administered by one Borough Council and delivered in another. Three sets of KPIs, and a different political set of structures to navigate, which do not have direct comparators with systems in Scotland. Social prescribing was all the rage, and ‘H&W’ was being used everywhere, to the point that the phrase was at risk of becoming meaningless. No community development work could possibly be undertaken without being based in a Hub, and co-production / collaboration were the only ways in which that work could be done.

I returned to Scotland in 2019, and worked in child protection, a sector with its own language, jargon and trends. Are we GIRFEC in Scotland? Will The Promise ensure that the SHANARRI indicators are embedded across the system, particularly for LAC? What difference will incorporation of the UNCRC make?

In October of last year, I joined Community Enterprise, and was delighted to be back in touch with colleagues and friends across the sector. In less than five years, the landscape and language had shifted. The Lottery’s Community Assets fund had gone, and didn’t seem to have been replaced; even the fund had changed name from Big Lottery Fund to The National Lottery Community Fund. Now there was Community Led and Improving Lives, but they’re about to be replaced with something else, or are they? CRNS has rebranded to CCS.

Community Empowerment seemed a bit passé, with the legislation up for review, and apparently replaced by Community Wealth Building, whatever that was. Net Zero is on trend, and even just transition has made it in to Scottish Government policy. Does it bear any resemblance to the radical post peak oil discussions I remember at the start of the Transition Towns movement in the mid 00s, or is it just an example of language being co-opted? ‘Levelling Up’ was just a meaningless phrase that Boris Johnson shouted at every opportunity, to deflect from answering questions. There was a new Community Ownership Support Fund – where on earth had that come from? Does it replace, or enhance, or have nothing to do with the Scottish Land Fund?

And most importantly: if I struggle to keep up with all the jargon and trends, and I’m in the privileged position of being paid to do so, how do the community activists we support stand a chance?

I was therefore delighted to see the title of the SURF conference, and the searching questions posed; I attended with an open mind, hoping that my cynicism might be toned down to the mere skepticism voiced by a younger colleague.

In my work, I get to meet lots of hard working and inspirational people, who are just getting on with the day to day business of community development, whilst I have the luxury of attending conferences and thinking about and reflecting on the wider political landscape. As I took my seat, I held two people in mind that I have been humbled to meet recently: Willie Black of North Edinburgh community festival and Mary Laing of Alva Development Trust; two individuals who have been at the forefront of life changing initiatives in their communities, particularly during the pandemic. What impact was this latest round of slogans going to have on them and their work?

It was a shame that the Ministerial address by Tom Arthur was via Zoom. It was a shame that the Ministerial address by Tom Arthur was via Zoom. He spoke of “leveraging economic power”; “delivery partners”; “support further embedding of this approach”; “place specific development across the five pillars”; “working collaboratively with all stakeholders”. Euan Leitch summed up the Minister’s input as having described “a transformative evolution rather than a revolution”. I hope that CWB is transformative.

Martin Avila’s upbeat presentation encouraged us to be optimistic, and skewered some of the glib dismissals of CWB; his position was that CWB builds on, rather than replaces what’s come before it. Although his analogy of where the sector is at in the wider political context was apt – we’re in the carpark; maybe we’ve got as far as looking through the window, or even being in the lobby; but we need to be aiming for the penthouse, where the decisions are made.

North Ayrshire Council took us from theory to practice, with examples of solar farms on brownfield sites, and scaling up local food production. They also acknowledged the challenges of CWB, including the language, and the metrics of measuring success. I was pleased to see the success of Mossgiel Farm, who won the tender to supply local schools with milk. Their milk is sold in one of my local refilleries, Weigh To Go. I don’t drink dairy, but if I did, it would be Mossgiel’s. (Organic, reusable bottles, locally produced, low food miles, traditional Scottish crop oat milk, from my local vegan supermarket, Easter Greens, since you ask). But it doesn’t make sense to bring the milk from Ayrshire to the hipsters of Leith, if it can be consumed more locally. And as the Director of Mossgiel Farm said in the slick short film about CWB, “some of these pupils can look out the window and see the farm that their milk’s coming from”. If this is CWB in action, then it is A Good Thing.

The two presentations from Dunoon were inspirational, pragmatic, and occasionally depressing – the example of Argyll & Bute Council removing shingle full of ‘weeds’, in response to a Facebook campaign about it being an eyesore, when in fact the site is significant in its biodiversity…

The presentations about Levelling Up from the UK and Scottish governments did add to my confusion, and I’m not yet sure about how the five pillars of CWB relate to the twelve missions of LU, let alone how the various UK funds work (Community Renewal, Levelling Up, Community Ownership and Shared Prosperity), or how those funds interact with e.g. the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund. I’m not convinced that there is synergy between the UK and Scottish approaches, particularly when the Community Ownership Fund is described as “the start of a journey”, and the Scottish Land Fund has been running for more than two decades. Don’t forget to add in other key policies such as 20 Minute Neighbourhoods (literally reinventing the wheel: see the images on page 2 of this document), Town Centre Action Plans, Local Place Plans, Community-led Regeneration and The Place Principle . Keeping up?

Performance poet Kevin P. Gilday’s input was a fitting end to the day, and put me in mind of Tom Leonard’s “liaison coordinator” which I came across as the epigraph of Darren McGarvey’s “Poverty Safari”. It’s a salutary reminder to all of us in the sector.

I believe that Scotland needs radical social change to address the multiple societal and environmental challenges we are all facing. CWB might be just the thing we need to make this happen. But as Ann Campbell of the Dunoon Area Alliance said, “waiting for national policy to cascade down is like waiting for a tanker to turn”.

And so back to Willie and Mary, and to all those unnamed people who are out there doing, not waiting, and not just thinking and talking. We owe it to them get away from the jargon in our sector; to hold our politicians accountable; and to seek transformative revolution, rather than endure empty rhetoric. I took with me the phrase offered by Hannah Clinch of  Tacit Tacit: pessimism of the intellect, optimism in the work.

This article is written in a personal capacity, and doesn’t reflect the views of Community Enterprise.

If you would like to join SURF’s Community Wealth Building Network please email emma@surf-old.local