Allan Farmer identifies three key questions for CWB and raises the need for more diverse voices as part of future discussions. 

Allan leads the development and delivery of Corra’s People in Place programme which uses place-based approaches to support people and communities to create positive change.  Prior to joining Corra he was part of various collaborative initiatives to support community-led change, most recently as Director of WHALE Arts in Wester Hailes.

I’d like to extend my thanks to the team at SURF for the chance to attend and share some thoughts on the recent Annual Conference.

The event provided a thorough exploration and deconstruction of the slogans around Community Wealth Building (CWB) – and a reminder that the policy levers that exist in Scotland to support its delivery.

The morning’s speakers helped to outline the principles of CWB which prompted lots of discussion and numerous questions that will be good to explore through the SURF CWB Network.  A few of the questions that stood out for me are:

  • Can Community Wealth Building be achieved through the refinement of existing efforts or does it require a more radical approach?
  • How do we move beyond the ‘this is what we are doing already!’ response from public authorities when discussing CWB?
  • How do we begin to engage the private sector in this agenda?

There was also important recognition of the need for long-term investment that supports communities to development and deliver local solutions, rather than a series of short-term community engagement processes.

The afternoon session saw Scottish and UK Governments provide a welcome overview of current funding initiatives although questions remain about the alignment of the funding, communities’ awareness of it, and how to increase trust, and reduce ‘red tape’ in the funding processes.

It was great to be part of the buzz in a room full of people again but with all that has changed since this was last possible – including Black Lives Matter and recognition of the unequal impact of the pandemic – I was struck by lack of visible diversity. A challenge for everyone ‘in the room’ will be to ensure that more diverse voices are part of future discussions.

There were plenty of reminders throughout the day of the importance of creativity in helping communities to imagine their future and holding up a mirror to society.  Kevin P Gilday’s performance which brought the conference to a close was simultaneously thought provoking and challenging – and his critique of past regeneration initiatives left me questioning whether current efforts to progress CWB are doing enough to involve communities in the process, and what more could be done.

Following the conference, another creative intervention – courtesy of Hew Locke whose series of ‘Impossible Proposals have now become a reality – provided a timely reminder of how change can be achieved.  Much like the ‘Impossible Proposals’ – which reimagine existing structures (historic public sculptures) – a key to progressing CWB from policy into practice will be to provide inspiration through models that place communities at the heart of design and decision making.  Corra’s place-based work at both neighbourhood level and town/city scale are two such examples.

  • Getting Alongside Communities is supporting long-term work alongside, and investment into eight communities – where the ambitions are set by the people in that place. Corra’s commitment is to help create the conditions for bold change to happen.
  • Participatory Scotland aims to get more people involved in more neighbourhood projects in their local community. It’s about neighbourhoods made by everyone, for everyone, and on an equal footing.  The kinds of projects might include sharing knowledge, spaces and resources, for families to work and play together, for bulk cooking, food growing, tree planting, for trading, making and repairing, and for growing community businesses.

This approach has been going for 5 years in Barking and Dagenham and you can find out more about how it works here.  Corra are currently working with Participatory City, local people and partner organisations in Kirkcaldy and Renfrewshire to co-design how this might work in Scotland.

Whilst there is still some way to go in moving CWB from slogans to sound strategy, the ideas and energy generated by the conference – particularly if bolstered by more diverse voices, community involvement and cross-sector collaboration – can be a catalyst for this change.

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