Housing is a key element of regeneration, both as a fundamental necessity and as a driver for wider action. In the latest of a regular series of Scotregen columns, the SFHA’s David Ogilvie the valuable conribution of the Wider Role fund to community regeneration in Scotland.
As if we were stuck in the middle of a Chinese proverb, anyone involved in community regeneration in Scotland must by now surely recognise that those wishes have been realised and now truly “we live in interesting times”.
It is hard to know for sure where we are headed, but in light of the neo- Thatcherite spending cuts announced by the UK Coalition, and the accompanying cruelties hidden in the welfare reform agenda, one thing looks a sure bet: the need for regeneration in Scotland’s poorest communities is more likely to grow than diminish in the coming few years.
Scotland’s housing associations and cooperatives have long been part of the regeneration landscape, and given our concerns about the impact of the coming spending cuts, it won’t surprise you to hear that the uncertain future of Wider Role fund has been exercising the minds of many in the sector recently. We want not only to protect, but to build upon the legacy of the community regeneration and empowerment activities that Wider Role has made possible over the past decade.
At the end of September, the SFHA hosted an evening reception at the Scottish Parliament to celebrate the achievements and ongoing potential of housing associations and cooperatives in the various Wider Role activities. Representatives from organisations from right across Scotland crammed themselves into the Main Hall of the Parliament to showcase their own wider role projects to MSPS and then hear from various speakers, including Craig Sanderson of Link Group, Calum Macauley of Albyn Housing Society as well as Labour’s shadow housing spokesperson Mary Mulligan, and last but not least from the Minister himself, Alex Neil.
It was heartening to see so many MSPs in attendance on the night, many of whom said how impressed they were with the positive social and economic impact that housing associations and cooperatives have delivered in their communities with the help of Wider Role programme.
The fact is that housing associations and cooperatives are more than landlords: their commitment extends beyond way that, reaching out into the broader community. They are, as the Minister Alex Neil described it “local regeneration agencies” in their own right. Through Wider Role, they have delivered a diverse range of projects which have improved the quality of people’s lives through improved employability, skills, financial inclusion, much needed environmental improvements, and improved community health and wellbeing.
In many ways, Wider Role funding has been the oil, lubricating that machinery, helping housing associations and cooperatives realise their broader regeneration objectives.
And in doing so, they have delivered added value: for every pound of wider role funding allocated this year, a further £2.50 additional funding has been levered in by housing associations and cooperatives from a variety of different sources, including their own reserves. In many cases the leverage rates are higher. This is the unique selling point for associations and cooperatives in terms of their contribution to Scotland’s social and economic wellbeing: they make a little go a long way.
Whilst there is some debate about the future strategic direction of Wider Role policy, there is a consensus across the sector that Wider Role has played (and should continue to play) a valuable role in helping achieve our broader community regeneration and social inclusion objectives. Ultimately, we believe community regeneration is an integral part of what we do.