Jocelyn Cunliffe unpicks what CWB means in particular from her perspective working in the historic environment and touches on the tensions that can arise when communities within a place have divergent views.
Jocelyn Cunliffe is a conservation accredited architect, chair of RIAS Conservation Committee and vice chair of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland. Long-term interest in urban regeneration and the maintenance and repair of all types of buildings, especially tenements. A trustee of Under One Roof Scotland (www.underoneroof.scot). Enjoys urban walking and looking upwards.
Reflections on the conference content, what challenges and opportunities lie ahead – things SURF’s Community Wealth Building Network should explore over the next year
What does Community Wealth Building mean at a community level? Who are the community? The Historic Environment Policy for Scotland has some useful definitions:
A community is a group of people connected by location or by a common interest.
Community of place
A community of place, or place-based community, is a group of people connected because of where they live, work, visit or otherwise spend a large amount of time. It can also refer to a group of people connected to a particular geographic location.
Communities of practice and interest
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for a place or something they do. A community of interest is a group of people who identify with or share a similar interest or experience.
My comments are coloured by my professional background, as a conservation architect whose first projects involved community-based housing associations, a housing co-operative and the rehabilitation and conservation of a variety of nineteenth century tenements. Later I worked on tenement common repairs where the flats in the stairs had a mixture of owner categories – Council owned flats, housing association flats, flats rented from private landlords and owner occupiers – and in places with townscape heritage initiatives or conservation area regeneration schemes. I have been involved in community engagement meetings, ‘another load of consultants’ speaking to a sceptical group of locals. There was one meeting in an area of multiple deprivation where people were paid to attend (sorry, I cannot remember the amount) to tick the community consultation box of the funding application.
Community Wealth Building is about putting the most economically active to create social value as well as economic value and putting the economic surplus back into the community. What might the community do with that surplus? I would like some of the surplus spent on maintaining buildings and the public realm. For example, a high-level access platform could be hired with operatives to clear plants growing from gutters and string courses and then re-point open joints. Communities that use the community asset transfer process need to understand that with the building come responsibilities to repair and maintain. There is a cost attached to regular maintenance which is essential to protect the investment in the asset. In the place-based discussion existing buildings and their condition were not mentioned. Well-maintained and occupied buildings contribute to well being in a community, however diverse. Buildings need to be in a good state of repair before any energy efficiency measures are undertaken. Local tradesmen and craftsmen need to be encouraged to remain in local centres. They need a steady supply of work. This needs to be extended to design team professionals, architects, surveyors and engineers. Local authorities, the Scottish Futures Trust, other parts of the public sector, should review their procurement policies so that they commission local teams and support diverse skills across all parts of Scotland. A quote from my notes ‘It is the job of government to get macro institutions to act in a certain way’ and this applies across Scotland; buy from social enterprises and support local businesses of all types.
Ann Campbell’s presentation ‘What’s happening in Dunoon’ with her ‘Dunoon Bingo’ was, for me, the memorable talk. Ferries, peninsula and Rest & Be Thankful were three of the Bingo words and these prompted round table discussion about Scotland’s infrastructure and how the state provides that. What is the national infrastructure investment needed to facilitate community wealth building? What are the regional decisions that are needed and what are the local decisions? The Dunoon Area Alliance encourages partnership working. There has been major investment at Dunoon Burgh Hall and the leisure complex but much of the economic development activity centres around freelancers and micro-enterprises. Tourism development initiatives were described. A personal comment, and view shared by others, is that as tourists we like afternoon tea about 4.00pm but cafes close early; how do you mesh what small enterprises want to offer with what visitors seek? Within communities of place there are differing views and agendas and while bio-diversity is cherished and encouraged by one group it is seen as an eyesore and fire hazard by others.
The afternoon sessions on Levelling Up (Lauren Bruce, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) and Scottish Government Funding Context (David Cowan, Regeneration Unit at Scottish Government) demonstrated the complexities of the funding landscape. Lauran Bruce explained that her department is there to support stakeholders across Scotland to thrive and get the most out of UK government policy. She said that levelling up should be different things in different places. Some places are caught in vicious cycles (physical, human, intangible, financial, social and institutional capital). She described 5 Funds; Community Renewal Fund, Levelling Up Fund, Community Ownership Fund, UK Shared Prosperity Fund, Greenports Fund. I wonder if her department would be willing to look at creating a scheme whereby tenement owners working together in an owners’ association would be able to reclaim VAT on repair and maintenance work similar to the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme run by DCMS which recognises the burden attached to the upkeep of spiritual architecture. Could the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in Scotland recognise the cost and complexity of tenement maintenance and offer encouragement and a financial ‘carrot’. Many of the tenements in worst repair are in areas where incomes are below the national average and 20% VAT applied to repair work is a significant burden and disincentive to getting work carried out to a good standard.
Euan Leitch urged Conference attendees working within the regeneration sector to comment on the review of Our Place in Time (OPiT), the historic environment strategy for Scotland. While I may be defined as working within the historic environment rather that the regeneration sector my ambition is for all buildings and places across Scotland to be used, loved and well-cared for, whatever the age, location, building type or place. If buildings are no longer needed for the use they were built for the challenge is to re-purpose and retrofit in a way that does not destroy their original character and is resource efficient. We can all dream!
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