Locality Convention 2019 review

The network of development trust associations in England, Locality, recently held its annual convention in Leeds and DTNI staff and board members were there to take advantage of an infectious conference buzz.

Two site visits on day one – both enjoyable and educational. First it was all aboard the Bramley Fun Bus – a whistle-stop tour around some key community development organisations in north-west Leeds before stopping at Bramley baths, a beautiful Edwardian building saved from closure by the local community and now thriving as a swimming baths, gym, community centre and community gardens.

The successful asset transfer of the baths was due in no small part to the involvement of John Battle, ex-Labour MP and local resident. Upon formation of the community development trust, John was the obvious choice to chair the trust and make the initial approach to the council. His experience as an MP and his contacts within local government ensured that the community trust was pushing at an open door. Unions considered the transfer ‘privatisation’ at first but relented within a year as the baths became a success as a business while providing good working conditions for its staff. An interesting part of the story is that publicly, it was not referred to as a community asset transfer but as a public/community partnership. This seemed to give the council less liability in PR terms.

The second site visit was to the Canopy Housing Project, an innovative scheme that trains people who are homeless to renovate vacant, and sometimes derelict, properties around Leeds. The idea is that trainees become tenants of the houses they are working on, with Canopy acting as the landlord; some of those tenants then go on to become volunteers, thus creating a real ‘Canopy Community.’ Many trainees acquire accreditation for the skills gained on the job and all gain valuable work experience – vital for those people who have dropped off the job ladder.

The stand-out presentation of the opening plenary was Susan Hinchcliffe who brought to light the work being done to make Bradford an inclusive local economy. Susan reported on 140 community asset transfers and spoke of the ways Bradford City Council procures and tenders for social value – just one of the approaches that DTNI is currently lobbying for with its Time to Build an Inclusive Local Economy charter. It was encouraging to hear, too, that innovative commissioning and the clear communication of commissioning intentions was a priority for the council.

And during the ‘Building Power Partnerships’ plenary we heard from Alison McKenzie-Folan, Chief Executive of Wigan Council and Dave Baxter, Chief Executive of the Abram Ward Community Co-operative and community business hub, Made in Wigan. The Deal for Communities Investment Fund has facilitated the establishment of 500 community groups including 40 community enterprises in Wigan dealing with a wide variety of social issues, many of which in social care. Since the inception of the project in 2013, £10million has been invested, there have been sixteen asset transfers in the borough, with more to come through the 2030 deal.

As many are by now aware of, similar strategies regarding partnerships and procurement are having success in Preston but the economic regeneration being enjoyed in Bradford and Wigan is most definitely worthy of further investigation. Watch this space for further developments, including news of an event in Spring 2020 which could potentially explore ‘How Local Works.’