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Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector (OCVS),
These words came form England's Annemarie Naylor as she shared her experiences of community asset transfers with the Wellington Community Economic Development forum audience last month.
Asset development is about transforming communities through community-controlled assets. These could be abandoned schools, derelict heritage buildings, dormant bank accounts, redundant buildings, unused or underutilised public spaces, or empty commercial buildings, etc.
Annemarie's comment about deprived communities stemmed from England's experience where they'd initially thought that middle class communities with many skilled people would be successful at managing community controlled assets. In fact, they'd found the middle classes were good at protesting and saying "no, I don't want you to sell/demolish x", but they weren't actually very enterprising because they didn't have a big enough need. It was the deprived communities that actually took positive action because they wanted and needed the public facilities, local swimming pools, community spaces, etc more.
A UK government report (Making assets work: The Quirk review of community management and ownership of public assets) had proved "a most helpful document" in guiding how England went about the process of asset transfer - with every recommendation from the report implemented over time. A guide to managing risks, a government-funded community assets programme, an asset transfer unit and a community land trust had also made a difference.
Real success though, had come through the demand from communities, but people needed confidence and options to get started and see projects through.
Examples Annemarie shared included heritage buildings with upmarket apartments in one portion generating income to sustain the community spaces in the rest of the building. Swimming pools, parks, community centres, etc were other examples of wasted spaces converted into facilities now owned by communities.
Annemarie's organisation (the Development Trusts Association) is a UK-wide movement bringing together over 450 community-led organisations that use self-help, social enterprise and community asset ownership/management to bring about long-term, social, economic and environmental renewal to transform their communities for the good. Community asset development is a challenge - often requiring lots of time and money, so Annemarie warned against accepting white elephants or money pits, explaining that it was important for communities to have a viable asset and negotiate for this.
In the UK, the recession had seen the concept broaden out to commercial buildings, with many town main street shops vacant. Since there were no immediate potential paying tenants, commercial spaces were made available short term for community activities.
Annemarie cited Auckland's Victoria Market and an Auckland theatre as NZ examples of the community asset development approach, and audience members suggested the local government changes in Auckland or other regions may present new opportunities for communities to seek ownership of assets. Assets returned through Treaty settlements also illustrate concepts of collective/community ownership.
Listen to Annemarie being interviewed on Access Radio's Collaborative Voices: http://www.accessradio.org.nz/collaborative_voices.html
The Department of Internal Affairs Te Tari
www.community.net.nz as a community service.
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