Friday, 21 February 2014

Estate agents and community development It can be hard to find a good word to say about estate agents. This morning I had a conversation about their role (or potential role) as sponsors for neighbourhood online networks. There are examples around and you can see why it works for all parties. But whoever heard of an estate agent who says they will invest their profits into community development? Say hello to Urban Patchwork: ‘We believe that all estate agents should be run as social enterprises, where, after running costs and people’s salaries, all profits are pumped back into the local communities where they operate. This would mean that estate agents would contribute positively to empowering the less well-off in their area, instead of contributing to pricing people out of their own communities. People would also want to use them because they would know their money is benefiting their community as a whole, helping to create a more collective and diverse environment in which to live.’ It’s curious how without thought we come to accept certain kinds of service as belonging in the private sector, and others as being in the public sector. But there are some examples that force us to reflect. Most people probably think the fire service, for instance, is rightly a public service; but its origins are in the private sector (insurance). Many people might suppose that the lifeboat system is publicly-funded, and perhaps it should be, but it’s entirely charitable. The great thing about the social enterprise movement is that it stimulates fresh thinking on these sorts of questions without getting tangled in the ridiculous anti-public ideology of the right. Why shouldn’t the work of estate agents be seen as a community service? I’m really impressed.

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