Sunday, 29 January 2006

A model of neighbourhood change Late last year someone asked me what I thought was in store over the next couple of years, in terms of policy for the local level, which made me think about the completion of the big funded neighbourhood regeneration schemes (and Sure Start). We'll be getting the evaluations, but will we get to know what's really happened? It's already clear that there have been lots of problems, simply because big money distorts and management mentalities move in - what did they expect? - but will it be possible to see what's really worked or not, and understand why? I've always had a profound suspicion of big funding and what the management types do to neighbourhoods in the name of renewal; and I've heard enough in the past 12 months to harden those prejudices. That doesn't mean I'm not happy to see where it's had a beneficial effect - as apparently in Castle Vale in Birmingham. My good friend David Wilcox has already blogged a note about a discussion we had the other day with Steve Clayton and Chris Baker from Erdington in Birmingham which focussed on the notion of 'governance with the grain' of local people's needs, in the context of the future of Castle Vale. Essentially what we were looking at was the inherited structures that a decade-long heavily funded programme (£360m) leaves in a cluster of neighbourhoods - with maybe 30 core activists left, mostly of a certain age. Invariably in my experience, these structures get represented on landscape A4 sheets listing forums or sub-committees to do with health and crime and educational achievement and employment and so on. Who's going to continue serving on these committees? Why? As we talked we came to see the mismatch between these structures and the way people experience their neighbourhoods. The structures aren't there in response to that experience, they're there because of the bureaucratic appetite. It's obvious that neighbourhood governance makes huge assumptions about people's readiness to commit to community action. But I've stood in community centres watching people come in to find out what's happening and see who can help them; and I know they will sense and avoid any situation where they might be pinned to the wall and coerced into being treasurer of this or that committee for the next four years. If your everyday life is a complex muddle of errant kids and dodgy health, malevolent housing conditions and unpredictable income, you're probably not up for a 24 month committee commitment. If you can see how it relates to your problems though, you might be up for collectively organising something where you can see a beginning and an end. Is that obvious? Good. That got me thinking about what are the missing conditions in some of the fractured neighbourhoods I've seen, and what we have to do to influence them. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see everything in service delivery terms and I don't think most residents do either. I see three things: low...

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