Jackie Killeen, Big Lottery Fund Scotland Director
At the Big Lottery Fund we are keen to see what happens when you work at and invest in the ‘DNA’ level of a community or a neighbourhood. What can be achieved when a group of people in a local area are motivated, either by adversity or opportunity, and are supported to find and nourish their local assets?
With that in mind we have been supporting communities to be aspirational and to acquire and develop local assets for many years, most recently through our Growing Community Assets (GCA) programme. Now, with the launch of the Scottish Land Fund, the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Bill and the land reform review, this has welcome new impetus. And as I have just been reading through the Year 4 report of a 5-year evaluation of GCA, it’s very topical for me.
The GCA evaluation study is tracking and assessing the impact and benefits of community asset ownership over time. It aims to quantify the numbers of people who have participated, and the scale of the benefits experienced. It counts easy(-ish) things like jobs created, people trained, numbers of volunteers – and seeks to do harder things like understand the intrinsic difference community ownership makes to the quality of services. And while some of the findings are not surprising, others give me pause for thought.
First – great news! People who have been involved in community asset ownership projects are positive about their experience. The vast majority (94%) of those who have ‘used’ community owned assets believe that community ownership of the asset is ‘a good thing.’ 65% of users, particularly elderly people, say the asset has helped them make new social contacts. And 85% of those surveyed this year consider services developed and delivered from community owned assets to be not just better, but ‘much better’ than alternatives available in their local area.
Across Scotland, around 32,000 people now regularly use or visit services or facilities provided by GCA projects.
Through this evaluation, we are gaining a clearer understanding of the different dynamics at work in community ownership projects that are about sustaining and developing an important local asset for the community, and projects that are about using community-owned assets (primarily land) to sustain the whole community. Often these need to take a very long-term view, and it can be hard to be sure that decisions or actions taken here and now will lead to better outcomes in the more distant future. But there are positive indicators about the ambitions and progress of many of these longer-term projects.
One challenge highlighted in this year’s report is that of encouraging more members of the community to take more active roles in the management and governance of the asset. So while those 94% of users think community ownership is fundamentally a good thing, and while the report mentions community members who actively support local community assets by choosing to book them for events or give them business in some way, only 12% of the users surveyed would be interested in taking a more active role. And project leaders and management committees cite sustaining wider engagement, and succession planning, as a constant challenge. There are some good examples of creative responses to this – for example one community has a ‘shadow board’ of young people in place.
These are just some of the many learning points from the evaluation but I hope they encourage many more Scottish communities to galvanise support for community ownership in their own areas.