Jackie Killeen: What happens when local communities take control

Jackie Killeen: What happens when local communities take control
The Scotsman

At the Big Lottery Fund we have been supporting communities to acquire and develop local assets for many years, most recently through our Growing Community Assets (GCA) programme.

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. So as we release the latest results of a five-year evaluation of GCA, it’s very topical for me.

The GCA evaluation is tracking and assessing the impact and benefits of community asset ownership over time, trying to pin down what happens when a community takes control.

The majority of people who have been involved in community asset ownership projects are positive about their experience, with 94 per cent of those surveyed believing it is “a good thing”; 65 per cent of users, particularly elderly people, say the asset has helped them make new social contacts. And 85 per cent consider services developed and delivered from community owned assets to be “much better” than alternatives in their area. Across Scotland, around 32,000 people now regularly use facilities provided by GCA projects.

Through this research, we are gaining a clearer understanding of the different dynamics at work in community ownership projects that are about sustaining and developing local assets for the community, and projects that are about using these assets to sustain the whole community. Often these need to take a long-term view, and it can be hard to be sure that decisions taken here and now will lead to better outcomes in the more distant future. But there are positive indicators about the progress of many of these longer-term projects.

One challenge highlighted is that of encouraging more community members to take an active role in the management and governance of the asset, with only 12 per cent of users surveyed keen on doing this. And project leaders and management committees cite succession planning as a challenge.

I hope these points encourage other Scottish communities to consider community ownership in their own areas. The full GCA evaluation is available at bigblogscotland.org.uk.