Ten Ideas for Change: Birmingham and West Midlands

cococamp-2012-5Birmingham and the West Midlands have a history of strong civil society and social innovation, from the philanthropism of the Quakers to today’s social enterprise quarter. Here’s the region’s ten best ideas for change:

1. Friends of Cotteridge Park: A park at the centre of community life: In 1997 when Cotteridge park was threatened with the loss of services, including its park keeper, the Friends of Cotteridge Park group was formed to save and expand the park’s amenities. It is now part of the Active Park programme and puts on a range of physical activities from digging to Tai Chi, as well as running events such as family friendly camping every August (pictured left) and an annual festival, CoCoMad.

2. Aston Reinvestment Trust: Bridging the gap in access to finance: Established in 1997, with a remit to ‘alleviate poverty through enterprise’ ART lends to businesses unable to access finance from the banks and thus helps them to create or preserve jobs. It was a pioneer Community Development Finance Institution in the UK whose model – raising finance from member investors from the public and private sectors, as well as philanthropic individuals, to lend to businesses in a specific area – has since been replicated around the UK.

3. Social Innovation Zones: Designated spaces to experiment with public service reform and economic regeneration. The council is working with the Chamberlain Forum and local partners to designate a number of areas throughout Birmingham as social innovation zones. The most advanced zone is in Stirchley and Cotteridge where the Friends of Cotteridge Park, the council and the Healthy Villages programme are joining forces to look at ways to co-produce services around health and social care. In Erdington the social innovation zones is looking to focus on economic regeneration, employment and skills.

4. Community Asset Transfer: Transferring buildings through social profit: Birmingham is a pioneer of community asset transfer with around 20 assets having been transferred. The city has a unique approach to asset transfer, loaning buildings and land to civil society groups on 25 years leases, rather than handing over the freehold. It uses a social value tool to represent the social profit added through community use of and buildings in financial terms. Some of the best examples in the city are the Perry Common Community Hall, part of the Witton Lodge Community Association, and Norton Hall.

family-cooking15. Wren’s Nest, Dudley: Reinventing a community centre: The Wren’s Nest Community Centre in Dudley, was, until recently, an under-used community asset. When the economic model of charging for room hire was lifted, it became a much-used community hub with a range of activities from family cooking (pictured left), craft sessions and growing projects. The meeting room was turned into a living room and resources that had been locked away for years where brought out. The Open Hub project is part of Tessy Britton’s People Made Estate concept to expand the level of activity in community-run spaces through new economic models.


Clare Goff is Editor at New Start magazine

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  • Gemma

    This is great stuff.

    Coventry has also made timebanking a citywide currency. Time Union is a timebank open to all with a connection to Cov. It launched in December 2014, alongside Food Union, another citywide venture which aims to address issues surrounding food poverty, whilst creating connections & celebration around food.

    Let’s all keep up the good work!

  • Mike Riddell

    Wow – there’s so much going on in this area. Here in Manchester we’re working on the digital concept of ‘community loyalty points’ that are earned into existence for time contribution to community.

    In our world, rather than earning points for shopping at Tesco, you’d earn points by the hour for being a decent citizen – for teaching, for learning, for giving, for volunteering and so on.

    Until today, we weren’t aware of what was happening elsewhere in the country. Thank goodness for New Start!

    Here in Manchester our focus is on scoping developing the digital platform we need to deliver and distribute the points. We’re already quite well progressed but would love to hear from others that are interested in a points-based system and marketplace.

    Fundamentally we can part of the solution if we all come together. Digital changes everything – it’s a totally different paradigm especially for a generation that have grown up as digital natives.

    Indeed the design of such a system has to have this generation in focus. Why? Because these are the people that are going to be using the system in 10, 15 years time and their mindset is totally aligned with radically changing the agenda and we want to support and develop their sense of ownership.

    There is the possibility that we can leapfrog an old world of legacy that acts like an anchor on the change agenda that’s going on, just as happened in the digital revolution that’s gone to Asia and to Africa where fixed telephone line projects no longer matter because it’s all about moving at speed using a totally different technology solution.

    As a movement, we need to build up our capability hugely. Why? Because there’s a whole new digital civic infrastructure waiting to happen. How efficient would that make us? It requires collaboration though and not everyone in our sector is willing to talk to industry but really in order to make the change that we all want to see, all of us need to work together no matter what the sector and what the history.

    By working with industry and working with SMEs around delivering digital services we can begin to develop a new business model for the sector that improves citizen services, user services and public services at a fraction of the costs of the old way of working. Not just 10% or 20%, but cost reductions of 80% and 90%.

    Time banks sit at the heart of this new civic infrastructure because time contributed to community should be the only way that success is measured.

    Please do get in touch with us here in Manchester if you’d like to learn more about what we’re doing as a collective of eight organisations. There’s safety in numbers!


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