Ten Ideas for Change: Birmingham and West Midlands
July 2, 2015
Birmingham 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.
5. 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