Ten Ideas for Change: Birmingham and West Midlands
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.
6. Bournville Village Trust: A model of integrated housing since 1900.
When George Cadbury began building homes for his factory workers and others in Bournville (pictured left) on the south side of Birmingham at the turn of the 19th century, he probably had little idea that the village would become a model for successful housing schemes more than 100 years later. The model village laid the foundations for the garden village movement and also for mixed communities, with a specification for a 50:50 mix of tenure that continues to this day. The village has one of the highest qualities of life in England and 95% of its residents describe is as a ‘good place to live’.
7. Turning Timebanking into a city-wide currency: Birmingham is developing a ‘whole city’ approach to boosting the city’s time economy. A number of timebanks across the city, including in Summerfield and Ladywood and Kings Heath will be connected together as a network to see how people across neighbourhoods could tap into the time economy. Some ideas are around building city-wide communities of interest through the timebank network, such as childcare or gardening groups.
8. The Jericho Foundation: Social enterprise creation to help disadvantaged people back to work: The Jericho Foundation, based in Balsall Heath, began as a drop in service for local people run from a church hall in the 1980s when unemployment was high. A skills shortage among the population was quickly identified and a fundraising mission was started to set up a training centre to improve local skills. Today the Foundation has a wide range of social enterprises – from printing services to catering and construction that employ disadvantaged people and help them gain skills and training. It works particularly with people who have significant barriers to gaining skills and employment and helps them through both real work experience and holistic support.
9. Holiday Kitchen: Combating hunger among school kids: Holiday Kitchen was set up by the Ashrammosely housing association in response to rising levels of hunger among poorer children outside of term time when they no longer had access to free school meals. Operating in Birmingham, Sandwell and north Solihull, it runs activity days that provide food as well as learning and play sessions during the school holidays.
10. Balsall Heath Forum: When the local council failed to do anything about the prostitution – and growing violence – in their neighbourhood, the community of Balsall Heath decided to do something about it. They formed Street Watch teams to sit on street corners and note down the registration numbers of cars coming into the red light district. From there the Balsall Heath Forum was created and became a model of community-run neighbourhood renewal that continues to thrive today. It is now one of the first areas in the country to pioneer neighbourhood planning, with a referendum on its plan due this September.
Clare Goff is Editor at New Start magazine