Memorandum by Community Regeneration Department,
Diocese of Birmingham (GRI 10)
The Diocese of Birmingham, in response to the
developing regeneration and renaissance agenda in the urban authorities
covered by the Diocese, which include Birmingham, Sandwell, and
Solihull, has recently created a Community Regeneration Department,
with a full-time Director post, to increase participation by the
church through parishes and community projects at local level
and by increasing its capacity to participate in the strategic
opportunities and debate.
The Church of England has a history of developing
community projects that engage effectively with disadvantaged
residents of all backgrounds in the communities it serves. Some
of these projects have established significant partnerships that
have led to wider regeneration activity having considerable impact
on improving the quality of life in target neighbourhoods. Representatives
of the Church of England in the Birmingham Diocese have also served
on Boards for City Challenge, SRB and New Deal for Communities.
We would like to identify a number of key issues
that have become apparent through the regeneration activity that
has, and is, taking place in communities around the Diocese.
Officers in the department would support the
widely held view that multi-million pound top down regeneration
initiatives have failed to make the impact that has been anticipated
and that in many ways they have been divisive. Such initiatives
by their nature have been managed and led by major statutory agencies
and have therefore struggled to engage with residents in the communities
that they have been set up to serve. We are committed to developing
smaller neighbourhood approaches to regeneration, maximising the
potential for the local church to engage as a partner with local
residents and other agencies.
Future success lies in developing neighbourhood
approaches to regeneration and ensuring that the structures are
in place to secure the support and funding that they require and
The advent of the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund
has been a timely indicator that the Government is now recognising
the need for smaller, more local initiatives and in Birmingham
we have seen that these can have a much greater and sustained
impact. Balsall Heath, Druids Heath and Allens Croft all offer
different routes to engagement and regeneration activity in their
neighbourhoods but representatives find that they have a lot in
common. In turn groups from these areas have built links with
other neighbourhoods to support their development from grassroots.
Areas selected for regeneration activity should
whenever possible be self-defining neighbourhoods and the boundaries
should be "soft".
As many as nine self-defining neighbourhoods
have come together as a result of having to compete for the second
round of New Deal for Communities. It was accepted by the City
Council that there should be broader participation in choosing
the recipients for this major injection of money but they felt
unable to respond to requests from the groups that the money should
be shared as this would have been outside the guidelines for New
Deal. It is somewhat frustrating that new opportunities to find
different ways of applying regeneration monies have not been explored
and that local and central government arrangements for managing
and distributing financial resources have not changed.
Opportunities for communities to explore new
imaginative arrangements for equitably sharing pots of funding
should be explored and new lessons learned.
There are some good examples in Birmingham where
partnerships have come together and established activities to
meet specific needs in target communities. While it is essential
that the local authority, through officers and councillors, is
willing to participate, it is also valuable if the voluntary or
independent sector is able to provide support to local community
representatives in shaping the agenda and selecting partner agencies.
To achieve this it has been important that some agencies have
had a presence in the area before any funding is made available
so that they can command some local respect for being there. Churches
are usually able to demonstrate this and can often play a positive
role as an honest broker.
Agencies influencing the decision-making process
in regeneration areas should have the ongoing support of local
residents and community based organisations.
Health Action Zones, Sure Start and Education
Action Zones continue to focus on a single issue and have not
fully explored the links with other service agendas. Experience
tells us that while achieving high quality service delivery in
education, housing, health and employment is a clear factor in
successful regeneration programmes, progress in each is usually
dependent on co-ordination with other component parts.
The local regeneration agenda needs to address
a range of issues including education, housing, health and employment
and ideally the crossover between these service areas needs to
be understood before activity begins.
New arrangements for the introduction of the
Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) in some areas have been seen
to create new partnerships between local politicians and community
organisations as a shared agenda for local regeneration has been
established and new activity developed. The advent of Ward Advisory
Boards in Birmingham as part of new governance arrangements, has
been productive in developing debate and strategy but activity
has been sidetracked by residents from outside the most disadvantaged
neighbourhoods of each ward who feel that they should have access
to the funding. Additionally there is evidence that Ward Advisory
Boards have attracted residents interested only in securing funding
and not because they want to participate in emerging arrangements
for devolving decision making. The impact has, in some cases,
been to swamp the structure and prohibit progress so that large
amounts of NRF funding remains unspent and does not reach target
communities. In this regard NRF funds and Birmingham's strategy
to route funding through new local democracy arrangements has
been divisive and arguably has undermined progress on local decision
making arrangements. One can draw conclusions that money is divisive
regardless of the amounts involved.
Funding arrangements can all too easily distort
the sound principles of community development that underpin the
best models of regeneration and disrupt city council strategies
to devolve decision making arrangements to local areas.
The selection of neighbourhoods as recipients
of large injections of finance has not produced the results anticipated
in those communities but it has also been a barrier to other neighbourhoods
accessing smaller amounts of statutory funding to support their
regeneration action plan. Models do exist where communities with
support from other agencies, including the local authority, have
developed creative ways to make financial assets from land in
their neighbourhood which can then be reinvested in their community.
In turn partners have also secured finances to invest in the neighbourhood.
This produces a cocktail approach to funding regeneration. Financial
accountability lies with each individual organisation and the
partners have to work very hard to maintain an up to date picture
of the financial position. Without a central fund to draw on activity
can tend to be funding led as money becomes available for lower
priority activities before key elements can be addressed.
Arrangements to make significant funds available
to support core costs for voluntary sector organisations need
to be reviewed. While NRF has been a step in the right direction,
arrangements for its distribution mean that amounts are usually
not significant enough to achieve the desired result for local
communities, and consequently leadership and management defaults
back to statutory bodies.
While the need for regional regeneration strategies
to develop the bigger picture is clear that it remains extremely
difficult for locally based strategies to engage in this agenda.
Significant funding is seen to be available at a regional level
and promoted as being available to communities if they can make
the connection. This is virtually impossible and leaves local
residents and practitioners frustrated and disempowered. Most
community led regeneration partnerships lack the expertise to
access major funding streams and as a result opportunities to
make progress are missed.
Current funding arrangements through regional
government are inaccessible to local groups. The advent of ICT
and electronic application forms have placed an additional barrier
between communities and funding and the requirements to review
and interpret local guidance and strategy documents also demands
skills and understanding that do not typically exist in disadvantaged
Capacity building is now deemed to be an essential
component of any regeneration initiative but it is notable that
it is residents in disadvantaged communities who are deemed to
need to gain the skills to participate rather than the professionals
who manage the bureaucracy of regeneration. Clearly residents
often do need to develop leadership, management and negotiation
skills so that they can engage as effective partners but this
principle could also be applied to the professionals involved.
There is reluctance for the decision makers
at the highest level to change the lines and rules of accountability
and often the chain of regulation stretches from the local neighbourhood
via an accountable body to Whitehall. Central administrators are
apparently unwilling, or unable, to understand local circumstances
and decision making arrangements even though these may be just
as legitimate as their own traditional approach.
Local people, regeneration professionals and
other interested parties including accountable bodies and administrators
need to develop their skills and knowledge and listen to and understand
each other's priorities.
Most regeneration programmes now place great
emphasis on resident involvement in the decision making process
and the expectation of residents is great. Experience shows that
while many residents are happy to engage in a myriad of activities
that contribute to improving life in local neighbourhoods only
a minority are keen to commit to a process of meetings and discussion
that frequently remain dominated by officers. The burden of managing
activity can often fall on a small, unrepresentative group of
residents who do not necessarily reflect the views of all residents
and, in turn, these representatives can become the victims of
opposition from their neighbours when activity does not bring
the results they want.
Principles of bottom up regeneration need to
be maintained but greater thought needs to be given to effective
ways of engaging residents in long term meaningful activity that
impacts on the decision making process without inducing meeting
Regeneration is never quick fix and money, time
and energy can be wasted if a clearly thought out agenda for action
is not developed prior to activity beginning. Adopting a community
development approach to engage and work with residents prior to
the arrival of significant resources is the most productive and
least divisive approach but requires an open-ended lead in period
in order to build networks and partnerships alongside the development
of an action plan.
Local authority resourcing of community development
activity across disadvantaged communities has been drastically
reduced limiting opportunities for communities to develop their
own agendas in their own timescales. Some examples of good practice,
largely funded from charitable sources through the voluntary sector,
do exist but these are exceptions.
More funding needs to be made available to resource
community development workers in order to prepare the way for
more substantive regeneration activity. Grants need to be sufficient
to enable local groups and organisations to fund posts over a
number of years.
Local arrangements for managing regeneration
activities and funding should be robust but not prescribed by
external bodies. They should be open, inclusive and accountable
but with a high level of local autonomy. There needs to be a flexibility
of approach which enables activity to move in new directions as
unforeseen opportunities present themselves. Partners need to
be willing to participate in a learning process rather than a
Management arrangements should not be rigidly
constrained by existing arrangements and innovative models need
to be publicised.
New arrangements for local governance are creating
opportunities for local communities to increase the accountability
of their mainstream service providers and to explore the possibility
of taking over the management of some local services. This development
could provide a significant vehicle for economic development providing
local jobs for local people while increasing the quality of service
delivery to the benefit of all residents. This would have immense
benefit for the sustainability of regeneration programmes beyond
a finite period of intervention. Representatives of neighbourhoods
in Birmingham which are taking different approaches to regeneration
are united in exploring opportunities for neighbourhood management.
Examples of local management arrangements need
to be publicised and best practice shared.
There are clearly areas which have been physically
changed for the better as a result of regeneration intervention
but this has not brought about significant change in the lives
of local people leaving them frustrated and disempowered.
Long term sustainable outcomes must remain the
goal in regeneration and residents should derive economic, social,
and spiritual benefits from the process.