I am delighted to have the opportunity to chair Development Trusts Association Wales Annual Conference. It was a good opportunity to be inspired by examples such as Vision 21 http://www.vision-twentyone.com/ and the Arts Factory http://www.artsfactory.co.uk/ and to reflect on the key role of Development trusts across Wales as the means by which we translate the policy and rhetoric of sustainable development into action on the ground.
It will be interesting to see the impact of the reshuffle with Huw Lewis now taking on responsibility for SD policy and the SD Bill – bringing a fresh and community orientated perspective and with the experience of developing the new regeneration strategy based on the Vibrant and Viable Places with its aim that “Everybody in Wales should live in vibrant, viable and sustainable communities with a strong local economy".
This may bring a greater focus on a place based community focus as the means by which we can make the SD rhetoric a reality and puts the role of Development Trusts centre stage, maximising local assets for sustainable development. Members of DTA often play the critical role of the trusted local intermediary that is critical to building a sustainable community.
I am sure we need to have a greater focus on place based community development – and establish a clear approach to what is referred to as “localism” over the border. I believe our community development sector needs to be stronger and positioned more centrally in translating policy into practice. The current review of the third sector – which has also now transferred to Huw Lewis’ responsibility - may well be significant and an opportunity to increase the place based focus.
Most of the voluntary sector structure is focused on sectors with little focus on the development of place. I will soon begin chairing the strategic board for place based work initiated by John Griffiths which has appointed a number of place coordinators focused on bringing a more coherent approach to tackling well being in urban areas through environmental improvement. I am also working with One Voice Wales on the role of Town and Community Councils in this process of place plans for sustainable communities. While Professor Dave Adamson at Centre for Regeneration Excellence is also taking a lead on place based regeneration strategies.
The conference highlighted some of the barriers to progress including variable attitudes from local authorities towards enabling communities and supporting development trusts in community development; short term funding programmes; national contracts parachuting people and resources into communities but leaving no legacy, particularly highlighted by the experience of the application of Convergence funds which too often never reached the grass roots organisations; the challenges of scaling up what works.
The main focus though was on the opportunities in respect of assets, energy and enterprise as 3 key factors which are central to places for sustainable local economic development.
Assets – the development physical, environmental and social assets are central to the development of place. Development Trusts, such as Valleys Kids have a proven track record in developing assets as hubs of their community, but there is a real challenge as austerity measures leads to dumping of old energy inefficient buildings. http://assetsportal.dtawales.org.uk/
Community energy development - the conference received an excellent presentation from Calvin Jones at Cardiff Business School on the energy challenges facing Wales and the associated potential in terms of energy efficiency investment and in growing community owned renewable generation. The DTA Wales run Renew Wales programme http://www.renewwales.org.uk/ provides practical peer support to over 200 communities.
Enterprise – when they work to best effect Development trusts unlock the enterprise capacity of communities providing start up spaces and support for community enterprises. As Ernesto Sirolli says the future of every community lies in capturing the passion, imagination and resources of its people. The introduction of Superfast Cymru http://www.superfast-wales.com/home will transform the enterprise capacity opening up the global market place – already being exploited through the Arts Factor Factory Books project http://www.artsfactory.co.uk/businesses/02factory-books.html.
There was a lot of chat in the conference about how these themes were being approached in Scotland where Community Energy Scotland has been a real catalyst and the prospect of the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment and Regeneration Bill which will “make it easier for communities to use buildings, land or resources that are not being used help people get involved in decisions about the services in their community… support local communities to get the chance to do more for themselves” While in England the DTA now operates as Locality http://locality.org.uk/about/ following a merger, with a vision of making every community a place of possibility.
We need a much stronger place based focus in Wales with public bodies enabling community led action at a local level, while looking to greater regional collaboration for services which are best managed at a larger scale. The DTA in Wales http://www.dtawales.org.uk has a key role to play and I look forward to working with the new Minister to give a greater focus on building a sustainable future from the bottom up.