Locality’s most recent report assesses whether community ownership could boost the post-Covid-19 recovery.
With the economy beginning to recover, could community asset transfers be the key to creating a long-lasting and sustainable path to stronger local economies?
This article looks at the benefits of community asset management, and the potential impact of the findings of Locality’s work.
Locality is a national charity dedicated to local community organisations, guided by a firm belief in the power of community to be a force for change.
Their 1300 members support over 300,000 people every week through the delivery of services and activities at a neighbourhood level.
The members use their land and assets to address the immediate needs of the local community, and they support each other through a strong peer network.
Locality’s asset management experience is comprised of their individual member’s expertise and fresh ideas, as well as their proven history of delivering community asset management programmes and projects, supporting the agenda over the past decade.
Since 2008, some of the national and funded-led programmes they have executed on include:
- Advancing Assets for Communities
- Community Assets Programme
- Asset Transfer Unit
- Meanwhile Project
- Community Rights Programme
- Community Ownership and Management of Assets Programme (COMA)
- Places and Spaces
Two of their most successful and impactful research projects are The Great British Sell Off Report and In Community Hands.
These projects have highlighted the importance of locally owned buildings and spaces to a thriving community and warned of the dangers of selling off these public spaces to the private sector.
Their reports also shone a light on best practices to help community ownership of assets work for local communities, in conjunction with local authorities.
Policy and Legislation
The policy context that Locality has been operating within consists of the Local Government Act 1972, which first allowed local authorities to dispose of public assets providing it was for the best value.
In 2003 the General Disposal Consent was introduced for local government, which allowed them to dispose of public assets at less than best value.
The Quirk Review in 2007 moved community asset transfer ‘up a gear’. Most importantly, it confirmed that ‘culture’ and ‘attitude’ were the main barriers to seeing community asset management achieve its potential, rather than the lack of new legislation.
The most recent landmark was the Localism Act 2011. This introduced a new batch of community rights, including:
- Right to bid
- Right to build
- Right to challenge
- Neighbourhood planning
These changes helped advance the community asset management agenda but were also limited in scale.
Whilst no policies have been introduced since 2011, the government did recently announce the forthcoming Community Ownership Fund.
Locality has been lobbying the government for some time to increase investment in this area, and while the £150 million funds is a success, the ‘devil will be in the detail’.
According to Stephen Rolph, Head of Community Assets and Enterprise at Locality, just how applicable the fund is at the local level, and how well targeted it will remain to be seen and could determine the success or failure of the fund.
Sustainable Community Asset Ownership Programme
The most recent project Locality is working on is the Sustainable Community Asset Ownership programme, which was funded by Power to Change.
The aim of the programme is to engage key stakeholders and raise the profile of the current issues and challenges in delivering sustainable community asset ownership.
The programme has two main strands of focus. One was a period of intensive capacity building in Bradford and North East Lincolnshire.
The second strand has been an attempt to see what has been happening on a national level, looking at five areas; Gateshead, Birmingham, Leicester, West of England, and the South West of England.
The choices were made to get a good variety of demographics, including rural/urban splits, priority places, and partnership interests.
During the delivery period, 15 workshops took place, (online due to Covid-19 restrictions) engaging around 350 people from 180 community organisations.
The findings from the case studies and surveys found that capacity and conditions for success are not distributed equally across the country.
There is also an inconsistent culture and approach taken between local authorities, resulting in different policies, processes, and strategies being implemented.
This also impacted the funding inequalities between local authorities. From the amount of funding available to the terms of the grants and loans, there was an uneven distribution across the country.
There was overwhelming feedback regarding the equality, diversity, and inclusion of the programme. Black and Minority Ethnic respondents found it difficult to engage with the project due to the lack of representation they found.
The impact of Covid-19 was evident in various ways. It increased the demand for public spaces and resulted in a greater uptake of the project, however, it did create some operational issues.
The supply of ‘traditional’ community centres, such as multi-purpose hub type buildings is dwindling.
This is providing challenges further down the pipeline, as there are simply fewer places for programmes such as this one to get involved with.
However, it does provide opportunities to diversify the agenda going forward, with fresh and innovative ideas being welcomed by Locality.
It has made those involved with the project look at alternative routes to ownership and where to look for buildings and spaces, such as the high street.
Routes to ownership have changed because there is now better access to finance and borrowing, with this sector now being able to benefit from the same financial products as the private sector.
There is still a desperate need for long-term support and funding, specifically for helping community businesses to adapt, change, and future-proof themselves.
This needs to be done alongside the reopening of places post-Covid-19, as well as maintaining the current operations of local partnerships.
The partnerships operating at a local level are also in need of continued support to strengthen and broaden the understanding between communities and local government.
Stephen was also keen to point out that there is a need for specialist community ownership support in racial minority areas, to make it a truly inclusive and community-based project.
The report has highlighted that there are benefits to community-owned asset management projects, and to continue this after the pandemic with more people looking to get involved in their local community could be the perfect opportunity to create a sustainable and long-lasting solution.
Rolph, Stephen. 2021. Head of Community Assets and Enterprise, Locality. Sustainable Community Asset Ownership.
locality.org.uk. 2018. The Great British Sell Off.
Locality.org.uk. 2020. In Community Hands.
Legislation.gov.uk. 1972. Local Government Act 1972.
Gov.uk/publications. 2003. Disposal of land for less than the best consideration that can reasonably be obtained: circular 06/2003.
nationalarchives.gov.uk. 2007. The Quirk Review.
legislation.gov.uk. 2011. Localism Act 2011.
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