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Community: Scottish Community Empowerment Action Plan - Celebrating Success: Inspiring Change

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CASE STUDIES: TRANSFORMING A SMALL TOWN - COMMUNITY VOLUNTEERING IN ALNESS

"The Initiative has certainly had its challenges and sometimes we meet delays and frustrations, but we keep focused on our 'shopping list' of priorities that people in the town put forward. We're all local volunteers and it's this involvement which has helped to create civic pride and a sense of community ownership of both the issues we are tackling and of our achievements."

Councillor Carolyn Wilson, Chair, Alness Initiative

Alness, a small town in Easter Ross, 20 miles north of Inverness, is no ordinary place. It has a history reaching back nearly eight centuries, but it is the last 40 years that have witnessed the most dramatic change.

The arrival of the Invergordon aluminium smelter in the early 1970s brought with it 500 new council homes and 2,000 construction workers. Oil projects in the Cromarty Firth added to a boom-town feel in Alness. The town's population grew rapidly from 3,000 to 8,500 in just a few years. Another decade later and the smelter was gone, along with 900 'permanent' jobs. Alness was devastated; unemployment rose to 20% overnight. Many shops and local businesses closed; the town developed a bad reputation.

The community here has always been resilient and forward thinking. Since those dark days, a passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated group of local volunteers have worked together to transform Alness into a highly desirable place, where people are rightly proud of their achievements.

With support from Highland Council, Ross and Cromarty Enterprise and many other funders, Alness now boasts a strong network of community organisations. Prominent among them is the Alness Initiative, set up by a group of local business people in 1995 and now the main umbrella organisation for the town. It brought together the local Community Councils, the town's Community Association and business leaders; together they have set up and run a wide variety of regeneration projects in the town.

Prominent amongst these have been a complete transformation of the High Street, not least through the Alness Environmental Group's focus on hanging baskets and flower tubs, and the purchase and renovation of a shop by Alness Community Association, to create a Heritage Centre. Local people run family learning projects, art programmes and a monthly newspaper. They have developed new facilities such as play parks, run holiday play schemes and lunch clubs for the elderly and sponsored cycle paths and a sculpture trail.

Alness in Bloom - a regular national prize winner

Alness in Bloom - a regular national prize winner

The newly-renovated Alness Heritage Centre

The newly-renovated Alness Heritage Centre

In 2007, the Alness Initiative won the British Urban Regeneration Award for community organisations with no full-time workers, a tribute to the strength of volunteering in the town. The judges comments speak for themselves...

"The Panel saw this project as outstanding in many ways and was particularly impressed by the significant input from local volunteers. Their passion, enthusiasm and dedication to delivering high quality services and opportunities for all people in the area has transformed Alness."

British Urban Regeneration Association 2007

Two particular projects demonstrate the breadth of the Initiative's activities in the town. Working closely with local residents associations and supported by Highland Council, the West Alness Save Project ( WASP) was set up to provide an energy advisor to tackle fuel poverty by reducing electricity use. More than £50,000 was provided by Scottish and Southern Energy to support the project.

The Alness Heritage Group has spent many years developing a local Heritage Centre, now successfully up and running. A Heritage Lottery grant, a loan from Charity Bank and income raised by volunteers all helped to get this initiative off the ground. The Centre operates on an entirely voluntary basis, providing an exhibition space, conference venue, archive room and shop.

Alness has come a long way in the last forty years. It shows how local communities, faced with adversity, can turn their towns and villages round through the development of a strong network of co-ordinated initiatives, run by volunteers.

CASE STUDIES: PARTNERSHIP AND EMPOWERMENT IN BUCHAN

"Our Partnership is all about empowering local people to do things for themselves and for their communities."

Norma Thompson, Chair of Management Committee, Buchan Development Partnership

The Buchan Development Partnership is an independent, community-led Local Rural Partnership, tackling economic, social and environmental issues in the Buchan area of Aberdeenshire.

Since it began life in 2000, the Partnership has flourished. With three staff, a board of community directors and 100 member organisations, it offers support to a wide range of initiatives across this relatively remote rural area. Remote it may be, but behind the times it certainly is not.

One of the Partnership's priorities is to encourage the growth of social enterprises in Buchan. These not-for-profit, community-based companies are growing in popularity - there are already more than one thousand of them in Scotland. Amongst Buchan's members, a Dial-a-Bus company, an IT and e-learning training company ( BITES) and Maud Village Trust are all up and running as highly successful social enterprises.

Maud Village Trust shows how a well-organised, community-led initiative can help bring a struggling village back to life. Maud was once home to Europe's busiest livestock auctions, but when closure loomed, local people began the search for alternative uses for the redundant mart site. Eight years on, the mart has now been replaced by a bright new medical centre, gym, community resource centre, offices, a supported housing development and a garden, all reflecting the community's priorities. Funding support has come from Awards for All, the Direct Grants Programme, Forward Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, Communities Scotland, the Scottish Government through Future Builders and Shell Small Grants.

"We feel we've put the heart back into Maud. It has been hard work and taken a long time, but all our efforts are now paying off. Buchan Development Partnership was with us every step of the way - helping us organise the initial community consultations and then secure the £2.5m we needed to make it all happen."

Pat Buckman, Secretary, Maud Village Trust

Maud Village Trust Old Market Community Resource Centre

Maud Village Trust Old Market Community Resource Centre

Pat Buckman Secretary, Maud Village Trust

Pat Buckman Secretary, Maud Village Trust

The Partnership has been involved in Community Planning since 2001, working with Aberdeenshire's Community Planning Partnership and on the ground with many local groups. It makes much use of Planning for Real ©, to encourage everyone in a community to contribute to decision-making. The use of simple models to look at different options is a big change from the usual powerpoint presentations and expensive exhibitions, encouraging people to contribute to the development process, not just comment on the final proposals.

"In our experience, public meetings only provide a platform for the strongest voices; Planning for Real©is a very hands-on process that actively encourages everyone to contribute. We help local groups set these sessions up, but never lead them - we like to be on tap, but not on top."

Dawn Brody, Development Officer, Buchan Development Partnership

Funding is always an issue for support organisations, but the Buchan Partnership has been well supported by Government and European funding programmes, annual grants from Aberdeenshire Council and smaller amounts from Shell, the latter for administering a small grants scheme for local communities. Nevertheless, work is now underway to ensure the organisation's future by placing an increasing emphasis on earned income and less reliance on grants.

As it moves into its second decade, financial self-sufficiency and a continuing focus on empowering the rural communities of north east Aberdeenshire are firmly on its agenda.

CASE STUDIES: A SELF-EMPOWERING COMMUNITY IN RENTON

"We are not here to build good quality homes for people to enjoy their poverty in."

Archie Thomson, MBE, Chairperson Cordale Housing Association

Cordale Housing Association is at the heart of a 15 year programme of community-led investment which has turned a once notorious urban village in the Leven Valley into one of the most popular places to live in West Dunbartonshire.

Culturally rich but financially poor, Renton was once home to a thriving bleaching and dying industry, as well as supplying many workers for the Glasgow shipyards. Subsequent economic and social decline led to the village centre being described as the most depressing place in Scotland. No longer. Renton is now a place with an inspiring story to tell about the realities of community empowerment.

This is no ordinary regeneration project. Led by local people from its beginnings in the early 1990s, Cordale Housing Association has, with Government investment, built or modernised more than 400 homes in Renton, some of them transferred from the Council following an almost unanimous tenant's ballot. Alongside its new homes for rent and sale, developments which include 40 recently completed Extra Care apartments, it has spawned a Community Development Trust, a Social Enterprise Centre, an Integrated Healthy Living Centre and a Youth Centre.

The village supermarket, chemist and post office were all built by Cordale; the housing association has been centrally involved in delivering the Central Renton Regeneration Strategy, aimed at transforming the commercial and social heart of the village.

Joyce Findlay is perhaps typical of many Cordale tenants. She moved into the village nine years ago; a single parent at a very low ebb, looking for a place to live. The Carmen Social Enterprise Centre encouraged her to take a One Plus assertiveness course - now she is a receptionist in Renton's Integrated Healthy Living Centre, her home has been modernised and her future looks secure.

"Back Street, where I live, was previously the most unpopular street in Renton. I used to be scared to walk through the village, but I wouldn't live anywhere else now. I love the community spirit here; I've never felt like an outsider."

Joyce Findlay, Cordale Housing Association tenant

A recent performance evaluation suggested that, with its local partners, Cordale helped create more than 150 local jobs between 2001 and 2006. Its Employment Ladder initiative provides skills and opportunities in the association for school leavers who might otherwise struggle in the jobs market. Now it is intending to put together an innovative Public Community Partnership to build a new primary school.

"We don't just talk about local economic development, social enterprise and business development - we do it and have been very successful. I believe that Cordale is an example for other housing associations in Scotland."

Stephen Gibson, Director, Cordale Housing Association

These outcomes are certainly impressive, but are not in themselves unique in Scotland. There are other housing associations with a track record of supporting local economic and social investment initiatives. The real story behind the facts and figures here is about how a down-at-heel community has genuinely empowered itself.

Wherever you go in Renton these days, you find people with a real pride that the transformation of the place has been achieved by their own community. There is a sense of togetherness which was not present a few years ago. Whilst Cordale has successfully grown the local asset base through its development programme, it is local people who have proved to be the real assets.

Leadership has been important. Although many people have made important contributions, the transformation of Renton owes much to the imagination, drive and determination of a small number of individuals, particularly Archie Thomson, who was born and bred in the village, chairs Cordale's Board and helps a group of teenagers run the local youth centre. Importantly, community leadership is now firmly embedded in the local culture, not least amongst young people, most of whom have a strong commitment to staying in Renton.

Ma Centre is a large youth building, formerly owned by the Council but now firmly in the hands of Renton Community Development Trust and particularly the many young people who use it.

"Eight teenagers run the centre. It's open every day. Louise is the oldest. She gets paid and the rest of us are volunteers. We take bookings for all the activities, staff the café and keep an eye on everything. Archie sorts out any problems, but we don't get many."

Macca (15), Renton Youth Group

Empowered young people are the future of any community. In Renton, the succession strategy is already in place.

Renton Youth Group members January 2009

Renton Youth Group members January 2009

CASE STUDIES: SOWING SEEDS FOR COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT IN DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY

Tenants and residents associations ( TARAs) can play an important role in empowering local communities, particularly where they are well-organised, inclusive and determined to find practical solutions to local problems. In Dumfries and Galloway, 13 of them are spread across this large, mainly rural part of the country. Some of them are very active, with an impressive track record of empowering their communities. They are supported by Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership's Community Involvement team.

The Housing Partnership is the second largest housing association in Scotland, with 10,500 homes. It was set up in 2003 to take on the local authority's housing stock, following a successful tenant's ballot.

Dryfe TARA in Lockerbie has been one of its most successful community initiatives. Chaired by an 18 year old for the past two years, a core group of committed residents has focused on play provision. With support from the Housing Partnership, they decided on a practical, hands-on approach to meeting a specific local community need. As a result they have now become an influential body across the whole town.

"When the Council made a decision to dismantle the original play equipment in King Edward Park five years ago, the local community began work to get it reinstated. We consulted everyone here, we visited the Alness Initiative in the Highlands, to see how they'd done it, we raised all the £40,000 required and we helped design it. But the best thing is that the kids really do look after it. They have a real sense of ownership."

Ronald Richie, Dryfe Tenants and Residents Association, Lockerbie

Dryfe TARA members with DGHP's Community Involvement Manager (lower right)

Dryfe TARA members with DGHP's Community Involvement Manager (lower right)

Despite the TARA's obvious success and the high level of commitment from six-eight local residents, spreading the community empowerment message still poses a significant challenge.

"There are 2,000 households in Lockerbie and we have just 30 members on our mailing list - most people still think we only represent Partnership tenants. We haven't been included in community planning consultations and weren't even consulted on planning proposals for a 40 home development in our core area, so there is still plenty of work to be done!"

Angela Brydson, Dryfe Tenants and Residents Association, Lockerbie

The Housing Partnership has always placed tenants at the heart of its governance arrangements; seven of the association's fifteen board members are tenants, including the chair. Four District Management Committees are exclusively tenant-run; they are used mainly as a sounding board by the association, but also make decisions on distributing a £50,000 a year Community Pride Fund which supports a wide range of community-led initiatives, including the Dryfe project.

The Housing Partnership is currently leading two of the largest housing regeneration programmes in Scotland - in Stranraer and Dumfries. With funding support from the Scottish Government, it has leased a redundant factory in Stranraer, provided more than 60 construction training places and created 28 local jobs in the industry, many of them for its own tenants.

But it is still early days. Less than 1% of the Partnership's turnover is currently invested in Wider Action initiatives; community empowerment is an aspiration, but not yet a corporate priority.

"We do not have a clear strategy for community empowerment yet; our focus has been on involvement and participation, particularly with our tenants. Governance and investment have dominated our first five years as a new association. Now we are a more stable and mature organisation, community empowerment will be a key priority for the next five years."

Zoe Forster, Chief Executive, Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership

CASE STUDIES: A COMMUNITY STAKE IN NEIGHBOURHOOD INVESTMENT: COMMUNITY REGENERATION FORUMS IN DUNDEE

"Communities stand up and fight for their areas now, because they can see things being done when they do. They have a voice... it's empowering."

Alice Bovill, North West Community Regeneration Forum

Dundee's five Community Regeneration Forums began life in 2004, following the winding up of the Social Inclusion Partnerships. From the start they were charged with 'placing communities at the heart of regeneration'. Sponsored by the Dundee Partnership, and supported by regeneration staff from the City Council, they have brought together 75 active residents living in the more deprived neighbourhoods of the City. All five Forums have resident chairs.

Forum members are elected locally in an open democratic process. Everyone stands down at the year end and in practice a quarter of each forum regularly comprises new elected members. This helps to both maintain continuity and keep the Forums regularly refreshed.

"The election process means that most people know who the Forum chairs are, can approach them for help and, if necessary, hold them to account. This is very positive and quite a change from the way things used to be done here."

Wilma Duncan, Central Community Regeneration Forum

The Forums are there to take an overview of regeneration in their patches and ensure that local communities are engaged in the process. They report to the Dundee Partnership Building Stronger Communities group, with their funding decided by the City Council. They have received between £200,000 and £400,000 each year for projects which meet both City-wide community planning targets and more local priorities. They also oversee a small grants fund for local groups and projects.

"In practice, as long as projects reflect local priorities and are in line with the broad aims of the Community Plan, they will normally be approved by the City Council, unless there are difficult technical and legal issues involved but this would be an exception."

Stuart Fairweather, Communities Officer, Dundee City Council

The last four years has seen funding made available for around 80 local projects of all shapes and sizes, although the current emphasis is on physical change. Work with young people has been a particular priority, as has investment in local open spaces and the street environment. Policing too has been a success story, with the Forums initially funding a new dedicated community policing team. Tayside Police have now taken over the long term funding of these posts and have provided guarantees that they will remain focused on the five neighbourhoods.

With ring-fencing of the Fairer Scotland Fund coming to an end in March 2010, many of the Forum chairs are concerned about their future.

"Having access to funding has been very important - it has enabled us to find practical solutions to community priorities; we certainly wouldn't want to lose our seat around the decision-making table".

Murray Webster, Central Community Regeneration Forum

The five forums meet quarterly at 'The Gathering' - a valuable opportunity to share news, ideas, lessons and good practice. Members have visited community regeneration projects elsewhere in Scotland, to share their experiences and learn from others.

Being a Forum member has certainly been empowering for the individuals involved. How far this has led to broader community empowerment in the five neighbourhoods remains an open question. Each Forum is responsible for ensuring its wider community is informed, consulted or engaged. Individual chairs make themselves as widely known as possible, circulate newsletters with feedback forms and door knock when new projects are being considered.

Many formerly frustrated and disillusioned residents are now working together to transform their neighbourhoods and help make Dundee a better place to live. It has been a big step forward for the City and one that Forum members are keen to stick with.

A typical North East Dundee Community Regeneration Forum meeting

A typical North East Dundee Community Regeneration Forum meeting

CASE STUDIES: COMMUNITY PLANNING IN THE EAST AYRSHIRE COALFIELD AREA

The south of East Ayrshire has a rich mining history, but in common with all of Scotland's former coalfields, the demise of the industry has left a legacy of unemployment and isolation. Although some open-cast mining remains, local jobs are scarce. The villages and small towns of the Coalfield Area have their own identities and needs but all are linked by their mining past.

Local people are understandably keen to maintain interest in the area's coal mining heritage, particularly among younger people. During 2007, 18 primary schools came together to stage productions of 'The Price of Coal' - a full-length concert telling the story of coal mining in the area. There was enormous community support for the productions, with funding coming from the Community Planning Partnership and the Cumnock and Doon Valley Minerals Trust. Many children were prompted to research their mining heritage.

These productions were the brainchild of the Coalfield Communities Federation, a community-led organisation, set up ten years ago to give local people a bigger voice in planning their future.

"The closure of the pits was a devastating blow. The last one closed here in 1989, more than 30 years after 17 miners were killed in an explosion at Kames Colliery in Muirkirk. The Federation has brought people together and found some practical solutions to community problems. It has not been an easy road, but it's been hugely successful; we now have a lot of respect."

Ian Smith, Chairperson, Coalfield Communities Federation

The Coalfield Communities Federation counts community councils, communities of interest and individuals among its membership. It has sponsored a wide range of community initiatives, including Coalfield Community Transport, a nationally recognised community transport scheme, a community newspaper, a school arts programme and environmental improvements in some villages.

In 2000 a People's Jury, funded and supported by East Ayrshire Coalfield Area Social Inclusion Partnership, looked at how the coalfield communities could play a more active role. Infrequent, inaccessible and expensive public transport emerged as a major issue.

The Price of Coal production at Cumnock Academy 2007

The Price of Coal production at Cumnock Academy 2007

Two years later, Coalfield Community Transport was born. Set up as a not-for-profit charity, wholly owned by the Federation, the aim was to have a network of yellow buses operating across the Coalfield Area, reducing the isolation of many groups and individuals by providing access to cheap and convenient transport. With nine vehicles now in the fleet, it has been a considerable success. It has now been extended to include a 'Wheels to Work' initiative, making scooters available to unemployed people without transport to their work or education.

Community Transport in action January 2009

Community Transport in action January 2009

"We have a whole generation of older people who have been trapped in their homes with many never having been to Ayr, just 16 miles away. Our young people also have problems getting about. Even now, we still have young people who have never been outside the Coalfield area. But the minibuses have changed all that."

Ian Smith, Chairperson, Coalfield Communities Federation

The Federation is an integral part of East Ayrshire Community Planning Partnership, with a representative on its Board, funding for its operation and some of its projects; and support from the Council's Community Planning and Partnership Unit. The Federation plays a key role in the planning and delivery of the Local Community Planning Forum, covering the Coalfield Area.

"The communities in the south of East Ayrshire have always been very active. However, the Coalfield Communities Federation has brought communities together and allowed them to develop a shared understanding of the issues and priorities for the Coalfield Area as a whole and for East Ayrshire in general. The Federation also ensures that the community is fully engaged in our Community Planning process."

Councillor Douglas Reid, Chair of East Ayrshire Community Planning Partnership

The Federation is now working towards expanding its activities, increasing its staff and broadening its funding base. It is particularly keen to initiate some much-needed, large scale environmental projects in its core communities.

CASE STUDIES: COMMUNITY COUNCILS TAKE THE LEAD IN EAST LOTHIAN

"East Lothian is an example of good practice for community councils in Scotland. Politically and culturally, they have always been seen here as an essential part of the way the local authority goes about its business."

Lilian Pryde, Community Council Liaison Officer, East Lothian Council

East Lothian's 20 Community Councils cover a mix of busy market towns and more peaceful rural villages. The best of them are run by a full complement of elected local residents; they work hard to be inclusive; they give equal weight to setting their own local agendas for change and reacting to external proposals. They initiate their own local projects and the volunteers who run them are often regarded as champions of their local communities.

The relationship between East Lothian Council and this extensive network of community councils is positive; significant resources have been provided, whilst the track record of election rather than appointment gives community councillors a democratic legitimacy which is not always found elsewhere. Community councils have done much to empower local people in East Lothian, giving them a voice and delivering real change.

Community councils look after their own patches, but also come together to look at strategic issues in East Lothian, meeting once a month and co-ordinating responses to cross-boundary development and service delivery proposals.

Many of the Community Councils have been particularly proactive in their own areas. Dunpender Community Council has drawn up its own community plan, which it reviews every year, and has recently extended the John Muir Way footpath. Haddington Community Council has established a Pathways Network, helped refurbish the Corn Exchange building and developed a visitor centre. Both place a strong emphasis on local publicity and information and have been a major driving force for change in their communities.

East Lothian Community Council representatives January 2009

East Lothian Community Council representatives January 2009

"Everywhere you look in Haddington you can see something that the Community Council has done."

Jan Wilson, MBE, Chair, Haddington Community Council

In Garvald and Morham, the Community Council was faced with people moving out of the area because of poor telecommunication reception. They were unable to get broadband, but instead of campaigning, they set up their own highly successful broadband company in 2005. It was funded jointly through the East Lothian's Local Priorities Scheme and the Tyne Esk Leader Plus European programme.

East Lothian Council has provided most of the funds for these and many other initiatives. It currently invests £250,000 a year to help community councils run their operations and meet local community priorities. In addition to a basic administration grant, a unique Local Priorities Scheme currently distributes around £150,000 a year to them on a 'per capita' basis, whilst a competitive Capital Improvement Grant programme used £100,000 of public money to attract more than £800,000 of matched funding in 2007/08.

The close ties with the local authority are seen as both empowering and mutually beneficial. The Community Councils here decide their own local priorities, but the local authority manages their budgets and expects them to use Council departments to help them deliver most of their projects. This eases any potential strain on volunteers, but also serves to protect the local authority's interests. It is, however, an arrangement that seems to work well for both sides.

"I feel the relationship between our Community Council and the local authority works well - I wouldn't have it any other way."

Judith Priest, Chair, Dunpender Community Council

In East Lothian, Community Councils are making a real difference - giving ordinary folk a degree of control over what happens in their towns and villages.

CASE STUDIES: COMMUNITY BUY-OUT ON THE ISLE OF GIGHA

"Community ownership of the island has been a great success. It is so second nature to people here now, they sometimes have to be reminded that it has actually happened."

Susan Allan, Chair, Gigha Heritage Trust

Gigha sits between the Kintyre peninsular and Islay in south west Scotland. Its 3,500 acres support a community of 156 people. Change came to the island when local laird Derek Holt put it up for sale in 2001.

Undaunted by the near £4 million asking price and with backing from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Land Fund and their MSP, the islanders decided to make a bid. They called a public meeting in the local village hall and, after a lengthy debate and a vote, the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust was born.

The community buy-out was a big step and not for the faint-hearted. Two members of the community paid a visit to the island of Eigg to find out how it had been done there; they came back inspired.

Much hard work by the islanders brought its rewards in March 2002 when transfer to the Trust was completed. £3.5m had been raised from the Scottish Land Fund with the balance coming from Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Both grants were the biggest ever awarded at that time for such a venture. However, there was a catch; £1m of the Scottish Land Fund grant had to be repaid within two years, something which the Trust achieved on time by selling the former Laird's house, fund-raising on the island and developing new community businesses.

The Trust has seven board members, all elected by its 96 community members - 80% of the island's adult population. Community participation in the Trust and its development has been one of the keys to its success. Everyone feels they have a voice; no-one feels excluded.

"Gigha was like a ship in the doldrums, but then the sails started moving. We've hit a few rocks on the way, but now the trade winds are blowing and we're getting there."

John Martin, Director, Gigha Heritage Trust

The 'Dancing Ladies' wind farm, Isle of Gigha February 2009

The 'Dancing Ladies' wind farm, Isle of Gigha February 2009

Wind energy is an important element in the Trust's financial viability. Gigha Renewable Energy runs three wind turbines at the south end of the island. They generate around £100,000 of income every year for the Trust, through sales to the grid. A second wholly-owned community business, Gigha Trading, looks after the hotel, the few self-catering cottages and the quarry. The hotel is the island's largest employer.

Afternoon tea in the community run village hall February 2009

Afternoon tea in the community run village hall February 2009

A key issue for the islanders since the Trust's beginning has been housing. With most island homes below the Tolerable Standard, there has been a big push to improve conditions and provide new affordable homes, to meet local needs and encourage people to stay on the island. The Trust now has a housing plan, supported by the Scottish Government, which has already seen 18 new homes for rent built by local housing association Fyne Homes. A major refurbishment programme of its own stock is also well underway. The plan appears to be working - the island's population is increasing.

Gigha is a small island and it is not surprising that everyday social and community activities are widely seen as important. Recent innovations have included a music festival and a village pantomime. Five-a-side-football, keep-fit, carpet bowls, afternoon tea and a drama group are regular activities in the village hall.

For some islanders, the change has been more about a new sense of freedom and empowerment. 'Saorsa' (Gaelic for 'freedom') is the name given to the new community boat which will soon be used for pleasure trips and training programmes for young people. All the changes have not, however, been without their difficulties. Balancing the Trust's books is a constant headache and there have been some inevitable community tensions.

"It was a big thing for everyone because it was a major change, but the buy-out itself was the easy bit. There is nothing more difficult than trying to please a whole community."

Willie McSporran, MBE, former Chair, Gigha Heritage Trust

Overall, however, the community buy-out is seen as a great success. Physical conditions are improving, virtually full employment has now been achieved, the population is increasing and now includes more children and young people, and there is a great deal of volunteering and community activity. Confidence in Gigha's future is increasing. This is an island community in control of its own destiny.

CASE STUDIES: TENANT- LED ESTATE INVESTMENT IN NORTH AYRSHIRE

"We know what needs doing on our estates and now the Council are listening and responding. Before the Estate Based Project, we just got the basics done and had no say. Now real change has taken place and we decide how the money is spent. It works - no question."

Alex Younger, Fullarton Tenants Association, North Ayrshire

North Ayrshire Council launched its Estate Based Project three years ago. Its aim is to radically change the way investment in estates is decided, giving tenants some control for the first time. Changing the balance of Council investment from essential repairs to longer term improvements is also an important objective. The hope is that tenant involvement in decisions about estate investment will improve the sustainability of their neighbourhoods and encourage a sense of ownership.

Most of the physical improvements involve new fencing, paving and security - work on individual homes is not eligible for Estate Based Project funding. The outcomes so far are encouraging. Problems with vandalism and particularly graffiti have reduced significantly since the project began. People are taking more care of their neighbourhoods and it shows.

North Ayrshire has 16 active tenants groups; 13 of them are Registered Tenant's Organisations, giving them a recognised role in the Council's decision-making process. Although some estates are unrepresented, the annual Estate Based Project budget of £2.5m is divided between all the Council's estates.

The project is advertised annually through the Tenancy Matters newsletter and gives all tenants in North Ayrshire the opportunity to submit proposals for their area. In addition, estate walkabouts are carried out and tenant's priorities are discussed and agreed for the following year. Tenants work closely with the Council's technical team to plan and design each project together. The tenants association then bids for a share of the available funds against an agreed set of criteria, with the Council making the final decisions.

North Ayrshire tenant representatives discuss the Estate Based Project January 2009

North Ayrshire tenant representatives discuss the Estate Based Project January 2009

"The size of the budget was always bound to make a difference. It motivates people to get involved. They realise we've put a lot of money into it and that we are serious about it working."

Carol Barton, Divisional Manager, Housing Services, North Ayrshire Council

If the project has a downside it is the difficulties of engaging with owners who have bought their homes from the Council. Fencing schemes, in particular, often exclude these properties because some owners are not prepared to pay their share of the costs.

Yonderton Place in West Kilbride is a typical successful scheme. Some elderly tenants living here were struggling to maintain their front gardens; they were not fenced off, people were using them as a short cut and the grass was difficult to cut. The tenants decided that they would like a fence put round their gardens and the grass replaced with 'street print' - printed and textured tarmac made to look like paving and requiring no upkeep. They worked with the Council's technical team to put a proposal together.

Moves are now afoot to bring North Ayrshire's tenants associations together in a new network, opening up the prospect of a more strategic and empowering role for tenants in the Estate Based Project and the Council's investment plans.

West Kilbride's Yonderton Place Estate Based Project January 2009

West Kilbride's Yonderton Place Estate Based Project January 2009

CASE STUDIES: COLLECTIVE ENDEAVOUR IN THE ORKNEY ISLANDS

"The Community Councils here were set up to create empowerment and are held in high regard by the local authority. They are based on mutual respect and is completely non-political. There is a real sense of collective endeavour; people know we all have to work together to bring about change here."

James Stockan, Vice-Convenor, Orkney Islands Council

The Orkney Islands lie just 20 miles from the northern mainland. With a declining and ageing population, Orcadians are only too aware of the need to work together to nurture their three greatest income sources - farming, fishing and tourism.

There are 20 very active Community Councils spread across these islands, with around 150 of the 20,000 population directly involved as councillors. Many of them have supported the establishment of ten local development trusts, to take on important island assets, secure funds for their modernisation or run local services for direct community benefit.

Together, they are involved in a wide variety of initiatives, including tourism, heritage, catering, inter-island transport and even a private water supply.

The green and fertile island of Shapinsay is just 6 miles long, linked by car ferry to Mainland. The old Smithy is a listed building, owned by Orkney Islands Council and leased to the island's community council. Formerly a rather damp and forbidding building, it was refurbished by the local Heritage Trust in 2004 and has now been brought back to life as a major visitor attraction. The bulk of the £200,000 cost was secured from Orkney Islands Council's Community Development Fund for the New Millennium, Heritage Lottery, Orkney Enterprise and the Manifold Trust.

Sheila Garson, Chair Shapinsay Development Trust, Maureen Spence, Community Council Liaison Team Leader, OIC, Danny Harcus, Vice Chair Westray Community Council, James Stockton, Vice-Convenor, OIC.

Sheila Garson, Chair Shapinsay Development Trust, Maureen Spence, Community Council Liaison Team Leader, OIC, Danny Harcus, Vice Chair Westray Community Council, James Stockton, Vice-Convenor, OIC.

The Community Council was the initial driving force behind the project, helping establish the Heritage Trust on the island, providing some pump-priming funding and enabling it to attract more extensive charitable and public funds for the renovation work.

"Our heritage is what gives us our identity and a place in our community - it is well worth protecting. The Smithy is an important community asset, but it wouldn't be without a close working relationship between the Community Council and the Heritage Trust. "

Sheila Garson, Community Councillor, Shapinsay, and Chair, Shapinsay Heritage Trust

There is an interdependence between the local authority and the community councils in the Orkney Islands. The community councils act as a vital 'sounding board' for Orkney Islands Council; few decisions affecting any island are made by the local authority without community council support. It's a balanced relationship which empowers the island communities and ensures they have a strong voice in their own affairs.

Papa Westray is one of the smallest and most northerly islands in the archipelago, with a population of just 70. Nevertheless, it has its own Community Council and a separate Development Trust, working alongside a Community Association and Community Co-operative. Few adult members of the community are not involved in some way.

The Community Council provides the vital link between these community organisations and Orkney Islands Council, leading on some things, funding and supporting others.

"As community councillors, we do most of the spade work and the complaining on the island; it usually takes quite a time to get things changed. The work is not always exciting, but somebody has to do it and we make sure it's done!"

Neil Rendall, Papa Westray Community Council

The Orcadian community councils certainly have a strong track record when it comes to getting things done, but it is their inclusiveness and their close relationship with Orkney Islands Council that stand out. They are, in many ways, the glue which holds these remote island communities together.

CASE STUDIES: PLACEMAKING IN SOUTH AYRSHIRE

"Placemaking is light years away from some of the regeneration schemes of the past, when proposals were just presented to communities for their information."

David Sherlock, Regeneration Manager, South Ayrshire Council

Placemaking Scotland is a partnership between Greenspace Scotland and Project for Public Spaces ( PPS) - a New York-based non-profit organisation. It is a participative approach to physical change which aims to transform uninspiring public spaces into vibrant places at the heart of a neighbourhood.

The Placemaking process involves a series of observations, interviews, surveys, photography and workshops involving both community members and stakeholders. Workshops are used to look at, listen to and ask questions of people in a particular space, in order to discover their needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to spaces and the people who use them.

In South Ayrshire, the Council recognised that successful public spaces are lively, secure and distinctive places that function for the people who use them. It called an initial public meeting for people interested in the relationship between regeneration and the environment, to test out whether there was interest in setting up Placemaking groups. This led to three groups being established - in Girvan, Lochside and Tarbolton.

Placemaking offers benefits far beyond making better spaces for people with bridge building, youth engagement, economic and community development, capacity building and the establishment of community identity.

All three Placemaking projects are different, but each follows the same participation techniques and key principles:

  • Community empowerment that is early and continuous is at the heart of each project, and as a result ownership of the changes and the process is being achieved
  • By providing 'quick wins' communities see a difference being made quickly and interest and involvement is sustained
  • 'Testing out' ideas means that longer term changes will be more sustainable
  • Involving the widest group of stakeholders - community, council and local agencies - from the start, has ensured that the long term visions are shared, achievable, and have the commitment from both those who will benefit, and those who will help deliver them
  • Focusing on the positive aspects of all three areas, through the Place Evaluation process, has provided a strong basis for engagement and partnership working with the community from the outset.

Tarbolton village

Tarbolton village

Tarbolton is a small ex-mining village in the South Ayrshire countryside. The lack of resources to manage a range of the formal and informal public spaces in the village meant they were often in a poor condition, giving a 'run-down' impression, providing little visual amenity or active use for villagers or visitors.

Placemaking in Tarbolton has brought together the community and local stakeholders to create a vibrant heart to the village by tackling a series of civic and community spaces and focal points in its centre, including a disused village square, war memorial and village entrance. With 30 stakeholders involved in initial placemaking workshops, consultation quickly expanded to include contributions and input from over 200 local people.

The community very quickly took ownership of the process here, delivering many of the quick wins themselves; cleaning entrance signs and painting railings. Following work on a longer term vision for Tarbolton, the community has led the way in raising funds for the redevelopment of key public spaces.

"People really took the idea to their hearts and now, volunteers rather than the Council are leading on the redevelopment of the area."

David Burns, Housing Manager

Community groups have also had an important role in moving the Place Making process forward at Girvan and are shaping public space at a new housing development in Lochside, Ayr.

CASE STUDIES: LINKING COMMUNITIES IN SOUTH LANARKSHIRE

"Trust, transparency, hard work and partnership are what we're all about."

Bobby McKean, Community Links Chair, and Representative for Blantyre

Community Links began life seven years ago when community representatives from four neighbourhoods in the former Social Inclusion Partnership ( SIP) area in Hamilton and Blantyre joined forces to set up their own support organisation. It was very much needed.

"Before we set up Community Links, all four communities were working against each other; we wouldn't even sit together in the same room; nobody trusted anyone. Then, having set up the company, some people thought we were in the Council's pocket. At the community meetings I was getting comments from people who just would not believe change could happen, but I didn't care - I was there for the people who did believe. We dealt with it by getting out onto the streets and talking to people. Now they are completely behind us."

Jack Ferguson, Community Links Board Representative for Burnbank

The charitable, community-controlled company certainly has a strong working relationship with both Changing Places - the successor body to the local SIP - and with South Lanarkshire Council. Much of its funding comes through a Service Level Agreement with the former. Its independent status has, however, enabled it attract funds from the Big Lottery and the Community Voices, Community Regeneration and Voluntary Action Funds.

Community Links Board members and staff January 2009

Community Links Board members and staff January 2009

Whitehill was one of the communities involved from the start.

"I got involved with the SIP and helped to set up Community Links as my neighbourhood was going downhill rapidly. I was voted onto the Board by the Whitehill community to represent our area. We worked hard to turn things round, involve rarely heard groups in Open Mind Events and listen to what people wanted. We've worked closely with the Council and it's paid off. Whitehill has been completely transformed, physically and socially. There is a new community spirit here; we've taken ownership of the area."

Anna Shanks, Community Links Board Representative for Whitehill

Community Links' work earned national recognition from the British Urban Regeneration Association ( BURA) in 2007 and the Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum ( SURF) in 2006, both reflecting its strong emphasis on volunteering.

The organisation recruits and trains a growing network of community volunteers. 41 of them help produce and distribute Your Community Matters, a quarterly community newspaper, to 45,000 homes, as well as supporting events and other engagement work.

Another 33 volunteers are delivering an Information and Communication Technologies ( ICT) Buddy project, providing recycled home computers, training and support for nearly 1,000 people so far. It is a project that appeals particularly to young men, many of whom have faced difficulties finding a job or gaining a qualification, often due to ill health. Community Links provides the training and support for these volunteers. Some of them have broadened their interest to become actively involved in their own communities.

"I was out of work for three years on long-term sick and came to Community Links for ICT training. They helped build up my confidence over a couple of months, which helped me get a full time job in the IT field, and I've now been voted onto their Board as a community rep."

Russell Bennett, ICT, Buddy Volunteer and Community Links Board Member for Blantyre

Ever conscious of the need for financial stability, Community Links is now providing consultancy services to other sectors, particularly health and is also looking at turning its ICT Buddy project into a social enterprise.