8. Good practice case study: Blantyre Soccer Academy
This case study shows an example of a successful asset transfer request submitted by Blantyre Soccer Academy. The aim is to highlight good practice and areas for further learning and development. The positive outcomes evidenced here indicate the potential of asset transfer requests for other communities.
8.1. Empowered and vibrant communities
Blantyre Soccer Academy (BSA) is a registered charity, established in 2010 with the core mission to encourage and promote the development of football, health, self-esteem and friendship within the community of Blantyre, a town by the River Clyde, eight miles southeast of Glasgow. With a population of 16,100 in 2018, the SIMD rankings for the town range from 1 in South and High Blantyre to 8 in Low Blantyre. The work of the BSA has expanded since its early days and the charity also runs a community laundry and a community cycling scheme ‘Blantyre Bikes Better’. Developing out of the perceived need to respond to gang violence and community disputes, the founder described the changes observed in the community:
“There was a gang culture and everybody hated each other. Now I can see the whole community coming together, not just with us. There are another few youth groups which we are partners with and it’s all came together, like boxing clubs and dancing groups which we all work under the umbrella.”
In order to offer a sustainable and accessible focal point for BSA activities, the board submitted an asset transfer request to the relevant authority in June 2018 for the ownership of Rowans Community Hall. The proposal was to renovate the building and create a low cost communal space for multi-generational and multi-purpose groups. By developing a hub in this way the plan was to expand the reach of the existing work and provide more comprehensive services in the local area:
“Everybody just thinks it’s all about football because it’s Blantyre Soccer Academy. This will be Blantyre Community Hub, which will be for all.”
8.2. Opportunities and challenges
BSA began pursuing asset ownership prior to the introduction of asset transfer requests in January 2017. However, the implementation of the new provisions within the Act gave BSA a new mechanism through which to apply for a transfer. This formal procedure, as described by the founder, meant that the relevant authority ‘had to take us seriously’.
As BSA was the first asset transfer request submitted to the relevant authority, there was learning required for both organisations. The process took longer than anticipated, which hindered some of BSA’s initial plans. One reason for this delay was that, at the time of the application, the relevant authority had yet to officially approve the criteria and framework used to assess asset transfer request applications. The officer working with BSA acknowledged there was important learning from this experience that would be used for future asset transfer requests, particularly relating to the development and communication of realistic timescales for the process:
“There are still concerns from groups that it takes a long time and though we can try to streamline the process this does take time. I am certainly more adept at outlining realistic timescales and I do think this helps groups understand the issues.” (RA)
A key challenge for the relevant authority and BSA was the specific terms of the sale in relation to what would happen if BSA were to fail. The relevant authority wanted to ensure that the property would remain in community use and be returned to the relevant authority.
The asset transfer request was successfully approved in November 2018 and on 18th April 2019 BSA took ownership of the hall and began the renovation work required for the building to function as a community hub. In September 2019, the community hub was officially launched and attended by Blantyre Soccer Academy, Blantyre Councillors and MSP as well as representatives of the Scottish Football Association.
8.3. Making positive impact – intermediate outcomes
The aspirations of BSA for the community hub are far-reaching and may take time to evidence. Nevertheless, in the shorter term there have been some clear positive impacts.
8.3.1. Increased volunteering
BSA used social media to regularly update the community on the progress of the renovation. Volunteers and donations were an important part of the renovation progress with local businesses and tradespeople donating their skills and materials. When BSA put a call out for help with painting and grass-cutting, they were quickly inundated with offers of help. BSA also created an official partnership with South Lanarkshire college to provide students to carry out the some of the work. This way of working on the building has provided local young people with valuable work experience (construction), and the involvement of the wider community has, according to BSA representatives, helped to create a sense of cohesion and ownership over the transferred asset. In addition, it has helped to create a culture that values and cares for the local surrounding area.
8.3.2. Increased community ownership
A key anticipated outcome of the legislation has been achieved, as a formerly derelict asset is now in the ownership of the community. The founder aims to ensure that the community have a key role within the use and development of the hall and plans to establish a series of forums to represent all the user groups:
“My immediate aim is to get the kids involved within this hall so that they take ownership. It’s not my hall. It is their hall and the parents’ hall.”
8.4. Developing sustainable communities
The ownership of the new community hub will give BSA a sustainable foundation from which to further deliver on their core mission. Having worked in the community since 2010, the founder has seen the ways in which football has developed cohesion across the community:
“[It] brings a community together as opposed to everybody being divided because you’ve get High Blantyre, Low Blantyre and Springwell. Everybody comes together when they go to football.”
The aim is to expand this sense of community cohesion beyond the football related activities through the community hub which will provide a variety of services:
“So what we’re going to do in the new hall is obviously just move this laundry straight in here. We’ll have a community laundry. We’ll have an open kitchen and we’ll have fridges and things like that so that people come in and we’ll have a small café in there as well.”
The BSA board are also considering options for expansion through further asset transfer requests for under-used playing fields in the area. Owning the new community hub will provide some financial sustainability for BSA, and is one of the key reasons that the charity pursued ownership rather than a lease. The BSA founder described how the ownership of an asset opens up options for the charity to expand the building, or to borrow on the asset for future developments.
8.5. Empowering communities – learning and reflection
BSA’s experience is an example of the way that asset transfer requests can support an organisation to deliver their mission on a larger scale and with a sustainable foundation. The partnership developed with South Lanarkshire College also highlights an innovative and affordable way for assets to be refurbished, whilst offering development and learning opportunities for community members.
The challenges related to timescales and the terms of transfer outlined here are not specific to this case and learning from this example can be applied across relevant authorities and community transfer bodies interested in asset transfer requests. The legislation is still relatively new and both community and public stakeholders need to develop their processes, capacity and understanding of asset transfer requests. The presented case study highlights the importance of transparency of process. Ensuring that communities are aware of timelines and clear about the process will help to create better relationships between relevant authorities and communities.