3. Community involvement
A key requirement for RCGF grant support is for projects to demonstrate clear community involvement. RCGF projects are expected to ensure that:
- delivery is focused on the needs of people
- communities are involved in designing and delivering the services that affect them
- people are empowered to improve their area and maximise local assets
RCGF funded projects are expected to engage with and involve the people living in the communities in the areas the project will be delivered. There is an expectation that local people are involved in planning and developing the project, playing an integral role in deciding how the project will be delivered, how it will meet their aspirations and how they will benefit from the outcomes. The community involvement process should embody the principles set out in the National Standards of Community Engagement. All funded projects had to demonstrate that they had undertaken community involvement activity as part of their application for RCGF.
This chapter explores what community involvement looked like across the 14 focus projects, what went well, and what kinds of challenges had to be overcome.
3.2 Approaches to community involvement
The 14 focus projects took a range of different approaches to community involvement, in terms of:
- assessing need
- planning and designing facilities
- influencing service provision
3.2.1 Assessing need
In most projects, the community was a driving force in identifying need for new or improved facilities. Need was identified from within the community – as part of a community action planning process; as part of a wider consultation on a community land buy-out; as an idea from a local community group; as part of a discussion about what an ideal new facility would look like for an existing service; or through community members expressing to elected members what they wanted to see happening in the area. In one case, need was identified by local sports clubs, and in another by local businesses.
Example: Community driving the project In one project, a need for a community centre emerged as part of a local community action planning process approximately 8 years before the project opened. The community identified a derelict and dangerous building and planned to buy the building and renovate it. "We decided to be strategic, take control and do it for ourselves." (Community member) A local community organisation led a detailed options appraisal exercise and consulted with local people and agencies. This involved public events as well as volunteer community researchers leading door to door surveys, knocking on every door in the community. Community members felt that the process was led by local people, and that without the involvement of local people, the project would not have gone ahead. "We started by building an engagement process and ended up with a fabulous community building." (Community member)
In other projects, need was identified through wider regeneration, town centre planning or masterplanning activity. The process of gathering community views on wider plans for the area resulted in a specific need being identified to save a derelict building, create a community facility or space, or provide local services. A few projects held design events over three or four days, with hundreds of people, to involve community members in plans for regeneration or masterplanning for the area.
Most projects then went through an options appraisal or feasibility study phase. These involved a wide range of activities including public meetings, workshops to explore ideas, and surveys.
Example: Exploring need within the town centre planning process In one project, need for the project was initially driven through the town centre planning process – involving local people, local business and local elected members. The local authority organised four workshops where key stakeholders were brought together to explore the town's assets and discuss future priorities. There was then a feasibility study for the new facilities, which helped provide the context and rationale for the project and helped get buy in from a wide range of organisations.
Example: Using surveys to demonstrate local demand In one project, sports clubs identified a potential need for a new facility. An initial survey of 300 people was undertaken to demonstrate local demand for the facility, followed by a second consultation focusing on children and young people. This helped to inform and strengthen the RCGF application. Following the RCGF award, there was a further survey of 240 local residents, more than 130 members of community and sports groups and over 200 school children. This helped to inform how the project developed and was used in applications for other funding streams. The surveys focused initially on whether additional facilities were needed, and then explored how people would use the facility, when they might use it, and what type of activities and provision should be provided.
Although the need for some projects was very much led by the community, some of the focus projects had to work hard to balance community need with other factors – including the sustainability of the planned facility, the needs of other communities, and the needs of public services. For example:
- in one project, the community was clear that it wanted to save a local building which was a focal point of the town. Although the original idea from the community was for community space, the local authority reviewed its portfolio and also included high end events space, office space and public service space within the building. This ensured it was sustainable and met the needs of communities across the local authority area.
- in another project, people running local businesses were concerned about the closure of an important local building. They achieved funding for a feasibility study to explore the re-use of the building as a community and enterprise hub. However, the group then decided it was unable to continue its involvement at this level as it was such a large undertaking. At the same time, both the local authority and a national partner were reviewing service delivery. The national partner wanted to co-locate with other public services, in a number of accessible locations across Scotland. The main focus shifted to providing office space and service delivery points for public services. The project was driven by the local authority and national partners.
In both of these projects, the facility the communities were concerned about was saved, but the original ideas the communities had about how the buildings would be used changed along the way. In both instances, partners indicated that they felt communities were positive about the outcome.
Example: Design events and options appraisal In one project, the community consultation activity took place over a long period. Three design events were run involving over 200 people over a four day period. The events took place in 2015. This involved people living in the area, and local businesses – largely creative arts organisations. A masterplan for the area was developed as part of the design event. The ideas taken forward within the project were consistent with the principles identified by the design event, and further shaped by a network of residents' groups, creative businesses and cultural organisations. Before this, an options appraisal was undertaken in 2011, focused on what should be done with blocks of flats in the area. The residents requested that ground floor voids should be made available for community use. The work to flats is commencing, and the general plan is to have some space for a community gardens project, a pop-up area for community groups (such as arts or health and wellbeing), and a meeting space. This has not yet been decided, and the tender for work to the ground floor is likely to commence in 2019/20.
3.2.2 Planning and designing facilities
In almost all focus projects, communities had opportunities to get involved in planning and designing RCGF funded facilities. The most common way of involving communities in planning and design was through meetings, workshops or drop in consultations which gave communities the opportunity to review plans, 3D models or digitally produced designs and provide feedback.
In some projects, these events were flexible and drop in, with people available to talk through the plans with communities, explain them and hear feedback. In some existing services, models and plans were put on the wall or in the entrance way so that visitors would see them and could talk about them with staff. In a few projects involving large scale regeneration, a local authority officer was based in the area, and able to talk to communities about the plans as they dropped in. In a few projects, there was a focus on informal, sociable opportunities to provide feedback – including barbeques, pop up events, community lunches and on street consultation with shoppers and passers-by. In one project, community members were invited to walks through the grounds of the facilities, to discuss their experiences of the facility and hopes for the future.
In other projects, there was an ongoing structured programme of community involvement in design. Approaches included:
- a series of public meetings – feeding into local democratic decision making structures
- workshops involving community members, architects and partners – exploring design possibilities
- establishing a local community advisory group – which was a consistent group of community members to explore design, and which sometimes had a seat on the project board
- community members (who were members of a community action group) having the opportunity to go on visits to other countries to explore their approaches to civic space
- a series of targeted focus groups and events with specific communities
- a two year research programme involving 50 members of the community
Example: Range of community involvement approaches In one project, a range of innovative community involvement approaches were used, including:
- a community engagement officer running focus groups and events with specific communities
- involvement with local schools, colleges, businesses and business organisations
- walks through the grounds discussing experiences of the facility and living near it
- social events such as barbeques for local people as informal learning exchanges
- supporting community learning about the history of the facility – in partnership with universities and oral history experts
- a two year research programme built around three themed activity days for 50 people, including a visit to the site and sharing findings
- establishing a local community advisory group, and a range of interest groups
"Everyone had the opportunity to share in the narrative... It created a positive mood and lifted people's aspirations." (Project lead)
One project ran a design event to explore public art elements of their regeneration work. While some felt this worked very well and was interactive and inclusive, a few felt that it was not useful as the local authority had already made up its mind about what would happen. Another project applied for funding to run a design event so that the community could co-design some public realm works, but the funding application was not successful. Instead, the architect attended meetings with local people and used a 3D model to present ideas and gain feedback.
Example: Involving communities on the project board In one project, the community management group made up of local people was directly involved in planning the new centre. There were also regular consultation events and opportunities for local people to have their say. The community group sat on the project board, alongside key partners, architects, teachers and pupils.
In a few projects, architects worked closely with clubs, groups and organisations who would be using the facility to ensure that the facility met their needs.
Most projects also proactively reached out to a range of local groups, services and businesses. For example, some worked closely to engage local schools – both pupils and teachers – and ask what they wanted from the facility. Some spent time visiting businesses nearby the new facility, or affected by the plans, to gather their views. A few visited local cafes, libraries, chemists and other services to gather service user feedback informally. One project had a community bus which travelled around the area, encouraging people to come in and chat about the plans for the neighbourhood.
"It was good that the local children were able to get involved in the design workshops that were held in the local primary school."
Some projects also used surveys at this stage, to explore what communities wanted to see in the new facility, and how they might use it.
Example: Local groups leading design
In one project, sports clubs were able to state their precise requirements for running their activities in the facility, and this was included within the specification. "I helped to design the room – it has a very high quality floor and a separator to allow different age groups to be in the same room but partitioned off." (Community organisation)
Example: Involving staff, volunteers, service users and others In one project, the idea for the new facility came out of a discussion about a "dream" facility, involving staff, volunteers, project users and wider audiences. There were then three drop-in community consultation and design events – as well as more informal consultation. At the events, people from the partner organisations were present, as well as the design team. Community members were able to see the proposals and give their input. The focus was on what people wanted the building to feel like, and what kind of place people wanted it to be – rather than specific design issues. The events were useful and gave a good insight into what people wanted from the space. Through the community consultation, the project developed the ideas of a community room, quiet space and gallery space. "The community was keen on a quiet space, so the architects pushed the archive space up into the roof and created a mezzanine area." (Partner) An outreach worker also visited local businesses and other local groups within a one mile radius of the new facility, gathering their feedback and alerting them of the plans. This helped to connect the project with the local community. All members of staff and volunteers were also invited to contribute ideas, as people who would be using the space. Following completion of the work, the project ran another feedback session with community members to explore how the building actually made them feel. Feedback is also gathered through a visitors' book, comments book, social media and evaluation of events. Staff also gather feedback informally through direct contact with service users. People have also been actively involved in helping to shape the programme of events, leading to a range of targeted programmes for women and minority ethnic people. Three times a year there is a programme planning and reflection day, open to all project volunteers.
Some projects specifically mentioned following the National Standards for Community Engagement, ensuring that their engagement was not a tick box exercise.
"We used the 'joining the conversation' approach. It was very much a two way conversation. It was not about fixing the area and moving on, it was about ensuring the structures were in place to continue the conversation."
In terms of engaging communities, some projects focused on ensuring that community members had all the information that they needed so that they could get involved or hear about the plans. Some used newsletters, social media, and displays in local facilities. For example, in one project they set up a communication sub group looking at how to communicate with the wider community. There was a regular newsletter and a range of ways to promote meetings and events.
However, in one project the project lead, partners and community members all indicated that communities had no opportunity to get involved in planning or design due to the short timescales within which the local authority had to spend its RCGF funding, and the procurement routes available to the authority at the time. In another project, some research participants indicated that did not feel involved or consulted.
Example: Young people not feeling involved In one project, pupils indicated that they didn't hear anything about the changes until they got a letter from the school to say the shops were being demolished and they had to take a different route to and from school. Community involvement had been undertaken – with young people and schools – but this group of young people did not feel involved. "It came like a bolt out of the blue when they came to knock down the old shops at the centre." (Community member)
3.2.3 Influencing service provision
Two of the projects included in this research had ongoing RCGF funded work and were not yet at service provision stage. In addition, one of the projects had been withdrawn and a fourth project had completed its RCGF work but had not yet reached service delivery stage.
However, within seven of the ten remaining projects, communities were involved in influencing service provision:
- in five projects a community organisation or social enterprise managed the facility, with a board predominantly made up of local people
- in one project the facility was run by a third sector organisation and the community has responsibility for £16k revenue a year – with priorities decided by the local tenant and resident association
- in one project local people received £30k from a participatory budgeting grant fund (through the Scottish Government) and the community decided how to allocate this – through a community engagement day and community vote
- Example: Owning and managing facilities In one project, a community group had recently been set up to own and manage land and buildings across the area. The idea for the facility came from this new community group, supported by evidence of need identified as part of a wider consultation on a community land buy-out. All the directors on the board are from the local community.
In two of the ten projects, the focus of the new or renovated facilities was largely on public service delivery and there was limited or no community involvement in service provision. In one of the ten project, the community did not have a role in designing local services as the approach was led by a public sector agency.
3.3 Experiences of community involvement
3.3.1 Reasons for involvement
Overall, most community members involved in this research reported that they got involved in the project to give something back to their community. This applied whether people had lived in the area all their lives or were new to the area.
Most research participants said they had a specific reason for getting involved in the project - wanting a particular facility for their area, wanting the facilities to be better for their children, feeling their community was left out or overlooked, concern about the reputation of the area or believing existing facilities were not fit for purpose.
"We felt left behind. The area had never been regenerated and there were no facilities."
Often within the same project, the reasons for getting involved were very different. For example, in one project community members got involved each for a range of reasons - to get a new play park, improve housing, reduce antisocial behaviour and have a new community centre.
A few community members said that they felt they had to get involved, as nobody else was doing it. A few felt dragged in to more involvement than they had intended, in order that the community view was heard. However others felt that initial involvement inspired them on to further involvement which they were happy with.
3.3.2 Quality of involvement
Most of the community members involved in this research had positive experiences. The main reason for people having a positive experience was that they felt listened to, respected and fully involved.
"We felt genuinely involved and respected for our views. We felt listened to, otherwise people would have lost interest."
"It made us feel valuable and valued. We helped shape these events."
A few mentioned that they had a good relationship with other partners, which meant that even if all the ideas put forward by the community were not progressed, everything was carefully considered. This helped people to feel that the involvement would make a real difference.
"It didn't feel forced, it felt genuine."
"It gave me a real sense of achievement."
Some community members had been able to get involved in physically creating the facilities. This gave people a sense of involvement and achievement.
"I loved getting involved in painting the park. I got to learn how to use spray paint. When I look at it now, it reminds me that I was part of the park…"
Some community members mentioned that although they had enjoyed the consultation process, which felt inclusive and involving, they didn't necessarily feel that their ideas were taken into account. For example, a few community members in one project said their ideas about better accessibility, transport and links to local heritage and history were not taken forward. These community members were not sure if or how these ideas had been considered by the local authority, after the community consultation events. A few said they felt partially listened to, in relation to some decisions.
In a few projects, a few community members and project partners indicated that they felt in some instances decisions were being led by public sector agencies due to other drivers, beyond community need. For example, most partners in one project felt the need for a new facility was largely driven by planning and co-location of services priorities, rather than community needs. All partners interviewed in another project stated the facility was driven by planning and funding, with no community input.
"The intention is not right. The feeling is that they (the council) are bringing something to us."
In a few projects, most of the community members involved in the research had strong concerns about the community involvement process and did not feel listened to. In one of these projects, this resulted in some participants feeling demoralised, feeling that they had lost local facilities and feeling that the heart had been taken out of the community. In another project this meant that community members were particularly unhappy with the design and management of the new building.
In a few projects, a few community members felt local elected members should have been more involved - attending local meetings and advocating for the community. A few said that the involvement process had made them tend not to trust the public sector, as the things they were promised (like revenue funding, facilities, or support) were not delivered. However, in another project all partners felt that an elected member had been key to the project, listening to community members and advocating on their behalf.
Example: RCGF timescales impacting on community involvement One project was part of a much larger project, which had an element of community involvement. However, the RCGF funded element of the project had to be built very quickly (before the rest of the centre) to ensure that funding was spent in time. The timescales did not allow for the local community or partners to be involved in planning or design. Community members and partners felt that it had not been designed with community use in mind, and so did not meet their needs. "The local community had no say in the [facility]. It was built quickly in order that the funding could be spent. It was out of kilter with how the community wanted things to happen." (Partner) The funding did enable a high quality facility to be built, but it was not based on local needs or views.
3.3.3 Balancing mixed views within the community
Community members and partners recognised that community involvement was challenging due to local people often holding different views, or different groups wanting to influence the project in different ways. Some pointed to divisions within the community, which created challenges. For example, in one project one condition of funding related to removing an invasive plant from the site. A local resident objected and threatened to go on hunger strike and tie himself to the plants if anyone tried to remove it. These divisions were overcome, and the project was able to progress. One community member felt that the protest showed that people cared. In another project, a community activist was strongly opposed to the project which caused some challenges, as key decisions were challenged at every stage.
There was recognition that views may change over time. For example, a few community members involved in this research indicated that they did not initially want a new facility – but had since changed their mind.
"I'll be honest, the community centre, I didn't want it.
I didn't think we had the people to run it."
In a few projects, community members and partners indicated that community organisations were not always as open as they could be at involving local people. This meant that they did not always represent the range of views held within the community. One community member was concerned about the level of in-fighting within his local group (a community council), which led them to question whether their type of community organisation structure really works.
3.3.4 Time and effort involved
Some community members involved in the research indicated that even if they had a positive experience of community involvement, it took a lot of work and a lot of their time. Communities often felt they needed to persuade, fight, volunteer and lead – and this was challenging.
"Fighting takes a lot out of you. I used to have black hair!"
"It was a huge ask for volunteers. We had to give up a lot of our time, and it took its toll on some people."
"The engagement process was great, but it was hard work."
3.4 Success factors
Project leads, partners and community members identified a number of key success factors in relation to community engagement.
3.4.1 Reaching out
Most projects indicated that going to communities, wherever they are – in groups, shops, businesses, schools and streets – was successful.
3.4.2 Passionate activists
Having strong community activists helped to drive the process. In some projects, activists were already very experienced, often from involvement in other regeneration activity. In other projects, the process of participation provided a learning opportunity and helped to develop skilled and passionate activists.
3.4.3 Strong community organisations
Some projects benefited from having a strong community network and a large number of active volunteers. It helped when there was a strong and focused community group with clear ideas and aspirations about what it wanted.
3.4.4 Capacity building
A few projects emphasised the importance of supporting the community through the process of planning and designing a facility and understanding the decisions that had to be made.
"Don't underestimate the support that is required to build the capacity of community groups."
3.4.5 Taking your time
Some projects emphasised that it takes time to build trust and skills - particularly if relations with the community are not strong, or there is no strong community network. A few also stressed that it takes time to ensure that all voices, not just the loudest, can be heard.
"It worked because the architects had over a year to work with local people. If they had less time they would not have delivered."
"It took a long time to get people to open up and talk about what they wanted."
3.4.6 Funding for capacity building and engagement
A few projects managed to access funding to undertake community engagement work, which greatly helped with early engagement stages.
3.4.7 Working in partnership
In a few projects, communities felt it was important for funders and public sector bodies to recognise that communities could not do everything, and that they had to work with third and public sector partners to share responsibilities. For example, in one project, involving a third sector organisation in managing the facility helped to take the pressure off the community. In another project, the local authority seconded a member of staff to support the community organisation and lead the project.
3.4.8 Recognising and learning from mistakes
In most projects, approaches had to be changed along the way. This included approaches to community involvement. For example, in one project the project lead (from the local authority) indicated that initially the local authority told local people what they were going to get, and thought they knew best. The local authority research participant then realised they had not listened to or respected the views of local people and consequently changed their approach to engagement. The research participant felt that it took a while to gain trust and respect of the local people.
3.4.9 Having a member of staff based in the area
In two projects, local authority staff members were based in the area over the period of the project. This was felt to be very useful, acting as a single point of contact for the council and helping to get the community on board.
"Having a local presence in the area and having someone who knows the local area really helps."
3.4.10 Helping communities visualise
Having a 3D model of the building, or visits to other similar sites, helped people to imagine and explain what the space would or could look like, and how it would be used. It helped people to imagine the possibilities and express their views and aspirations.
Community members, partners and project leads also identified key challenges around community engagement with regard to motivation to get involved and managing their expectations. The challenges were interconnected.
3.5.1 Getting people involved
It could be hard to energise and motivate people to be involved, particularly in areas where there was no established community infrastructure. In one area, it was reported that there was lots of ill feeling towards the council and a lack of trust, which made it hard for the authority to work jointly with the community.
"There was a lot of scepticism about the consultation… and a general apathy towards consultations."
3.5.2 Managing community expectations
Partners found it hard to balance the need to involve communities in early stages of projects – to inform funding applications – with managing expectations when funding had not yet been secured. This could impact on trust and relationships with the community and contribute to consultation burn out.
"It is a struggle to know how far to involve the local community in certain things."
3.5.3 Balancing community views with other factors
Once projects were funded, there were also other factors to consider alongside community views – such as sustainability, budget, accessibility and environmental factors.
"People didn't understand that they couldn't get everything that they wanted."
3.5.4 Differing views
Community members and partners found it hard to balance the range of different needs, interests and ideas from different people within the community.
3.5.5 Keeping people involved
Some mentioned that once the facility was developed, it could be hard to keep people involved. Some project leads and partners highlighted that people retire from community activity or community groups become less active and one research participant noted the risk of burnout. Part of this is positive, as people feel they have achieved what they wanted. However, it can create challenges around community involvement in service design, delivery or management. Partners also mentioned that as facilities open, staff need to focus on managing the facility which reduces the amount of time they have available for community engagement.
"I would like to see more robust engagement around the centre…
Just now it is ticking over."
3.5.6 Level of responsibility
Some community members had concerns that too much responsibility was placed on communities and community organisations, without funding and support. There were examples of community groups deciding that running and managing facilities would be too much pressure, challenge or financial risk. Some partners were keen to explore how to engage communities more meaningfully, taking account of what they can reasonably do, and what they cannot.
"Community involvement needs to be proportionate to what communities can be expected to do."
Some found the timescales for involving communities challenging, alongside the requirement to spend RCGF within the financial year. For example, one project had eight weeks to consult local people on one element of the project, which was too short. Another project reported being unable to involve local people in one element of RCGF funded activity because of the timescales for spending the money.
3.6 Outcomes of community involvement
The research identified some examples of community involvement influencing RCGF funded facilities.
3.6.1 Influencing design
In some projects, communities were able to influence facility design. For example:
Examples: Communities influencing facility design
- in one project, the community really disliked the architect's suggested ideas due to concerns about safety. The community ended up with a solution they proposed, and managed to influence the plans.
- in another project, a P6 pupil came up with a practical solution for providing access for bin lorries, avoiding the pedestrianised area. This was taken on board by the project architects.
in one project, community views resulted in a change from a part-demolition part new build project, to a completely new build project.
- in one project, community members identified the need for a community room and quiet space, and this was incorporated into the design. Staff also came up with ideas for some of the spaces within the building.
"The involvement of the community was carried through in the design of the building. It is very accessible."
"We are doing what people asked us to do, by creating spaces and facilities that they said they wanted."
"We took ownership of the project and built what we wanted to build.
The [facility] is ours!"
In one area, the name chosen for the centre was suggested by a primary school pupil. In another, the community really disliked the initial name suggested by the local authority and managed to change the name.
3.6.2 Community use, management or ownership of facilities
In a few projects, communities have access to a number of free lets in the facility. For example, in one area the facility is provided for community use free of charge for 12 days a year. In another, the community influenced the pricing strategy. Some community members were concerned that original prices proposed were not affordable and would impact on the ability of local people to use the facility. The pricing strategy was therefore adapted to reflect community views.
In a few projects, communities have taken ownership and/ or management responsibility for facilities or parts of facilities. Project leads, partners and communities recognised that the process of community involvement helped achieve this, as it would be harder for communities to take ownership if they were not involved in designing or planning the facility.
"The community wouldn't want to take ownership if they hadn't had their say."
3.6.3 Outcomes for individuals
Community involvement also brought about some positive at individual level. Some felt that they had got to know more people, become busier, developed new skills, got a new focus in life and built their self-confidence.
"I'm busier and I've met a lot of people and made a lot of new friends."
"It brought me out of my shell. Before I was never able to speak up at meetings, now I am involved with organising the Gala Day."
"I feel a sense of ownership and pride when I come in."
In some projects, involvement has helped those who were new to the area feel part of the community and encouraged social cohesion in communities which were previously divided. In a few projects, community members felt their involvement had inspired them to connect with their environment and heritage.
A few felt more empowered and confident. One community member indicated that her involvement gave her the confidence to go to college and then on to university.
"It has developed me as a person and academically, and most of all it has improved my children's lives."
In one area, community representatives have gone on to get involved in other projects – such as local planning processes and local democratic participation groups. One community representative said they were no longer scared of the council and now had a more positive relationship with public bodies.