Ashram Housing Association, in partnership with Planning for Real, and the wider Accord Group are leading the way amongst social housing providers in developing and test bedding new approaches to micro-neighbourhood development. This project involves a new model for micro-neighbourhood development which is being piloted in Bordesley Green and which has the potential to be rolled out and used much more widely in communities across Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The Accord Group is one of the largest housing associations in the West Midlands, providing 11,000 affordable, high-quality homes and a range of community and health and social care services to over 50,000 people.
We believe that neighbourhoods form the platform from which we can build on people’s strengths and abilities in order to create the opportunities that will enable a community to take responsibility for and contribute to new pathways for shared prosperity and well-being.
Bringing together the expertise of the Planning For Real® Unit and NRCCE (both part of the Accord Group), Ashram has developed a new micro-neighbourhood development model. This model provides opportunities for neighbourhoods to move towards a more generative and self-organising logic. The aim is to ultimately achieve a new social compact between statutory bodies, private sector, third sector organisations and not least individual citizens and communities in order to leverage collaborative action and improve outcomes for a neighbourhood as a whole.
The model uses PFR principles and methodologies to establish an integrated community capacity building programme. The aim is to equip residents and frontline practitioners with the knowledge and skills to be more actively engaged in local decision-making. This is all about understanding the journey taken by residents to develop their confidence, and an appreciation of the role of an enabler, who can be flexible and dedicate time to mobilising and supporting communities. By harnessing the community’s energy for change we are able to develop a genuinely community-led response, which is proven to be sustainable in the longer term.
In 2011 Ashram launched its pioneering pilot programme in Bordesley Leisure Gardens for the prototyping of a wide range of innovative approaches to micro-neighbourhood development. The pilot will be delivered over a three year period to test what a self-organising neighbourhood approach looks like in practice – an approach which can address local economic, social, environmental and cultural challenges and bring about change.
Bordesley Green was identified as an ideal pilot area. Ashram has a 10 year history of working in the area, with an existing tenant base and involvement in wider social investment activities. Bordesley Green is an inner-city ward of Birmingham where the majority of homes are privately owned or rented. It has a population of approximately 31,000 and has a higher representation of people with an Asian or Asian British origin. The area suffers from higher levels of deprivation in comparison to the city average and with more incidences of long-term illness and mortality rates. Bordesley Green has a relatively young population with 49 per cent aged under 24, but alongside this demographic the elderly population is also growing.
The model offers a basic framework and methods of delivery which are co-designed with the community and other local stakeholders. The approach is flexible and it encourages a community to determine their own pathway and identify their own priorities, building on their local knowledge, skills and networks. The model will evolve as the Bordesley Green pilot progresses and the learning and experience is incorporated. However, there are five fundamental phases of the model that would apply in any neighbourhood irrespective of size, demographics and location.
Phase 1 – Neighbourhood Ambassadors
- Working with Community Activists – When developing a neighbourhood development programme we always advocate harnessing the energies and commitment of existing community activists. Their role is pivotal to the programme’s success as they tend to be trusted and respected by local people
- Community Enabler – The experience of the ‘Action in Neighbourhoods’ project (run by the NRCCE drawing on PFR principles) highlighted the importance of the community enabler role to mobilising and supporting communities to come up with their own solutions
- Partnership Steering Group – Whilst not advocating strict governance measures, we would advise that key delivery partners and community ambassadors are brought together to form a steering group.
Phase 2 – Collaborative Mapping and Base-lining
- The ‘100 Conversations’ – This is a door knocking community survey and the philosophy is all about uncovering local peoples’ talents, hidden skills and aspirations with the aim of mapping the potential of a neighbourhood. By focusing on the positives and strengths of an area and its local community we are able to start mapping the unique strengths of an area’s asset base i.e. the people. Put simply, by appreciating what is good and valuable in a neighbourhood we can discover and learn about ways to effect positive change for the future
- ‘Your Neighbourhood’ events – This phase of activity uses the platform of neighbourhood road-shows. Not only do these events offer a way of reaching out into the community to encourage accessibility and wider dialogue, but they also aim to build a sense of community by offering fun interactive activities to appeal to as many people as possible.
Phase 3 – Community Action Planning
The pilot programme with the Bordesley community is currently at this stage. Community action planning events will take place over the coming months. Ashram will also be working with the community to consider the physical and virtual infrastructure which could be put in place to support the wider programme.
- Action Planning – The ‘100 Conversations’ and ‘Your Neighbourhood’ events have generated a wealth of information, which demonstrates that the community are keen to commit time and energy, and come together to develop local solutions. They have identified three key themes around improving community safety in the area, improving the physical environment and doing more for the young people living in the area.
The Partnership Steering Group is now working with the Neighbourhood Forum to develop proposals for a campaign to recruit residents on to a number of small action groups, who will each look at a priority theme and go on to co-develop action plans. These mini-action plans will be brought together into one central neighbourhood action plan.
- Community Hub – In an effort to achieve maximum reach in Bordesley Green, events and activities have been held at different locations around the area. Longer-term, there could be benefits of developing a community hub like facility which would provide a fixed base for the Neighbourhood Forum and for cross-community events. It could also increase the potential to attract bigger groups and networks that have typically been less vocal within the neighbourhood.
- ‘Your Community’ website – This is about exploring the potential for developing an interactive community website. Such a website could provide a platform to carry out further online mapping, host discussion forums and most importantly become an integral channel of communication, promoting ideas competitions, local news, events and opportunities.
Phase 4 – Community Quick Win Projects
It will be important to generate a momentum of change and to improve perceptions of the collaborative working and support available through the pilot programme. Ashram will develop in collaboration with the community a series of ‘quick wins’ that embody the approach of self-organisation by providing flexible support for residents’ initiatives.
Phase 5 – Micro-Investment and Community-Led Solutions
- Community Challenge Prize
- Neighbourhood Match Fund
- Entrepreneurial Support
- Community Asset Transfer
The fifth stage of the model will focus on exploring community-led micro-investment vehicles which will help to create capacity for local investment and entrepreneurial activities.
The strength of this micro-neighbourhood development model is its flexibility. Communities take decisions and decide on the priorities that shape their own journey, and they can take advantage of the opportunities for wide-ranging support offered at each stage by Ashram, the wider Accord Group and other agency partners.
This pilot will run for a three year period. In terms of measuring the success of the project, we have produced a comprehensive set of success indicators. The final list of indicators will be chosen in collaboration with members of the local community and partners working in the area (including police, health and local authority representatives). It is important that the communities are aware of and understand the indicators and that they clearly link to the outcomes the community is seeking.
The indicators used for this project are guided by the ‘Placeshaper’ principles and fall into four main categories: giving people a leg up from state dependency, helping people to live well and live longer, enabling people to use their skills and abilities for the benefit of their neighbourhood and helping to create a clean, safe and friendly place to live or work.
As this pilot is still at a fairly early stage we will add more detail about the impact and outcomes in due course. To date Ashram has hosted two large scale events in Bordesley Green, one stand alone event held during summer 2011 and one event held in partnership with the neighbourhood forum in January 2012.
The main focus has been the activities designed and facilitated by the Planning for Real team to provide a highly visual, interactive and participatory framework. This framework has enabled residents to confirm the ‘100 conversation’ findings, scope out their priorities and identify areas for community action.
The key here is to work with residents to prioritise their ideas and aspirations into tangible areas for collaborative community action so they feel they have control and influence over designing local community-led solutions. These events offer a bottom-up approach to identifying community priorities, thus increasing the likelihood that people will feel motivated to get involved in making changes that matter to them.
Much of the event data has now been analysed and will be presented at the next project steering group meeting. The findings will also be communicated back to the community via the new ‘Your Bordesley’ newsletter. Future plans include working closely with the resident forum to develop a neighbourhood action plan.
Feedback from residents in Bordesley Green has so far been very positive. The real difference with the approach adopted in this pilot, as compared with more traditional neighbourhood management approaches, is that the key focus is on building and strengthening the capacity of the communities themselves. By doing this communities will be better able to respond to the new opportunities that the legislative changes (around localism) offer and there is a greater likelihood of long lasting neighbourhood solutions being found.
The three key themes raised by local residents at first two community events were: community safety issues (areas where there are drugs issues, speeding and dangerous driving hot spots and areas where young people congregate were identified, and residents want to see more police on the streets), environment issues (relating to the need for litter bins in specific locations and the potential to improve areas through planting, trees and seating) and young people issues (relating to the provision of facilities for young people). The next stage will be for the steering group to work closely with the neighbourhood forum to recruit residents on to a number of small action groups, who will each look at a priority theme and go on to co-develop action plans. These mini-action plans will be brought together into one central neighbourhood action plan.