11 April 2019

It’s been over a year since we launched the first phase of the Great Places programme, and the Great Places Commission has been on an incredible journey, both in understanding the issues facing our communities and in visiting places around the country.

The Commissioners have seen places in desperate need of regeneration and others where housing associations, local authorities, businesses and communities are working together to drive incredible change in their local area.

As they prepare to present their final recommendations, the Great Places Commissioners met recently to pull together their learnings and understanding of where the biggest issues lie and what actions could help address these.

We spoke to the Commissioners to get some of our biggest questions answered, and here’s what they had to say.

Why are housing associations well-placed to drive positive change in their communities?

Bishop David: Housing associations are often a strong base in the local community. They have committed to being there in the long term and want to encourage and help the community to thrive.

Helen Lennon: Housing associations are long-term investors in communities and have a strong social purpose, investing all of their profits back into communities. Many of them were created by the communities they serve and can be seen as the original community-owned assets. One of their shared objectives is to create hope for future generations.

Kevin Rodgers: Housing associations are, and should always be, place-based anchor institutions that care about local communities and partnership working. They know what the real issues are that affect residents’ lives or their communities and are in a position to really make a difference. Read more from Kevin Rodgers about the role of housing associations as anchor institutions in their communities.

Creating great places can mean taking risks and trying out bold new approaches – have you seen any good examples of this in practice?

Ian Wardle: The transfer of values in Gateshead between local authorities’ higher value sites to subsidise more difficult sites was really brave and took real civic leadership.

Gateshead’s regeneration partnership relied on the local authority providing land to support new supply and regeneration. Rather than the council simply seeking to maximise returns from high-value sites, it was willing to use the returns to cross-subsidise low-value and challenging sites that otherwise wouldn’t be viable. Find out more about the Commission’s visit to the North East.

Bishop David: What we saw in Nottingham was impressive – housing associations worked as a catalyst for the private sector to come in.

At Radford Mill in Nottingham, Nottingham Community Housing Association worked in partnership with the local council to bring an old mill building back into use. The partners’ investment and commitment to the area generated increased private sector confidence – which in turn led to a private developer buying the building next door and carrying out its own renovations. Find out more about the Commissioners’ visit to the East Midlands.

Kevin Rodgers: The New Deal for Communities legacy in Coventry’s north east regeneration (Spirit Quarters). For example, the Moat House Community Trust’s use of asset transfers to sustain the trust of locals. Find out more about the Commission’s visit to the West Midlands.

Helen Lennon: Seaham was a great example of tenacity in the light of many short-term funding changes. The team made a plan and they stuck to it! Find out more about the Commission’s visit to the NE.

What makes a successful partnership?

Dave Procter: Everyone must have a stake – historical, financial, intellectual, emotional, political or any mixture of these. The more the merrier.

Bishop David: Each partner doing what they’re good at and working together towards a common goal.

Helen Lennon: We often see that if everyone puts their competitive urges aside, it’s likely to lead to far better use of shared resources (time and money). Castle Vale was a good example from our recent tours. Find out more about Castle Vale in our video.

Regeneration is a long-term process – how can we gain the support of the local community and ensure benefits are sustainable?

Ian Wardle: We must listen. It’s so important to involve and collaborate with local people and work alongside them from the outset – this is their community after all. We need to be realistic about expectations and gain and maintain their trust.

Dave Procter: We need to invest sufficient cash and, most importantly, plan for the long term so we definitely deliver.

Kevin Rodgers: There has to be clear and honest communication, genuine engagement and involvement of locals in consideration of options to ensure residents’ priority issues or concerns are addressed as part of the regeneration.

Steve Coffey: We should ensure communities are engaged from the outset, then taken on the journey as matters progress. This approach will also transform community activists into advocates rather than opponents.

Regeneration is such an important issue for so many towns in the Midlands and the North. As the commissioners highlight, collaboration, local support and looking at examples of projects where it has been done well will be all be important reflections for the Commission’s final recommendations, coming in June.