30 January 2019

As our Great Places Commission continues to travel across the North and Midlands, we visited Castle Vale to hear about the area’s transformation and the role of community leadership, including the Neighbourhood Partnership Board, in driving and sustaining improvements.

Castle Vale was a large 1960s housing estate including many high-rise blocks which became synonymous with deprivation and crime. In 1993 it was made the focus of a Housing Action Trust, which focused major regeneration efforts here until 2005. Their great work has been continued by the Neighbourhood Partnership Board and Castle Vale Community Housing Association (part of the Pioneer Group) ever since.

The scene…

It’s 13 December 2018. The day after the Prime Minister won a vote of confidence in her leadership. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said Brexit uncertainty was likely to hit the UK housing market well into 2019. Jaguar Land Rover has just announced 4500 local job losses.

In Castle Vale, the Neighbourhood Plan Board is meeting. The Board oversees a plan for the economy, safety, health, housing and community leadership. It is supported by Pioneer Group and here Ifor Jones, Pioneer’s Head of Communities, takes over the story and tells us Pioneer’s thoughts on how the current climate will affect their community and how they seek to manage that.

While the national debate on ‘in’ vs ‘out’ and ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’ plays out in Westminster; we have at Board today real focus and clarity on the issues and priorities in our neighbourhood and - critically - what we are going to do about these.

Ironically, our independent chair, Jack Dromey MP, is in the House listening to key announcements on police and local authority funding but he has still managed to ‘call in’ to the meeting on key developments affecting our area.

Today’s agenda has been so diverse and ambitious but our main aim is to look at a variety of issues we may face in the near future and how we can best prepare for them or have already started to tackle them.

What are the issues?

Some topical issues in this area at this time include how we can:

  • Take forward a neighbourhood poverty commission as welfare reform rolls out
  • Tackle city-wide issues of knife crime
  • Generate long-term funding for sustainable regeneration and a vehicle for supporting our unique place based partnership over the next 12 years
  • Support the city in delivering local services such as the local library, pool and football stadium
  • Support 300 people impacted by Universal Credit in a real practical way such – such as feeding families and helping with the costs of housing
  • Build on the opening of the new secondary school - Greenwood Academy - and how can we help the sixth form which is growing so much that people ‘off Vale’ are wanting to join?
  • Play a part in supporting Jaguar Land Rover workers in Castle Bromwich and Solihull plants with the news of redundancies and shut downs
  • Gear up our advice and support services for workers and residents in light of these challenges

Looking to the future

It’s great to see, though, that through strong neighbourhood partnerships we are taking the first steps in a number of initiatives which will hopefully help to tackle these issues.

We have already seen success in several partnerships and projects. For example, in light of the news at Jaguar Land Rover we are working alongside our two anchor charities to deliver community economic regeneration. Spitfire and Compass will develop an offer for those who opt for voluntary redundancy from the plant in Castle Bromwich to provide advice, counselling and employability support.

We are also thrilled with the success of our knife crime youth prevention project funded through Birmingham's Police Commissioner and will be mobilising this across targeted neighbourhoods in North Birmingham.

Equally, one of our unsung charities in Castle Vale, the Community Environmental Trust, have just been given funding for a new minibus for their Forest Schools project with a number of local primary schools which will help sustain the programme.

One of our ambitious projects to develop three wellness hubs is now taking shape, having been given access to HS2 funding. Sat within three neighbourhoods in North Solihull and North East Birmingham, we have also bid to connect these hubs up with walking and cycling routes. There are no guarantees with this and each bid will be put forward by individual charities in each community but the vision is strong and even if we aren't successful we have built a future working relationship with 12 charities along this stretch which is fantastic in itself!

We were privileged last month to have a visit from the National Housing Federation’s Great Places Commission to talk about our successes and learnings in the local community so far. It was hugely motivating for us - it’s great that we are deemed as an example worth citing as a “great place”. It gives us even more determination to continue the great work already started – and it’s a privilege to work with and be part of a focused, forward thinking partnership.

Ifor Jones, Head of Communities at Pioneer

Ifor talks us through Pioneer's successes so far and plans for future regeneration in their local area

Regeneration for real - Castle Vale, West Midlands