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The power of communities to change their spaces

Posted on 24 March 2014

Community-led regeneration is possible. Groups have successfully tackled many of the issues affecting quality of life like anti-social behaviour, dog fouling, litter, vandalism and graffitiThree quarters of community groups who took part in a Big Lottery Fund programme to help them transform their neighbourhoods say they are now stronger and more confident about the future.

The five-year Community Spaces programme, which helped more than 900 groups across England, has shown a new way forward for community regeneration, according to expert evaluation of the project.

Community Spaces, part of the Big Lottery Fund’s Changing Spaces initiative, has  seen groups – many with little or no experience of managing major projects – create or restore playgrounds, parks, allotments, gardens, wildlife areas and other public open spaces in their neighbourhoods.

Groups were awarded grants of between £10,000 and £450,000 and helped throughout their projects by expert facilitators, who guided them through the complexities of consultation, planning, tendering and project management. Additional support helped groups to ensure the sustainability of their work.

Environmental and community development charity Groundwork, which managed the £58 million programme, commissioned independent evaluators Hall Aitken to assess the impact of Community Spaces.

As well as improved local environments, many of the 930 groups supported with Community Spaces grants have reported increased confidence to take on further projects, along with a stronger sense of community spirit. They are also able to share their new skills with other local groups, creating a ripple effect of community involvement and environmental action.

During the programme, almost eight million m² of land were improved and more than 84,000 trees were planted. Volunteers dedicated 94,000 days to the programme and partners’ time amounted to 25,000 days. There were 9.3 million individual beneficiaries and 11,850 organisations involved.

Hall Aitken’s final report says “Community-led regeneration is possible. Groups have successfully tackled many of the issues affecting quality of life like anti-social behaviour, dog fouling, litter, vandalism and graffiti.”

However, to achieve the best results, they need support: “Community groups often have limited capacity to find funds and manage projects. Simplified application processes and development grants offered some support. But it was the role of the facilitators which had the greatest impact, working with groups to build capacity and navigate often difficult processes such as local authority planning procedures.

“Tackling shared environmental issues has helped form new community groups and inspire volunteering. Volunteers gained new skills including project management, fundraising and community engagement, which increased their willingness to volunteer more. The programme shows how shared action on the environment boosts social capital.

“With new skills and confidence, 93 per cent of groups plan to stay together after the programme. These groups are much better placed to realise their ambitions. Seventy five per cent think their communities are now stronger and 84 per cent are now more confident. At the beginning of the programme, 44 per cent of groups found developing their ideas fairly or very challenging. Looking ahead, only 23 per cent still feel this way.”

Graham Duxbury, Chief Executive of Groundwork UK, said: “Managing Community Spaces for the Big Lottery Fund has been a hugely challenging but enormously rewarding experience. This programme has shown the power of the local environment to bring communities together to tackle the issues that affect them most.

“Our approach has been to empower and equip communities with the funding and expert support they need to play a leading role in local regeneration.

“We must all rise to the challenge of sustaining this work over the next five years as communities cope with reduced budgets. Community Spaces provides us with valuable learning on how to do that.”

Click here to download a summary of the evaluators' report.


Issued by Chris Burton of Groundwork

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The Big Lottery Fund is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised for good causes by the National Lottery.

The Fund is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK. Since its inception in 2004 BIG has awarded close to £6bn.
The Fund was formally established by Parliament on 1 December 2006.