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Published on March 15th, 2013 | by HOHBrian

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The Future is Local: the launch of the Lozells, Birchfield and Handsworth Community Trust

The launch of the Lozells, Birchfield and Handsworth Community Trust drew an audience of 80 people to the Methodist Community Centre in Gerrard Street on Saturday 2nd March. Important local issues were discussed (see below), but the real story of this event is about ‘a new way of doing business’ between the Council and local communities. Financial constraints mean that the Council increasingly has to let go of its role as a comprehensive provider of services, and look for alternative ways to address issues. The question for  local communities is how far they are willing, and have the capacity, to come up with their own solutions to problems, and what kind of support they will get from the Council in doing this.

The Community Trust grew out of a belief, shared by a number of people active in the Lozells and East Handsworth ward, that rather than issues being addressed just by large third sector organisations who had won contracts  from the Council, or by lots of small community groups bidding separately for funds but with little relationship between each other, it would be better to co-ordinate both the identification of need and the  means by which it was met – but with increased control by local people over what was going on. Over the last 2 years a series of People’s Conferences and related consultation events have taken place alongside work on ‘governance’: how to ensure that the Trust would genuinely be a means of giving power and influence to local people, and wouldn’t over time become just another self-interested organisation, more interested in its own survival than in the people it has been set up to serve.

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“For a long time there has been a rich array of community activity within our Ward, particularly  delivered by lots of small voluntary or residents groups. But..there has always lacked a place for all of us involved..to come together..to collectively act on what is really affecting local people. .This needs to be independent from political interference, sectarianism or from the corporate interests of statutory agencies..and Third Sector giants with little  reach to families on this street.” (Sister Helen Ryan)

Sister Helen Ryan (Chair of the Community Trust) stressed that the Trust will operate independently of any political party and of  any large contract-holding organisations. The aim is that residents in the Ward will  form the majority in the Trust, so that it is residents who are leading on what the Trust’s priorities will be; the bedrock of the Trust, both singly and together, will be the Neighbourhood Forums – this is where the grassroots issues will be identified and forwarded to the Trust  Board for follow up.

Councillor John Cotton (Cabinet Member for Social Cohesion and Equalities) gave a keynote address in which there were two main messages:

1. The Council does not have, and won’t in future have, enough money to enable it to continue as the kind of comprehensive service  provider it has been in the past. Increasingly  it must facilitate others, i.e. local residents, creating their own solutions.

2. Thirty years of Council led initiatives, often well funded, have failed to alter the map of inequality and deprivation in Birmingham. The fact that local residents now have to take the lead is an opportunity for change which will finally be ‘transformational’ in communities, because it will be generated and owned and sustained by those communities themselves.

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Issues addressed in Working Groups Consultation by BVSC on their bid for £7.5m over 5 years  for  Talent Match (getting 18-25 year olds into work).  How  to use  heritage  funding to create local jobs.  How to ensure that local Advice Centres are  geared up for upcoming benefit changes, for example in Housing Benefit.  How to achieve greater co-operation between Neighbourhood Forums.

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Some will be cynical at seeing a virtue so neatly made out of necessity. Some will be fearful of the opportunism of organisations and individuals taking advantage of the situation to further their own interests. Some will believe that the apparent weakening of the Council’s role will result in them being less well represented than before. There was little sign of cynicism on Saturday – more  of a pragmatic determination to get on and do what is needed. There was also little sign of individuals and organisations  being preoccupied with pursuing their own interests. The representation was varied and broad based.

The risks are real though, and can only be counteracted by the people of Birchfield, Lozells and East Handsworth taking hold of this process for themselves. John Cotton committed the Council to joint working, saying this would not  be a matter of the Council simply dumping its responsibilities – something that will need to be tested over time, both in principle, and in terms of the resources transfered to locally defined priorities. The process  is open to all local residents and community groups: you can become a member of the Community Trust by visiting http ://nwbda.wordpress.com/lozells-birchfield-handworth-community-trust/membership and downloading the form. This will ensure you get notification of all events and developments. To find out how to become involved in your local Neighbourhood Forum contact Rajinder Rattu on 0121 554 9360.

Article and pictures by John O’Meara

 


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