Could community co-ops help to solve local housing and childcare shortages? These were two of the most radical proposals to emerge from a Community Manifesto meeting for Edinburgh Northern and Leith. Other priorities included zero waste strategies for the local economy, an empty space audit and devolving more resources to community level.
Taken together that’s a challenging agenda for local democracy. “Perhaps this could be the start of a movement for positive, practical change,” suggested the event facilitator, Judith Chivers, at the end of the evening’s discussion.
Certainly, the event in Newhaven Church Café on 12 April was full of positive energy and plenty of practical ideas. This was a follow up to a successful Open Space event in December when discussion identified key priorities for the community based on opportunities presented by new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament. This time the focus was on practical strategies for a Community Manifesto and Judith Chivers asked us to identify which actions would be taken by community organisations and which would be the responsibility of Councillors or MSPs.
Both December and April events were organised by Lesley Hinds, Scottish Labour Party candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith in the Scottish Parliament Elections on 5 May.
In each case the agenda and discussion were decided and led by community groups and residents. It was great to see that the people arriving for an evening of fairly intensive workshop discussion represented a mix of community organisations, creative enterprises, local residents, local Councillors and community activists. Organisations represented included:
- Active Inquiry Theatre Group
- Edinburgh Performing Arts Development
- Granton Improvement Society
- Leith and Newhaven Harbour Community Council
- Remade in Edinburgh
- Trinity Community Council
- (and Leith Open Space)
Five priorities for collaborative action
We can learn a lot from each other. Workshop groups quickly discovered that many inspiring projects are already happening in our neighbourhood or in other parts of Edinburgh. Though funding is important, lack of money is not always the biggest obstacle to progress which is why groups pointed to a need for champions and access to suitable venues. Creative community enterprises could get off the ground more quickly with the right help from the right people at the right time.
With that in mind, five key priorities were identified for collaborative action between community organisations and city councillors or MSPs.
- Co-operative approach to childcare provision. This could begin with learning from the example of St Mary’s playgroup in East London Street. Development would bring together all childcare providers to explore setting up a co-op childcare provider based on not for profit and making use of suitable available space
- Devolving resources down to community level. Replicate something that already works well – for example participative budgeting like Leith Decides. Run a pilot study for Citizen’s Assembly using models from Porto Alegre, British Columbia and New York.
- Housing Co-operatives. Working with Trinity Community Council and other organisations to explore existing, successful housing co-op models in Edinburgh and learning from what works elsewhere. Focus on affordable and creative models such as self-build, portable solutions.
- Audit of empty spaces. Working with Granton Improvement Society and other community organisations to carry out an audit of empty spaces which will inform development of practical and affordable housing and childcare solutions.
- Zero waste economy. Build on the work of Remade in Edinburgh to develop and publish a Repair and Reuse Directory. Organise networking events to develop collaborative ventures and learn from each other.
What happens next?
Contacts made at the event have already led to action with participants raising ideas in other community forums.
Everyone who attended the event has been sent a copy of the notes of the main priorities, including space for follow up action by both community groups and Lesley Hinds. Once the May Elections and the EU Referendum are over Lesley Hinds and other local Councillors will be working to develop the Community Manifesto for further discussion. If you are interested in getting involved either through your organisation or as a concerned local resident, you can download the full notes from the event Towards a Community Manifesto notes from meeting on 12.04.16
Your thoughts and comments are welcome. Leith Open Space will be happy to share information about new or existing community projects and please do keep watching this space for future developments.
Special thanks to Judith Chivers who freely gave her time and skill and has offered to facilitate future events to develop the Community Manifesto. Judith specialises in working with charities and not for profit organisations and her clients include Amnesty and Greenpeace.
Take three: intentions for following up
Looking into setting up a community co-op for childcare, well-being and care of the elderly
Networking – promotions and connecting – help with other community event (World Kitchen Catering)
Raise issues at Community Council – issues of space audit. Raise in the Council issue of Leith Decides