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An Evaluation of Community Involvement in the Whitfield Partnership - Research Findings

DescriptionThis study explores how community involvement was approached, organised and resourced in Whitfield Partnership, the role of community representatives and their impact on the regeneration process.
ISBN
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 29, 1998
Environment Research Programme Research Findings No. 2 (1994)
An Evaluation of Community Involvement in the Whitfield Partnership

ANDREW McARTHUR, ANNETTE HASTINGS and ALAN McGREGOR

Publisher The Scottish OfficePrice £5.00
The study deals with community involvement in Whitfield, a housing estate on the North East periphery of Dundee. Whitfield is one of the Scottish Office's 4 Partnership areas launched in 1988 and will be the first to formally end in 1995. A wide range of consultations was carried out to explore how community involvement was approached, organised and resourced. The work examined the role that the community representatives have played in the Partnership and their impact on the regeneration process.
Main Findings
  • A Partnership initiative involving the local community can be progressed smoothly without creating a top heavy bureaucratic structure or generating major conflicts.
  • Where a suitable community partner does not already exist it is important to contact the whole range of local groups to explain about the Partnership and establish local priorities and concerns.
  • A realistic and pragmatic approach to what the Partnership could achieve was deliberately encouraged in Whitfield together with a degree of flexibility, which have contributed both to good working relationships and steady progress with the strategy. This may be more difficult to achieve where the community partner is a strong organisation with an independently developed agenda.
  • The Whitfield Partnership has been able to create a sense of common purpose between the partners. Having an accessible local base, holding meetings at times that suit residents and the sensitive chairing of meetings have all helped.
  • Community influence has included stimulating a number of specific policy initiatives within the agreed overall strategy framework. A momentum for community involvement has been created in Whitfield which will probably continue beyond the end of the Partnership. At present what shape this will take remains uncertain and will depend partly on what happens to the Steering Group and the position adopted by local government on decentralisation.
  • Where an organisation capable of representing the area as a whole does not exist, and if the objective is to maximise the community's input to strategy development, then time may need to be built into the front end of a regeneration initiative to develop the capacity of the community partner.
Engaging the Local Community
Prior to the Partnership, Whitfield already had some experience of community involvement. A number of community organisations existed but there was no one body able to speak for Whitfield as a whole. A large public meeting was organised in May 1988 at which the Partnership was formally announced to the community. Following this a Steering Group was established to represent the Whitfield community on the Partnership. Early Partnership meetings were held in the local church hall until the Partnership secured a local base of its own in September 1989.
Organisation and Resourcing Community Involvement
The Steering Group was initially made up of 3 representatives from each of 7 localities within Whitfield. However, some parts of the estate had relatively large numbers of community projects and activists who felt they were not being given enough scope to participate. Consequently, the geographical model was replaced by one which allowed any community organisation on the estate to become a member of the Steering Group and send 2 representatives to it. Places were also set aside for residents unaligned with existing groups.
Turnout at Steering Group meetings has fluctuated and the Group has often relied on a hard core of activists. Limited induction support for new members, internal tensions and population change are some of the explanations offered for this. Concern has also been expressed about the representativeness of the Steering Group. A membership structure based largely on existing community groups could mean that localities with limited community activity will be poorly represented. The Steering Group has also found it difficult to attract owner occupiers who represent a growing proportion of local residents.
The Steering Group nominates members to attend meetings of the Partnership Board and its sub-groups. The number of representatives was, for a short period, an issue of contention between the Steering Group and the Scottish Office. Initially 4 community representatives were entitled to attend meetings of the Partnership Board but the Steering Group argued that this did not give the local community a strong enough voice. It was therefore agreed to increase the number of community representatives to 10 with 4 places allocated on each of the Partnership's sub-groups. Figure 1 sets out the organisational structure of community involvement.
Turnout of community representatives at meetings has tended to be lower than the maximum places allocated. At the Partnership Board the average number of community representatives attending has been 5 people. In total, over 40 members of the Steering Group represented the local community at some stage over the first 6 years of the Partnership. However, the bulk of the residents who were active in the early days have since dropped out for a variety of reasons.
A dedicated support worker for the Steering Group was appointed early in 1990, 18 months after the Partnership started. Around £15,000 per annum was made available to meet the costs of training, administration, childcare and advertising over the period 1991/94. Hence, the Partnership developed its broad strategy without any core resourcing for the Steering Group or training for the community representatives involved. Had support been provided earlier, community representatives might have been able to contribute more effectively during the early stages of the Partnership's work.
Figure 1: Current Structure of Community Involvement in the Whitfield Partnership
Process of Participation
The development of the Partnership's strategy began with an intensive programme of meetings between Scottish Office staff and local agencies and community organisations. The Scottish Office explained what the Partnership was about, listened to local views and assembled statistical information. Strategic areas were identified, broad objectives were established and a range of short-term targets and projects were specified. After a 6 month period the Partnership submitted its "First Report on Strategy" to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Whitfield was the first Partnership area to do so.
During the first year of the Partnership, the Steering Group, as well as participating in strategic discussions, was developing its constitution and membership structure. The Group also had to contend with internal divisions of opinion about the most appropriate stance to take towards the Partnership during this period.
The broad strategy was refined between May 1989 and December 1989 with much of the work taking place in 3 sub-groups: housing and environment; employment and training; and community services. The input of community representatives to the discussions appear to have been mainly reactive, responding to ideas and suggestions from other partners. However, on a number of specific issues, such as the need for greater home security and privacy and an improved shopping centre, community representatives were more forceful. Even during this period of strategic refinement the Steering Group continued to evolve. It did not hold its first AGM until June 1989.
A second strategy document was produced in late 1989 which comprised a statement from each of the 3 sub-groups and indicated the Partnership's future strategic intentions. Plans for a high profile public launch, however, were shelved because of resistance from both the community representatives and the local authority partners. Their resistance partly reflected a concern that central government would take the credit and that the input of the other partners might not be adequately recognised.
Over the first 2 years of the Partnership's life development moved ahead at a speed which the Steering Group found difficult to keep up with and it took some time for the community representatives to come to terms with the formal proceedings. Discontent surfaced at a conference in May 1990 which involved all 4 Partnerships and at which the Whitfield Steering Group was critical of the Partnership. Following this The Scottish Office met with the community representatives to discuss their concerns. Since then relationships between the community and the Partnership have been relatively smooth with few disputes taking place.
The Partnership Board oversees progress and proceedings which are based on discussion and consensus-based decision making. The contribution made by the community representatives has varied. For inexperienced representatives Partnership meetings can present an intimidating environment. However, the situation has been helped by deliberate efforts by the Chairman to put local people at ease. In 1994 community representatives began to hold pre-Partnership meetings which have helped prepare people to contribute more effectively to Board discussions.
The sub-groups are the working arms of the Partnership. The Community Services sub-group deals with a wide range of local issues and has attracted greatest participation from the community representatives who have been forthcoming with ideas and suggestions. The Employment and Training sub-group has attracted a lower turnout and has proved more difficult for community representatives to contribute to.
As the Partnership progressed, Steering Group meetings have become increasingly routine and formalised whereas in the early period of the Partnership they tended to be lively public affairs. In 1994 the Steering Group was considering introducing a number of public meetings during the year in a bid to recreate this level of interest.
Steering Group members are expected to report back to their constituent organisations and in this way help to keep the wider local community informed. While this works to some extent, there are a number of weaknesses in the system. For example, a number of existing groups or neighbourhoods are not represented on the Steering Group. Although over half of the local population have heard about the Steering Group, few probably know much about it.
A community newspaper (Our Whitfield) provides an important source of information on local events and developments. The Partnership uses the newspaper as a way of keeping the wider local community informed of its work. Leaflet drops are also carried out by the Partnership as a way of informing or consulting residents. Working groups on issues such as drugs or healthy eating are periodically established as another way of drawing on the views of local people and community groups.
It is expected that following the formal end of the Partnership in 1995 the Housing and Environment and the Community Services sub-groups will continue along with the Employment Initiative. However, with the withdrawal of The Scottish Office as the lead agency it is unclear how these 3 bodies will come together. It is recognised that there will be a need for a community-based organisation to represent Whitfield. Although the long-term future of the Steering Group is uncertain, it could continue to be an appropriate body to represent the area.
Assessing the Impact of Community Involvement
The Steering Group was directly involved in the discussions about the Partnership's strategic priorities. However, although the strategy which emerged was broadly consistent with the community's priorities, the influence of the community representatives at the strategic level was limited, partly reflecting the difficulties they experienced in keeping up to speed with the Partnership. One exception concerns the housing strategy. Support from community representatives for demolition and new build possibly speeded up a shift in housing policy away from rehabilitation, although considerations about cost-effectiveness were also important.
The community representatives have played a stronger role in pressing for particular policies and programmes, though not always with success. Although not fully instrumental, the community representatives have been firmly behind ideas for a dry ski slope, a new indoor sports centre and a revitalised shopping centre. The first 2 did not go ahead but discussions about the future of the shopping centre were continuing in 1994. Some proposals put to the Partnership, including a plan to develop a new road through the area, have been successfully resisted by the community representatives.
Community representatives have also had a considerable role in helping to fine tune policies and smooth the process of implementation. Broad ranging consultation has taken place between the community representatives and agencies, and on several occasions suggestions for security measures, training programmes and environmental work have been brought forward by the community. Furthermore, local people have been involved in developing plans to improve leisure facilities in the area. Although not formally linked to the Steering Group, residents involved in community-based housing associations have played a substantial role in the regeneration of the area. Attitudes of other partners towards community involvement have also probably become more positive as a result of the experience gained during the Partnership.
Copies of the full report "An Evaluation of Community Involvement in the Whitfield Partnership" are available priced £5.00.
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