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11th September 2019

Last week I met a group of artists from six European cities who are collaborating on a project called Memory of Water. Each of their cities has a waterfront area that has suffered post-industrial decline but for which there’s still great civic affection and pride. And each to their own creative device, these artists have been exploring the tensions that often become entrenched between local people, urban planners and developers. Hearing about their work, it struck me that artists are uniquely well-placed for this role. By virtue of their creative instincts and their particular take on the world, the artist brings something very different to the complexities and challenges that communities sometimes face. And so, it’s hats off to Glasgow City Council for having the vision and courage to embark on a city-wide programme of artist residencies – one for every council ward. What’s so unusual is that the Council seems completely relaxed about what this investment will produce in terms of results. There’s just a firm belief that much good will come of it - and remarkably, that seems to be enough for them. Placing poets in primary schools may not eradicate child-poverty but undoubtedly good things will happen.

In the most recent briefing…

On the ground

  • Community control of schools

    The demarcation lines between what the public sector does and the community are always shifting. Often it just takes a few people with enough vision and energy to make the change. 50 years ago, a group of tenants in Glasgow thought they could do a better job than the council in running their housing – and they did. And from that grew the community controlled housing movement. A few years ago, some parents thought they could provide a better school building for their children than the Council was proposing – and they did. Wonder if this will catch on too?


  • Island co-ops stay strong

    In this post digital age it’s difficult to lose any data thanks to the powerful algorithms that sit behind today’s search engines. But paper records are harder to track down and the history of social enterprise in Scotland becomes much more anecdotal the further back in time you travel. Some skilled work by the archivists at GCU is gradually piecing together the story of who did what, when, and where in order to lay the foundations for today’s social enterprises. Community cooperatives on Scotland’s islands were the early pioneers. In some ways, nothing much has changed.

  • Will you challenge poverty?

    The poverty that we see on our streets isn’t easy to reconcile with the knowledge that we are also one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Given the fact that every day we see people begging on the streets, queuing at foodbanks and experiencing homelessness, is there a risk we become inured to the extent of poverty? Each year, in an effort to shine a light on what’s happening on our streets, the Poverty Alliance coordinate a programme of activities during a week in October to Challenge Poverty.  Could your community help to challenge poverty?

  • Complexity of community cafes.

    Question: when is a café not a café? Answer: when it’s a community café. The basics of coffee, tea and cakes for sale may be as standard in cafes of all shapes and sizes but community cafes go much further. A while back, Senscot commissioned some research into what it takes to run a successful community café (we carried their online survey here) and the response was such that they’ve now produced a short briefing paper identifying a whole range of factors for any group to consider if they are thinking of setting one up.

Policy talk

  • Experiment and celebrate failure

    If we were to ask what it currently feels like to be working in local or national government, it’s a fair bet that the responses would include feeling highly pressured, fearing failure, stressed, over-worked, lacking resources, under-staffed and so on. Hardly the environment to foster a culture where experimentation is encouraged and failure is embraced because that is how we learn. And yet we still expect these same institutions to transform themselves. We could do worse than follow the lead of Finland’s Prime Minister who has established the Experimental Finland Team at the centre of his office.

  • Shift the point of decision

    I’ve long suspected that those folk who work in the public sector with responsibility for engaging with the general public, live with a recurring dream (nightmare) of losing control of the process with decisions never getting made. Good article from Estonian democracy activist, Teele Pekh describing a continuum on which decisions are eventually always made but just at a different point in the process.  She argues we are moving from “ Decide – Announce – Defend (often followed by Abandon)” at one end of the spectrum towards this  Engage – Deliberate – Decide

    Read more


  • Change in community ownership?

    Every two years, Scottish Government invests in a thorough assessment of the health of the social enterprise sector. The SE Census involves much number crunching and trawling through of financial reports in order to make some sense of what’s actually happening out there on the ground. From reading the headline figures, the big message seems to be that there really isn’t one - no great changes to report. However one figure does stand out – less than a quarter of the sector considers itself community owned and led. If that’s accurate, it feels like a bit of a shift is happening.

  • A call to SNIB

    The planned launch early next year of Scottish National Investment Bank is being viewed with interest by many in the sector. Working to support the Scottish Government’s strategic priorities and particularly supporting the country’s transition to a low carbon economy and the regeneration of our disadvantaged communities, it will be interesting to see how they respond to a paper written by Scottish Communities Finance Ltd and others which points to the ongoing market failure in the supply and demand of social finance.

About Scottish Community Alliance

Scotland's leading community sector networks have joined together as the Scottish Community Alliance in order to campaign for a strong and independent community sector in Scotland.

The Alliance has two main functions - to promote the work of local people in their communities and to influence national policy development. We email regular briefings to our supporters on both these themes. More about us here...