Do it yourself businesses combat urban deprivation: Paul Gosling in Newcastle on the community enterprises that start at the bottom

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The Independent Online
A TROUBLED housing estate in Newcastle upon Tyne, with 60 per cent unemployment and a crime rate to match, is about the last place businesses want to go - although this is where commercial investment is most needed, to combat deprivation.

The people of Cruddas Park had an answer: they started the businesses themselves.

Cruddas Park is one of about 500 examples across Britain of a community enterprise, where the businesses are owned and controlled by local people, provide services for local people, and employ local people. It has proved most popular on council housing estates, which often have the worst social conditions.

Brian Mead is the community enterprise worker, employed by Cruddas Park Community Trust, in charge of a range of businesses - a launderette, desktop publishing operation, clothes manufacturer, holiday caravan hire firm and, as of last month, a pub as well.

Mr Mead is reluctant to talk about the pub, as it may prove the group's most difficult task yet. The new management is trying to clean up a recognised trouble-spot.

The trust was established by residents on the local community council. They saw the businesses as a way of earning income to pay for social initiatives, to overcome problems of massive unemployment and high levels of vandalism, which discourage residents from looking for work.

The Community Trust is supported by Barclays Bank, which provides a part-time secondee, Brian Coleman, to help with financial administration and call in other expertise when required. Mr Coleman said: 'I want to stress that it's a partnership between the community and the private sector. It is bottom-up, community-led, rather than business-led.'

Community enterprises are heavily supported by Business in the Community, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last week, and draws on positive experience in America.

There is goodwill in Government circles towards community enterprise, and hopes that investment can be obtained from the new Urban Regeneration Agency. 'The Government has in mind something like the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in the US', said John Popham, national development officer for People for Action, which is financed by the Department of the Environment to encourage housing associations to employ local people and to invest in inner cities. He is a member of a DoE working party investigating ways of supporting community enterprise.

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