Cities 'revitalised by new breed of entrepreneurs'

Urban deprivation: Communities fighting back
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The Independent Online
GLENDA COOPER

A new breed of social entrepreneur has helped turn around some of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Britain, according to an independent charity which says their dynamic, community-based organisations add to the creation of wealth in local neighbourhoods and should play a "central role" in regenerating disadvantaged inner cities.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is calling for 18 disadvantaged neighbourhoods to be given the opportunity to set up a "community sector" alongside government and private sector initiatives.

The foundation's report, Staying the Course, finds that 20 pioneering organisations have not only improved the quality of life in their community, but have added to local wealth creation by a new breed known as "the social entrepreneur" - individuals who are skilled at developing local partnerships, assembling public, private, charitable and European funding.

Such non-profit making organisations include housing associations, community develop- ment trusts and church projects, and have introduced a wide range of work programmes and advice. Some organisations have remained firmly in their home neighbourhood, while others have sought European funding and two Northern Ireland trusts have established links with North America.

Success stories include Miles Platting Community Enterprises in Manchester - which is taking over the pounds 12m redevelopment of the derelict Victoria Mill to provide work space, community facilities and over 100 homes - and the Aston-based Birmingham Settlement, which launched a community bank to lend to small business and community based enterprises.

Another organisation picked out for praise is Community Links in London, which claims to increase the disposable income of some of the capital's poorest people by pounds 3m a year by giving them effective benefit advice. It also organises parent and toddler groups, teenage parent groups, after- school clubs, youth clubs and play schemes. Its director, David Robinson, says he believes the scheme - which employs 30 paid staff and 300 volunteers - helps people regain their self-respect.

Stephen Thake, the report's author, said that 18 pilot schemes could be set up rapidly if the Urban Forum, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, and local authority associations were brought together. He argued that extra money would not be required because grants could be allocated from the Single Regeneration Budget, which pulls together urban funding from five government departments.

"For change to become permanent within a neighbourhood there has to be a continuous investment in improving the well-being, skills and quality of life. That makes it vital that regeneration programmes are designed in ways that will ensure their survival beyond the initial flurry of activity. Community regeneration organisations that are accountable to local people can play a central role in ensuring that the task of social, economic and physical improvements is sustained," Mr Thake said.

David Liston-Jones, for the Department of the Environment, said the Government welcomed the report, but questions regarding the way in which such a partnership would operate still had to be considered.

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