WCVA’s Head of Policy Ben Lloyd reports on discussions around Welsh Government policy on community assets.
In the last few years, the news has covered a number of stories of community buildings being sold and lost to the community; for example this chapel on the Llŷn peninsula marketed as a holiday home, and this pub in Cardiff granted permission to be demolished. In both these cases, local individuals or groups have tried to find a way to retain these buildings as community facilities. Both have long been community hubs, and communities face losing some of their most valued spaces. These losses are in part due to many of these spaces having been lost as a result of changing economic trends and diminished public sector support.
Some buildings or parcels of land (collectively known as community assets) are owned by the public sector, and asset transfers from the public sector to the voluntary sector have been ongoing for a number of years through Welsh Government’s Community Asset Transfer programme. This process can be challenging but a number of assets have been retained for the community through it. However, community spaces can also be privately-owned, as in the examples above.
In recent years, governments across the UK have looked at ways to support communities to retain buildings and land that have been in community use, whether in public or private hands. Here in Wales, for example, Welsh Government has funded WCVA’s Community Asset Loan Fund and runs its own community facilities programme. Likewise, Welsh organisations can bid into the UK Government’s Community Ownership Fund. Finally, many communities are able to raise funds through innovative techniques such as community shares.
However, funding alone cannot secure community assets. In November, a number of organisations working on community issues meet to discuss issues related to ownership and the role assets play in empowering communities.
At the meeting we discussed the lack of ‘community right-to-buy’ legislation in Wales, such as exists in England and Scotland. The group felt strongly that communities’ ability to retain assets would be strengthened by similar legislation for Wales, tailored to our own circumstances.
The group also noted the specific challenges facing poorer communities in taking ownership of assets and of a range of technical challenges which smaller groups might face when taking over an asset.
There is a lot of work to do in this space, and the group will be meeting to discuss more concrete plans going forward, including how to make the case for changing the law in this area.
BEYOND THE PANDEMIC
The pandemic closed so many of our community spaces – whether owned by the voluntary sector, public bodies, or private companies – and demonstrated how vital they are to our collective wellbeing. Following on from years of seeing community spaces reduced, the need for community-run spaces is clearer than ever. As part of the voluntary sector’s work strengthening community groups, we are keen to take this forward.
Do you have experience of trying to take control of a community asset, whether there was a positive outcome or not? Or a story about how a community space has transformed your organisation’s work? We’d love to hear your ideas about how retaining community spaces can be made easier. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.