How can we provide revolutionary entries to employment and transform the opportunities of people living in deprived communities?
Sponsored by CPR (Camborne Pool Redruth) Regeneration, Designing Communities was a unique project and one that became the most talked about from ministers to elected members as part of the Dott Cornwall programme.
It transformed from a small project for CPR Regeneration about the feasibility of a new community building in Pengegon into a much talked about system changing initiative that could reduce negative social and economic impacts associated with deprivation across the UK.
Pengegon is officially Cornwall’s most deprived neighbourhood. It is in the UK’s bottom 2% for overall deprivation, income deprivation (bottom 1%), employment deprivation (bottom 4%), income deprivation affecting children (bottom 2%), education skills and training affecting children / young people (bottom 3%). The percentage of children in poverty (under 16) is 50.8% – which equates to around 135 children. The community has been described as lacking confidence and aspiration. Many residents don’t access the support services available to them due to mistrust of agencies.
Armed with such information, it’s almost inconceivable that anyone would describe Pengegon in anything other than pejorative terms. Many agencies and stakeholders described the community as “hard to reach”. But as we found out, apathy sits on both sides of the fence and this led us draw fundamentally new conclusions on how to tackle deprivation in communities.
This project was created to identify whether a new community building could bring about lasting benefits to the residents of Pengegon. Our ambition was first to understand whether an active community existed – because no community would surely mean no need for a building. To our delight, we witnessed a strong sense of community identity and togetherness, and we set about conveying the community in a very different light. This challenged perceptions.
Our approach was relatively simple. We entrenched ourselves in the community to capture views. We quickly discovered a deep feeling of mistrust for support services and agencies. There is a perception that Pengegon residents benefit hugely from government support but, beyond a small Localism service, agency intervention is minimal. We realised that to gain trust and encourage residents to share their ideas, we ourselves needed to connect with them around the things that they were interested in.
We organised a host of activities including filming various social groups, community allotments and sports clubs. We also facilitated a co-design party where children had fun designing a new community building out of cake. These creative activities gave us an opportunity to uncover the truth about the estate.
We demonstrated a much stronger community spirit and desire for change than the facts and figures might suggest and, in just two 6-week cycles, we engaged with approximately 20% of residents. We also undertook research with the wider community, including a number of stakeholders and service providers to examine the local issues in more depth.
We concluded that a new community building was viable, and ran co-design activities with local citizens and agencies to ensure that it will be sustainable and embedded into the fabric of the community. We continued to support this project at our own cost.
As a result of our tenacity , we later embarked on a pilot programme in Pengegon that centred on a vision for enabling the community to become more self-sufficient. We also conceived a “community job creation” scheme that encouraged residents to be more active in their communities.
The scheme was designed to enlist residents on community projects such as the build of the new community centre, community maintenance, retrofitting houses for energy efficiency, installing superfast broadband – anything and everything that might create a significantly improved living environment.
Our idea for a ‘community benefits system’ was presented within the House of Lords and Department for Communities and Local Government. Lord Nat Wei, the government’s then advisor for Big Society, described our work as a compelling example of Big Society in action – where ideas and improvements were best achieved in partnership with residents and agencies already active in the community.
“The residents already feel that they own the new community centre, even though it doesn’t yet exist” Claire Arymar, Neighbourhood Manager, Community Regeneration Team, Cornwall Council.
“We have had a good experience with the Pengegon project, and we are really pleased. Made Open spent an awful lot of time embedding themselves within the local community and have kept really good contact with us as a client. They engaged with that community and brought them together in a way that hadn’t happened before, which is very positive.” Lynda Davis, Programme Integration Manager, CPR Regeneration
“Made Open have achieved in six weeks what other agencies have failed to achieve in 10 years. I think partly because they are a new organisation looking at the community’s needs, without an on-going vested interest. That’s meant they have been able to shift things forward apace and have offered a genuine opportunity to make a long-term change in the area.” Tarn Lamb, Chief Executive, Cornwall Neighbourhoods for Change
Ultimately though, the residents of Pengegon never got their community centre – which we saw as a great failure on the part of the system. Nevertheless, this experience compelled us to consider a new economic model that might see sustainable benefits from local residents taking on a range of jobs needed in the community – a self-sufficient community, lowering its dependency on the benefits system through community restoration. This later inspired our vision for a Community Exchange, which is now being utilised by a number of communities across the UK.