Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today announced a package of powerful new rights for communities to challenge services and preserve local assets. The new Community Rights measures are yet another leap towards localism and the decentralisation of power from Whitehall. The Localism Bill, due to be announced shortly, will enshrine in law rights for community and voluntary groups to draw on when  determining what happens in their local area.

They are:

  • Community Right to Buy. Local groups will have a legal right to nominate any vital community asset including local shops, pubs, libraries and leisure centres to be recorded on a ‘most wanted’ list by the local council. If a listed asset goes on the open market, its sale will be delayed triggering a ‘community countdown’ that will give people time to prepare their business plan and raise the funds they need to bid.
  • Community Right to Challenge. Opening the door to a transformation in the way that local public services are run, Right to Challenge gives community or voluntary sector groups, as well as parish councils and council employees delivering the service, new powers to challenge and take over a local service. Under the new law, councils must respond to this challenge and consider the positive impact the proposal could have on the community. If the proposal is turned down the council must
    publish the reasons for this. This new right puts voluntary and charity groups on the front foot when it comes to running public services and has the potential to open up new revenue for them.

Earlier this week, Mr Pickles announced new rights for communities to shape the development of the communities in which they live, through the creation of neighbourhood plans. The Localism Bill will radically reform the planning system so local people have a greater say and influence over what their home town will look like in the future.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, said:

“This powerful series of measures puts new rights in law for people to protect, improve and even run important frontline services. For too long people have been powerless to intervene as vital community
resources disappear from their areas. The Community Rights measures will put control back where it belongs – with the people at the heart of our villages, towns and cities.

“The Rights are also a massive opportunity for the community and voluntary sector to demonstrate their innovation and the new ideas they can bring to the table for better, cost effective services.”

Local facilities have been closing down all over the country, leaving towns and villages without vital amenities. Small community groups that are willing to take over local assets often find that they lack the time and resources to get a plan together and compete with the might and muscle of big business and developers, who can throw significant time and resource behind projects.

Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark, added:

“Voluntary and community groups already successfully provide services including education, social care and tackling worklessness. But there are many more groups who have been locked out or passed over in favour of the same old way of doing things.  The government wants to see councils making the most of the talents and ingenuity of these organisations and this new measure will make sure that good ideas get a proper hearing.
“The new rights intend to level the playing field and make it easier for voluntary groups to move from the sidelines to centre stage when it comes to delivering services as part of the Big Society”.

The Right to Challenge legislation gives voluntary, community and charitable groups, as well social enterprises, parish councils and local authority employees, the legal right to express an interest to run a service. Councils must respond to these challenges and consider the positive impact the proposal could have on the community. Councils can then put the proposals to the test about how the service would work.


Buying local assets – case studies

The Star Inn at Broughton in Salford

The pub was saved by locals who have clubbed together to buy it at auction for £80,000.

Hambledon in Surrey have taken over the running of their local shop, incorporating the post office into the premises, as well as taking the lead in offering local produce.

Theydon Bois in Essex are in the process of reopening their community centre which has been closed for many years.

Community collaboration – success stories

Warminister Civic Trust, Wiltshire. Warminster Civic Trust plan to buy the town’s Old Town Hall. The Grade Two listed building has been empty for five years, since Etherington Solicitors moved out. Now the Trust wants to buy the building.

Hillingdon, London

Townfield community centre was unused for years until a partnership of organisations stepped in to transform the building. The popular centre was forced to close due to access and health and safety issues with residents urging the Council to reopen the building from the day it was closed. The new centre, which has a range of facilities for local people and office and meeting space for hire for local groups and internet café, was formally reopened this year.

Hillingdon Council, Hillingdon Homes, Apollo Housing, Paradigm Housing Group, Hillingdon Community Trust, Age Concern Hillingdon and Townfield Residents Association all stepped in to refurbish the centre and the Council offered Age Concern Hillingdon (ACH) a 25 year reduced rate lease of £900 per annum. Other groups that wish to use the facility on a long-term basis include Sure Start, the Horn of Africa and CSV, which means that different age groups and hard to reach BME communities will all benefit.

Battersea Arts Centre, London

Battersea Arts Centre is part funded by Wandsworth Borough Council who agreed to transfer the asset under a lease for 125 years from the 1st April 2008. The market rate for leasing the building is £150,000 but the council will not charge any rent until 2028.

The partnership with the council continues and they work on a number of initiatives around youth services, education and older people.

BAC encourages participation from community groups in its programme of community and public events ranging from mother and toddler classes, to anti-gun and knife crime events for young people, to tea dances for older people and theatre events. Third sector partners include; Age Concern, the Katherine Low Settlement, Battersea United Charities and SureStart. BAC aims to welcome a diverse audience base and they keep ticket prices low. Some services are targeted towards children and young people from low income backgrounds. For example, the Beatbox Academy attracts diverse young people (particularly NEET, BME young boys) to positive activities in their local arts centre. BAC delivers an artists’ support programme that helps emerging artists on low incomes generate new work in free rehearsal space that has led to BAC being a world leader in the creation of new cutting edge theatre.

Streatham Derby and Joan Club, Lambeth, London

Lambeth Council have renovated Woodlawns, a Victorian villa and derelict outbuilding in a conservation area in Streatham, South London, to create a Communities Hub to create more flexible and fit-for-purpose space for a variety of community meeting and private hire purposes. The Council has agreed to offer Streatham Darby and Joan Club a 99 year lease, at an unspecified peppercorn rent, on the Woodlawns Centre once the work has been completed. The aim is to address the needs of the Borough’s carer and older population in particular, who need a wider range of health, social and recreational activities in a relaxed, comfortable and informal atmosphere. The outbuilding would become a community enterprise venue and the extension element of the project will also provide a reception point for the building. The centre will provide information and advice on benefits, employment, education and training, leisure and transport, as well as a unique venue in the area for private functions such as weddings and corporate events.

Dilston Grove, Bermondsey Arts Group, Southwark, London

Southwark Council offered Dilston Grove, a grade II listed former Church in Southwark Park, to the Bermondsey Artists Group as a space for art installations and exhibitions and following plans to refurbish, repair and remodel the building it has now been transferred to the group on a 25 year lease. Apart from an art exhibition space, it is also used for public performances from community based theatre, dance and music groups such as: Corali (a dance company that deals with people with learning disabilities), inIVA (a specialist arts organisation representing BME artists) and Autograph (an association of black photographers). The group's own art DIY club for local families and visitors to Southwark Park also benefit from the transfer through education and outreach projects.

The Old Crown Pub, Hesket Newmarket, Cumbria

The Old Crown dated from 18th century, is the only pub in the village and an important part of the character and fabric of the community. When the pub in Hesket Newmarket came up for sale in 2002, locals feared that it would be bought up by a major brewery or pub chain. Villagers and supporters had already bought the brewery associated with the pub a few years earlier and 125 customers of the pub decided to club together to buy the pub. The Co-operative was officially registered as a community industrial and provident society in March 2003, and the purchase was completed on 21 August that year. The Old Crown is believed to be Britain’s first co-operatively owned pub.

The members of the co-operative strongly believe that ventures of this nature contribute to the economy and social fabric of Cumbria, securing local employment and fostering pride in the community.

Slaithwaite community Shop – West Yorkshire

Early in 2009, the owner a West Yorkshire town’s greengrocers decided to retire and local people were concerned that if the greengrocers disappeared people would have less reason to come to the town. As a result a group of local residents held a public meeting and gained overwhelming support for a community owned shop. They put together a business plan and formed a co-operative that would enable the community to buy shares in the business. The shop closed on 29th May, and in just a few weeks the community had already £18,000 raised, with 100 people invested in a share, gaining rights sit on the board. The mayor opened the new shop on 10th July. The buyout brought the community together, with members volunteering in advance of the shop opening, helping to refurbish and clean up the premises. Local businesses helped too.

Other co-operative businesses, including the Handmade Bakery, have now moved into the premises. The community greengrocers has not only secured the job and raised the wages of the person managing the greengrocer, but it has also employed three more people to work in the shop.

Hebden Bridge Town Hall, West Yorkshire

The Hebden Bridge Community Association (a charitable organisation) led a concerted community campaign in 2006 to revive the Town Hall. A grade II listed Town Hall building in the centre of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, and formerly at the heart of community life, the building had become underused and poorly maintained. The landmark listed building was transferred from Calderdale Council to the Hebden Bridge Community Association in April 2010 on a 40 year lease. This made Hebden Bridge one of the first communities in Britain to take direct control of its Town Hall. The Council has become the anchor tenant and continues to use the building to deliver services along with the town and parish councils, and the Light Opera society have a rehearsal room there. Apart from this, the building contains creative workspace and conference and meeting rooms overlooking the river.

The Lenton Centre, Nottingham

The Lenton Community in south west Nottingham started life as a washhouse in 1931 and become a swimming training pool in 1966 and evolved into a social enterprise. In 2004, the City Council announced they were to close the leisure centre part of the building. The Lenton Community Association led a campaign to take over the building submitting a 5 year business plan along with a viability study to the Council. The Association formed itself into a trust ‘The Lenton Centre’ (TLC), which took ownership and management of the building, including the swimming pool from the council. The swimming pool reopened in 2008 and as well as providing the swimming pool, the TLC functions as a single centre offering facilities and activities for children and adults such as office and space for social enterprises, meeting rooms, a gym and the local councillor’s surgery.

Where more time helped the case

The Matlock Bath Grand Pavilion

After Derbyshire Dales District Council announced that it wanted to sell The Grand Pavilion in Matlock Bath, an Edwardian 1910 (unlisted) theatre, local residents formed ‘The Matlock Bath Pavilion Group’, and campaigned to keep the building in public hands to be used as a theatre and venue for music and the arts.
Its vision is for the main hall of the Pavilion to be used as a multipurpose arts/entertainment/sports facility which will be available to the local residents and the wider community. The Grand Pavilion is the only venue of this size in Derbyshire Dales. The spaces available would be utilised by different organisations and groups at different times of the day and will also link into seasonal activities.

The Group was formed in January 2010 and then persuaded the Council to give it 6 months to produce a feasibility study to look at ways of securing a sustainable future for the building. During the 6 month period, the Group came up with a £2.6m plan for the renovation and conversion of the theatre to provide a flexible performance space with raked seating which can be converted into a flat-floored hall as required. The feasibility study has been submitted to the Council and a detailed agreement is being drafted. This would see building being leased to a new Charitable Trust, currently being formed, with a view to selling the building at a nominal price once funding is in place for the conversion work. The Group is currently concluding these discussions with the Council’s officers.

Running local services – examples

Hackney Community Transport (HCT) Group, London

HCT Group was established in 1982, when 30 voluntary sector organisations came together to set up a minibus service with minimal funding and reliant on volunteers. Running community transport solely with a local government grant became unsustainable in the early 1990s so the Group sought out commercial
contracts (in open competition) and won their first commercial contract in 1993. They now run nine London red bus routes through individually-won Transport for London contracts; school bus routes in West Yorkshire; SEN school contracts in Waltham Forest; social services transport for older and disabled people – and even the Park and Ride service in Hull.

HCT Group compete against big private-sector operators for contracts which now provide 98% of their revenue. Surpluses generated by their commercial activities are reinvested in transport and training projects in the communities where the profits have been earned. This includes, for example, financially supporting their low cost minibus hire for community groups, by putting on extra transport services for
older and disabled people or by providing training opportunities for people who are long term unemployed to access rewarding careers in the transport industry.

Bulky Bob’s Recycling Service, Liverpool

Bulky Bob’s is a social enterprise that wins contracts with local authorities to collect, reuse and recycle bulky household waste. Since 2000 Bulky Bob’s has contracted with Liverpool City Council and has expanded, winning contracts with 4 other authorities. Not only do Bulky Bob’s offer an efficient collection service, but they prioritise reuse and recycling to create additional environmental and social benefits. Bulky Bob’s reuses and recycles 65% of the furniture and white goods it collects, thereby reducing the impact on the environment and saving councils thousands of pounds in landfill tax.

The commitment to recycling has also helped over 30,000 low-income families gain access to affordable, ‘pre-loved’ furniture since 2000. In addition Bulky Bob’s runs award winning training programmes that enable long term unemployed people to gain the necessary skills and experience for a future career in logistics, recycling, warehousing and distribution, retail and administration. Bulky Bob’s training programmes offer real work experience, a salary, industry-related training and personal development around issues such as confidence building, communication skills, team working etc. Since 2000 an average of 80% of trainees have gone into sustainable employment at the end of the programme.

Holy Cross Centre Trust, London

Holy Cross Centre Trust (HCCT) is a community based charity which places service users at the heart of the design and delivery of a mental health day care service. In October 2007, together with two other locally based organisations, MIND in Camden and Camden Volunteer Centre – HCCT formed a consortium to successfully bid for £2million mental health day care services tender in the London Borough of Camden. The consortium was not the cheapest tender on a unit cost basis, but commissioners’ overall evaluation was that its focus on service-user and community involvement, as well as wider social and economic impacts would create the most positive outcomes and best value for money.

Millmead Children’s Centre, Kent

Millmead Children’s Centre in Kent became a mutual society in 2006 – this means that the centre is officially owned by its members who have joined together to provide a shared service of mutual benefit. Prior to this the centre was led by the local authority. Membership is open to members of the local community and to employees. Becoming a mutual society means Millmead’s core values underpin everything the organisation does, allowing them to empower parents and give them a real say in the running of the centre.

Millmead is run as a social enterprise and provides a Children’s Centre for Kent County Council. It seeks to maximise income through a range of services such as a 50 place childcare setting, a 24 place Out of School and Holiday Club, a Community Café and by generating letting facilities for use by health professionals and others. There are plenty of opportunities for volunteering at Millmead; its community allotment project and café also provide work experience opportunities.

4Children Carousel, Essex

4Children Carousel Children and Family Centre in Braintree, Essex opened in mid 2006 and the first of its kind in Essex to offer a full range of support for children 0–19 and their families. The Centre is run by the national charity 4Children which has been commissioned by Essex County Council. 4Children employs the centre’s core staff and works as a hub with other agencies some of which share the site.

Carousel offers a wide range of community services including a nursery providing full day care, after school clubs, parenting classes and family support. Arts, music, sports and wellbeing programmes for young people are also run. Other services including a Primary Care Trust facility, health visitors, a community paediatrician and speech and language specialists are available at the centre which also has close links with social care teams.

A key aspect of the Centre is the involvement of local families and communities in the Centre. Peer to peer support is at the heart of the Centre with a wide range of community led groups.