Radford and Hyson Green in Nottingham are the kind of neighbourhoods you could imagine benefiting from the latest government fund to enable communities to own public assets.
These are places that have seen better times, but are far from being beyond hope. The local economy is bustling with enterprise, but businesses are small and operate on the tightest of margins.
The most positive sign is the upsurge in community activity led by the area’s new deal for communities programme.
So what would the government’s initiative offer an area like Radford and Hyson Green? There’s a £30m fund to enable community-led organisations to own and run under-used buildings, and (here’s the not-so-good news) it will be managed by the Big Lottery Fund, which may mean you’ll need to pretend your project is an Olympic training centre to be sure of the cash.
The Community Assets Fund will dish out grants to local groups to refurbish or convert local authority buildings instead of watching them go to the highest bidder.
So that decaying community centre nobody uses, the former school caretaker’s house or the ornate Victorian lodge by the local cemetery could become the nursery, craft workshop or business incubator you’ve always dreamed of.
To put this in context, look at the work already done in Radford and Hyson Green. The NDC programme is setting up a neighbourhood development company to continue its activities when government funding ends, and to finance its work it’s building up an extensive property portfolio.
By the time NDC funds end, that portfolio should be worth £20m – two thirds of the value of the Community Assets Fund. And it will generate surpluses that should finance an annual programme of between £500,000 and £1m.
The good thing about the Community Assets Fund is that it should lever in extra support in cash and in kind.
But if ministers think their £30m will open the floodgates and provide the income streams needed to support a deluge of community regeneration, they’re not living in the real world.
Property repairs and conversions don’t come cheap. The fund in its current form will be a helpful start, but it won’t create the catalytic change the Development Trusts Association and others have been lobbying for. To begin to do that, we need to move the decimal point a space or two to the right.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine