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< Ideas Bank, < Economic wellbeing
< Regeneration, < New Start editorial index page

The contrast between the two regeneration teams I met this week couldn’t have been greater.

The first was a community development team, based in a bungalow next to a council building that had seen better days.

The physical peripherality of their base was reflected in the low priority given to their work in the pecking order for funding.

Yet on a meagre budget and with little external support, they had nurtured a project that had given pride and purpose to a cluster of black and minority ethnic groups.

The second team, only 30 miles down the motorway from the first, was a multi-million pound partnership that had already done much to remodel and revive a run-down 1970s housing estate.

We met in a brand new centre at the heart of a community park, created from scratch on a previously derelict site.

The team was rightly proud of a litany of ambitious projects and plans, from the replacement of intimidating deck access blocks with contemporary homes to proposals for a sustainable urban drainage system.

Yet the practitioners behind the under-resourced community development project and the hugely expensive physical programme had a common message: that without long-term thinking and the money to back it up, the achievements of regeneration programmes are fragile.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a predictable plea of ‘don’t axe my job’. But that would miss the point entirely.

For the community development team, the call for continuity was rooted in the recognition that local organisations need to be supported towards sustainability - learning to work together, to appreciate the different requirements of funders and clients, and to develop and implement a vision is a process that takes years, not months.

For the estate redevelopment team, there was a similar frustration about the way funding agencies operate on short-term financial cycles, while the successful remodelling of a neighbourhood can take a decade or more.

Turn your attention elsewhere and there’s a high risk that hard-won trust and commitment will be eroded.

It’s a message that Hazel Blears, as communities secretary, needs to advocate strongly with her colleagues in other departments.

Ms Blears, more than her predecessor, is comfortable listening to ordinary people and understands what makes communities work.

She needs to resist the temptation to make her mark by tinkering at the top and focus on embedding the successes that are already starting to take root.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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