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

Three years ago a friend of mine moved from Swansea to Sheffield to work for the Finnish steel company, Outokumpu. Within a few months his main responsibility was to make people redundant.

Fed up with a soul-destroying job, he moved back to south Wales to work for Corus at Port Talbot. Last week Corus was bought by the Indian steel giant, Tata. What that means for his future, and that of his 3,000 co-workers, nobody yet knows. But he has reason to worry.

At a time when stockbrokers are piling on the pounds and the government is lauding itself about the number of people in work, it may seem churlish to mention the rising number of insolvencies and growing burden of personal debt. But our economy is fragile, and subject to decisions taken with scant regard to their human consequences.

That’s why we need to reinforce our concept of sustainable communities. Egan’s eight-spoked wheel may have set us rolling in the right direction, but it’s more of a description of what a sustainable community should look like than a guide to making it happen.

The government’s plans to transfer public assets to community ownership mark an important advance in policymaking. But assets can very easily become liabilities.

So in thinking about sustainability we must acknowledge vulnerability. The market economy, housing trends, and demographic shifts will all continue to threaten our attempts at community building.

Our efforts, then, must focus not just on the Egan principles but on an additional factor: resilience. The government speaks of resilience in terms of withstanding terrorism or disaster. We need to think of it as the quality that helps communities to overcome the inevitable shocks of economic and social change.

The good news is that huge numbers of people have built up the skills and knowledge needed to help communities become resilient. They are the regeneration practitioners, community workers and social entrepreneurs whose learning, all too often, is forgotten the moment their project ends.

If our communities are to survive and thrive, we must harness that learning and make it available whenever it’s needed. Today’s regenerators shouldn’t aim to become redundant: instead, our goal should be to make their experience available whenever a community faces a new challenge.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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