BLOG: Development Trusts – Leading the way on collaboration

In this first P4P blog of 2021, Catherine McWilliam and Karlene Doherty discuss the important role that collaboration plays for Development Trusts in the communities in which they are based, as well as with other third and public sector bodies.

Introduction

Imagine a community and third sector where partnership with the public sector was second nature, and the knowledge and expertise that community anchor organisations like development trusts brought to the table, never questioned. Where grassroot, community-led organisations are trusted to know what their communities need and more importantly, to shape and lead on delivery…

Sounds like a pipe dream, but does it need to be?

Whilst traumatic and life changing in every sense, the events of 2020 have also created some really positive movement with regards to the culture and perception towards community anchor organisations from local authorities and other public sector bodies. Many DTA Scotland (DTAS) members are reporting new partnerships and collaboration opportunities as a result of their community-powered local responses to the pandemic and its impact.

Collaboration during COVID-19

Take for example Getting Better Together (GBT) in Shotts, North Lanarkshire. Since the first lockdown back in March, the community transport arm of their operations worked with NHS Lanarkshire, covering some 18,000 miles of journeys transporting samples and blood tests from Monklands and Wishaw hospitals to test sites in Edinburgh and the surrounding area. This was on top of an outpatient appointment transport service that was a lifeline for local people.

NHS Lanarkshire recognised that GBT is deeply rooted in the community and was therefore able to very quickly create this critical service allowing local people to continue to be supported in the most uncertain of times. More importantly, GBT delivered a safe and reliable service, thus proving their knowledge, expertise and professionalism.

Another important example comes via the Skye based Broadford and Strath Community Company who, since 2003 have successfully brought over £1.8million of investment to the local area through the delivery of locally-led projects from a community owned campsite to an outdoor classroom for local primary school children.

Cut then to coronavirus and resulting lockdown. This strong track record of delivery meant that Broadford and Strath were the go-to organisation when it came to co-ordinating the local response. Working in partnership with HIE, Highland Council and other local Partners, Broadford and Strath has been able to support nearly 5000 individuals so far through a food and meal share initiative.

As the longer-term impacts of Covid continue to develop, The Scottish Government Supporting Communities Fund and Highland Council have been some of the funders to have supported Broadford and Strath to evolve this programme from response to recovery and likely the longer term, developing the growing element of the programme to ensure that local people continue to have access to good quality, fresh and affordable fruit and veg as well as other local produce.

Reflecting upon these important local partnerships as part of their contribution to DTAS’s Annual Conference last year, Broadford & Strath commented that when developing a community organisation, particularly in rural areas it can sometimes be difficult not to be seen to be competing with other statutory bodies. Broadford and Strath has consciously navigated this issue by using good, two-way communication, shared planning and consultation, and of course working collaboratively with a number of Partners including the local authority and community council to deliver community led enterprise. In fact, their achievements have been so well received the trust now has the added pressure of managing how it does not become a victim of its own success and manages local expectation with regards to delivery. 

DTAS’ approach to collaboration

Partnership and collaboration are entrenched in every aspect of DTAS’s and its members’ work

At a local level, our members look to work with others in order to help them address local need. These relationships can take many forms, for instance they can be with public, private or other third sector organisations, and can be project based or for the lifetime of the organisation.

As a member organisation, DTAS collaborates and partners with other third sector organisations, intermediaries and delivery agencies whose work and activity support the community-led development agenda. We have very recently launched two exciting new pilot partnership projects which, if successful could pave the way for contemporary delivery models supporting both women entrepreneurs in rural areas and sustainable community-led transport solutions.

Working alongside Women’s Enterprise Scotland we are supporting rural women entrepreneurs to connect with expert locally based enterprise support to help develop their business ideas and ultimately lead to greater local community resilience.

The community transport project is different again, our newly recruited Community Transport Development Officer will work with at least 5 DTAS members to establish an umbrella community transport model which will support the development of individual, geographically based community owned transport solutions. The beauty of this project is that we are combining DTAS and its members’ community development expertise and experience with the community-led transport knowledge of Como UK, the Community Transport Association, Paths for All and the Energy Savings Trust.

Another very current example of DTAS putting its collaborative principles into practise is our partnership project with the Scottish Land Commission. The project seeks to support community led-regeneration of vacant and derelict land through working with communities to develop their proposals for sites, then assist them in working collaboratively with landowners, funders, local authorities and other stakeholders to make their proposals a reality.

The project aims to demonstrate and learn about methods of delivery for community-led regeneration of vacant and derelict sites. In doing so, the project is taking forward one of the Vacant and Derelict Land Task Force recommendations. The Task Force was established in 2018, members represented over 30 organisations (including DTAS).

On the back of this work, the Scottish Land Commission is now seeking to put the Task Force’s recommendations into action. The DTAS / Scottish Land Commission partnership merges DTAS’ practical experience of supporting it’s established network of community-led organisations with the Scottish Land Commission’s expertise in policy and best practise development for our land.  

Community-led development by nature should have collaboration at its heart. When thinking of a geographical community, a project should be seeking to reflect the ambitions of the community as a whole. From people of all ages and backgrounds to the business community and health services, the most successful projects take into account the opinions and aspirations of those it will both benefit and affect.

The seven community organisations who are involved in the vacant and derelict land project are demonstrating the benefits collaboration can bring. Whilst many of these projects are in the early stages, the proposed public and private partnerships have the potential to create projects which are more robust, can be realised sooner and have a wider sphere of influence through playing to each partners’ strengths.

Vacant and Derelict Land Projects

New Cumnock Development Trust is looking to find a home for future community projects and is embedding community involvement in the process. Recognising local aspirations expressed through previous community consultations, they are starting this search by reviewing the potential of the long-term vacant buildings in their town so that their project addresses both the current need and a legacy issue, maximising the benefit to their community.

Working with focus groups of local residents they are assessing which building will work best and what the new services they are developing will look like. Many of the buildings wouldn’t be financially viable to be developed privately, the community hope that by taking the lead at least one of these long-term vacant buildings will be able to be brought back into productive use.

Collaboration is also at the heart of Carluke Development Trust’s vision to create a vibrant future for a long-term derelict heritage site within their town. Recognising the opportunity that the site will create for a variety of local organisations; all can be involved in shaping what and how it is developed. A proactive partnership has also been formed with the local authority. Like all good partnerships, this one makes the most of the strengths at the table. Resources are being shared and wider funding options are being accessed, meaning that the development is more likely to go ahead and have the long-term capacity to be successful and sustainable.

Burntisland Community Development Trust are taking a different approach. Hoping to collaborate with a landowner to allow temporary use of a derelict site whilst the landowner’s long-term plans come to fruition. Through seeking out this opportunity, the community aims to bring a prominent gap site into productive use, creating an attractive pop-up destination at an underused end of their high street. This opportunity is underpinned and only possible through collaboration. The project may be temporary but it could bring long-term benefits too, through generating footfall the project hopes to make the area feel safer, more inviting and attractive.

Vale of Leven Trust are proving that collaboration comes in all shapes and sizes. Working with Glasgow Caledonian University, a research study has been embedded into their active travel hub project. The research will help them evaluate how effective the hub is in supporting participants and volunteers to become more active, independent and involved in their community. In turn the evaluation will then inform evolution of the hub’s services.

A more commercial example of collaboration can be found in Castle Douglas Development Forum’s project to create a food and drink training facility, homed in a vacant listed building on their high street The Development Forum know there is a need for improved further learning and job opportunities in their area. Their proposed facility seeks to address this as well as developing their status as a food and drink town. A potential partnership with a private developer could also make this project happen sooner. Plans to split the building to deliver two complementary businesses would reduce each partner’s risk and allow the Development Forum to focus on delivering maximum community and local economy benefit through collaborating with a wide array of local suppliers.

Conclusion

The examples from the vacant and derelict land project demonstrate the power of collaboration. Through working together opportunities are created, strengthened, widened and more likely to succeed.

At the moment it is difficult to plan too far ahead, but given the successes that we have witnessed coming out of the past year, we can all identify with the notion that the secret is to gang up on the problem, not each other. From the membership that we support, to the wider sector collaborations that we participate in – like the Scottish Community Alliance, the overarching theory is that together we are better, stronger and more effective.

Moving forward, DTAS’s vision is for a community sector that supports the public, and indeed the private sector, to build back better, creating stronger, even more resilient communities where ALL players come together to help support communities to not just survive, but thrive.

Catherine is a Development and Communications Officer with DTAS and Karlene is the Vacant and Derelict Land Project Manager. To find out more about any of the examples and partnerships above, please email catherine@dtascot.org.uk or karlene@dtascot.org.uk. You can also connect with us on Twitter – @DTAScot, Facebook – DTA Scotland and Linked In – Development Trusts Association Scotland