HomeAccueil / Hub Talks – In Conversation with Tony Armstrong

Hub Talks – In Conversation with Tony Armstrong

November 21, 2017 • 58 min read

Tony spoke to the history of Locality in the United Kingdom, the different types of services that Locality provides to their communities, and how hubs can be economic anchors for their communities.


Tony Armstrong:
Thanks a lot for that warm welcome. I am delighted to be here finally to experience the Toronto spring I’ve heard so much about and thank you particularly to Diane for giving me an extra cotton scarf to cope with this emergency layers and if you wanna [00:00:30] follow me or tweet at me or argue with me on Twitter as we go through then you can follow me at @antlondon, and I’ll get back to you after this. So, I think I just wanted to start off really by taking a step back and looking at the broader context because the context rule operating in today from a global perspective is quite concerning. We heard, the premier mentioned some of the challenges [00:01:00] that we’ve got, but we’ve got a rise in populism across the globe in many countries including in the UK and certainly just south of here, we have certainly got some of that and there is also parallel rise and very connected rise in what I would say is ignorance, a kind of disdain of experts, disdain of science and knowledge and belief also in reputable news media and then there is also rise in intolerance, which again is linked to that. [00:01:30] So, migrant scene is the problem, minority scene is the problem and the combination of these three is quite dangerous and quite toxic and part of the reason why this is happening I think certainly from UK perspective we’ve been doing collectively a lot of soul searching about why people voted for Brexit for different reasons and clearly there wasn’t a single reason for that but it is partly around people feeling powerless, over things happening in their local area, powerless to stop the kind of the [00:02:00] big economic forces around globalization that means flows of capital and employment rights are changing around them and they have little to do to stop that and to create a new way of doing things and at backlash there are lots of people effacing that kind of looking for easy solutions and a quick way of describing, the quick way of blaming outsiders of the people is one that people are gasping to and I think this is where the point of this conference and the point of community hubs are [00:02:30] so important and not gonna strategically way because the model of the community hub or community anchor as we would call it in England is I believe a really important part challenging that drive and offering an alternative, more positive vision for how we can give people more control over what happens locally, how we can give people the economic levers that happen at a local place based view of the world to be able to be in the driving seat and to [00:03:00] try and determine the kind of economic growth that they want to se. So, I think it is hugely important, I am speaking to a very cold room of convert to this and to believers, but I think it’s really important that we remember there are some of these things that we are saying are so important at the moment, so never more so at the moment. I think it’s particularly encouraging to hear how much support there has been from the provincial government here, it’s really positive to hear the Premier talk so passionately about the model would have track record of being [00:03:30] interested in this for so long because that really does make a difference I think in creating a climate; however, it is not all about the governments at all and lot of you, I’m sure will be joining to give advice and to talk about the right kind of balance between government action and government inaction and I’m gonna talk a little bit about some of the ideas in learning that we have in the UK about what’s worked, what hasn’t work so well and what we think needs to happen as well. So, we call in England the kind of community hub model, community anchor organizations [00:04:00] and I’ll just start off by giving you little bit f background over the type of organizations that we would class as community hubs, if I can use that term [00:04:08] and a little bit about what locality does to support the community hub agenda. So, the evolution of community hubs in England goes back a long time and before the Victorian age certainly we’ve always had community meeting spaces and community gatherings. We always had a tradition of community based action linked to philanthropy, but I’ll kind of start [00:04:30] in terms of the establishment of the university settlements and neighborhood census and in the 1880s, the first one Toynbee Hall in the east end of London started a trend for university, colleges to setup on a very philanthropic base and a kind of physical place where students could go and spend a year doing good works with the poor, very paternalistic approach, but over time many of those were set up, many worked in a most disadvantage places and it spread [00:05:00] throughout the UK and then took off very-very rapidly in Canada or in the US, in lots of European countries too and in the UK that tradition really started to change from being paternalistic to campaigning for social reform, introducing elements of the welfare state, so it became quite important as placed based laboratories I guess for doing good works. So, we have members that have been in existence since the 1880s in our network and have come from that philanthropic [00:05:30] type of background. We have also got members who come from activism and I’ll talk about this a little bit more, but a group of our members came from the 1960s, 1970s in very disadvantaged areas as a result of equalities campaigning. So, lots were led by black or minority ethnic communities to introduce a new focus on the problems that they were facing in their area, they felt that they didn’t get attention or priority and funding from the states. [00:06:00] A lot of members therefore came from that kind of tradition and then in the 80s or early 90s, we had a wave of organization setup, that were really focused about economic development, about using the economic powers, the levers that existed in a place to draw an economic growth certainly, but to do something quite different, which was to retain the wealth that was generated within a local deprived area because in lots and lots of places people work, people pay into things, people pay taxes for services [00:06:30] and lot of that money leaks out to the local neighborhood, so a big focus of those development trusts was to try and use enterprise, was to use assets development, buildings and land to try and generate that kind of local wealth and kind of later initatives that have been around regeneration projects, government programs and then interestingly over the last few years again we’ve seen a bit of renaissance in community activism being a drive of why people want to take part in community hubs and another thing, which may be of interest [00:07: 00] in the context here, which is around also we’re now seeing a really big drive for the public sector to have spinouts, to have work at co-ops, work a mutual, organizations that come out to the public sector and now setup as independent nongovernment agencies creating up community hub, so we’re seeing that in particularly in the UK in terms of larger facilities, in terms of libraries, etc., and I’ll talk a little bit about some of the experience that we have. So, the community anchor model comes from lots of different backgrounds [00:07:30], but most of them have the similarities of four kind of key foundation blocks of why anchor in UK context works. Firstly, they use a strong asset base, so many of our 600 members will own a building, buildings, land and use that asset to sweat and generate income. Secondly, they use enterprise a lot, so many of our organizations are charitable organizations, but they also have social enterprise activities, [00:08:00] sometimes that’s about renting out rooms, renting out venue space and making some money like that and then there was some more kind of out there I suppose examples, there is a jam factory, there is a chocolate factory. The chocolate factories are great, what it an old mining community and the chief executive of that organization setup a chocolate factory because he wanted to make cheap chocolate and sell it bloody idiots down in London. So, it was a great example of how you can get money back in from expensive areas [00:08:30] and there are also different examples like that across the network of how people have used different enterprising approaches and thirdly, the third pillar that underpins lots of the community hubs that we work with, is contracts. So, many of our members take part in public sector, public service delivery and take part in the commissioning process and end up with contract to deliver particular services, it’s a huge growth area has been for our members, but it is fraught with difficulties. [00:09:00] I’m gonna explore couple of those issues too and then fourth kind of foundation block is really the more traditional funding base. So, it’s kind of grant funding from independent foundations and trusts, grant funding from local authorities, local government and then philanthropic giving, which is not so much of a major part of the funding makes for the majority of our members, although it’s significant for some of them. So, it’s about being on the journey of community anchor organization. Our members are 600 across England. We have sister organizations, it covers Scotland, [00:09:30] Wales and Northern Ireland. So, when I talk about the UK, I am kind of very, very and im-politically using it as short hand for [00:09:37] what’s happening here in England because I am in a foreign country, so it’s acceptable. The model is that kind of perfect community anchor organization would be independent of the different funding streams that can be relied upon. So, ideally, the model is to reach the nirvana of not being reliant on government funding, which we all know can come, can go [00:10:00] and is quite difficult and they focus on being independent from the public sector and from the private sector, whilst being interdependent on both of them, so quite often our members will be one of the major employers in a local area, some of our members employee 100s of staff, doing lots of different things and they act as that bridge in terms of local businesses, bringing in external investments into the local area and doing some things that the public sector just can’t do in terms of charitable [00:10:30] outcomes as well. Not all of our members have reached that kind of nirvana, but many of them are on that journey towards it, so I think it is an important thing for us to remember that there are steps on that journey and so what do we do in locality, we do three things essentially. We help our members be as strong as they possibly can through a range of different services. We kind of call what we do the SOAR model, so we help them get started, we help them get organized, we help them to start achieving and let me help them become resilient. [00:11:00] So, range of different services across the board on that. Unfortunately, the growth area in England has been the resilient bit, because lots of our members have faced huge problems in terms of differences in contracting relationships, funding falling off a cliff and also increased demand for services at the same time. So, we have been spending a lot of our time doing that kind of thing. We also run national programs and projects and some of those are focused on supporting our members directly, but actually, a number of them are focused [00:11:30] on creating a better climate in general for communities to feel more in control of what’s happening locally. So, two examples are we run a national program around community organizing and that’s the theme I’ll just return to an example and then we also run a national program to support communities to get involved in neighborhood planning, which is a legislative power that communities have to actually have full control of statutory lunges planning powers at the neighborhood level, which is quite an important precedent [00:12:00] in terms of law to shift powers towards communities in a way from local government, but the thing I’ll focus on is our third kind of key activity, which is about trying to create a positive environment for community hubs to work within and so we know that our members are focused on assets and enterprise and its interesting some of the conversations have already come out of today’s session have been about how communities can use assets, land and buildings [00:12:30] as we are talking about in this context, and to the greatest effects and interestingly the Premier announced there was this kind of 18-month facility to enable communities to get hold of assets and that’s certainly something we’ve got experience on. So, what we know from an English perspective is that may be about 3 years ago or before that it was like trying to get blood out of the stone when trying to get local government and national government to give up assets to like community organizations [00:13:00]. There are legislative powers in England to be able to transfer assets for no market value to community organizations, but getting into do that was very-very-very difficult indeed and what was generally an offer was liabilities rather than assets, you know, by all means, you can say go over this absolutely dilapidated 18th century building that no one has been in for the last 40 years, but if you do take over we expect you to fully refurbish and meets these very-very high bars of health and safety, etc. and etc. [00:13:30] So, it has been a struggle since about three years ago that swing violently to local authorities could not be more happy to get rid of every single bit of property they possibly own, many of them coming up with glossy brochures and prospectus of all the different property they had, but of course the rib was that they wanted market value for this property, which has created an entire distortion of the market, you know, if you want a community center anywhere in England at the moment, it’s a buyer’s market but if you’re community organizations [00:14:00] and obviously it’s very difficult to get the funds and build up the funds. Assets are really important part of the pitch and one of the reasons why we focus so much on assets for our members you know because lots of our members would say you know it’s not just about the building, it’s not about the bricks and mortar, it’s about what we do and who we are so that’s it and of course that’s absolutely right, but if you got an asset as a center of your operations. If you operates out of a multipurpose community center, you’re able to generate income, you got it on your balance sheet [00:14:30], it gives you strength for the community organization to leverage in, either investments of other money and a piece of research we did over the last couple of years suggested that those who owned their assets have weathered the financial storms since 2008 economic crisis much better than those who didn’t have the asset because they were able to reconfigure their services, retreat to a smaller footprint etc. So, it’s really, really important. Also, we know that assets that are owned by communities can help support local services [00:15:00]. There is a great example in Leeds, in Yorkshire, where there was an old Victorian swimming pool, Bramley Baths, you can reach it on our website if anybody wants to have look to it, then the local authority basically said this was a very, very rundown local swimming pool, they hadn’t really had any substantial investment in it from many decades, they couldn’t possibly make it work, it had to be closed. There was a huge local community campaign to keep open. They believe that actually this is a well lived local resource, very true, [00:15:30], they got lots and lots of local people using it all the time in a very-very deprived area, very few with the leisure facilities anywhere nearby. As a result of that national campaign, the local authority decided in the end to give them a long lease on the running of it and within 9 months, they turned to profit in terms of the operation of that swimming pool, had to reopen it, had to reconstruct it, put on lots of different extra facilities, it was open later just because they run in a completely different way to the local authority and it was for local people [00:16:00] by local people. Whole range of other examples like that and you can check that on our website about how communities have done that in response to a threat around an asset as well as the positive. Though, we know as I said before assets come the liabilities and we also know that you can’t just say to a local community organization, we are gonna close this facility next month or in six months, it’s over to you if you want to do anything to it. We have seen that particularly in library sector [00:16:30] where lots of local authorities have decided because of pressures they can no longer run library services. Where it has not worked well is where they’ve just kind of said we are closing the doors over to you, anybody you want, they can have it basically and it tends to then have to fall on a few committed volunteers to try make the whole thing work with limited expertise on how to do stuff with no oversight and professional librarian supports, hugely valuable profession in this and you do end actually with lots of people being completely burnt out after few months and doors closing [00:17:00] anyway. Where it worked well and it has worked extremely well in some cases is where the local authority has started to think about this a long time ahead, build the capacity of the local community and work with them in terms of ongoing supports, ongoing funding, to do a slow transition into the community sector and then we’ve been helping lots of those community libraries by also trying to diversify what they do. So, the most successfully run community libraries are now well used, [00:17:30] they also have community cafes, they have health services coming out of them, they have a whole range of the hubs. Lots of our existing members have now taken on library services and host them as part of their wraparound services. So, they are able to have library service where there was youth provision, children and family provision, etc. So, it is much more integrated, exactly that kind of community hub model, we’ve all been talking about. It’s a difficulty area for us as an organization because we don’t want to be there saying it’s fine for the public sector to stop delivering all of these services and to cuts [00:18:00] actually but we’re pragmatic in terms of well if it is gonna be cut then we need to help people to do that transition. So, we kind of have a little bit of a tightrope and often gets angry letters from librarians. So, if there are any librarians here who want to shout to me I’m well used to it, so… and give the librarian correct message over there. So, the key lessons around the assets are kind of agenda, I think it does need to be a genuine partnership, support and funding do need to be available, [00:18:30] it can’t just happen without a transitional supports and without building as well capacity and capability and we’ve also had legislation that has been supportive, so we have the Localism Act 2011, one of the things update was create a community right to bid for assets that deemed to be of community value. So, introduce the process for communities to be able to register a community value, so you can go through a process and get certificate and say this building, this asset is an asset of community value. If it has been on the register [00:19:00], communities are given first refusals to be able to put together a bid to purchase that building if it has ever come up for sale. They have six months to be able to do that. So, that’s being quite an interesting experience for us. It’s meant there are 4000 buildings that are now being registered as community asset. People proudly display in pubs and community centers around the country, this certificate, which says they have an asset of community value, but it means absolutely nothing until the point that the private developer wants to sell the building [00:19:30] and at that point, the community organization has six months to raise all the funds at market value to be able to sell it, hardly any have gone through that process because six months is just not long enough to be able to put funding together, particularly in the most disadvantage areas because if you think about if you are for example going for independent foundation funding to get hold of an assets, trustee meetings if they are every quarter, you might have just missed one of the meetings that anybody got one funding cycle, so it’s just a completely unrealistic timeframe, which means in practice it’s hardly [00:20:00] ever being used. So, the 18-month facility I would like to know more about how that’s gonna work because we have been pushing for timeframe similar to that in a UK context. Two other things, I just want to talk to you about our experience and the second one is around our experience of community hubs being involved with and working with public service delivery. So, well our all members over the last 15 to 20 years have moved away from reliance on state grant funding, core funding, project funding for foundations to delivering public services on contract. [00:20:30] So, taking part in competitive tendering processes, it’s been really of benefit to lots of our members who have been doing things in a way and it’s kind of very small scale often to be able to beef up what they’ve been doing to enable them to use their skills and assets to stitch together, lots of public sector contracts. But what we are seeing now and have been over the past few years a trend towards more and more outsourcing of government and [00:21:00] public services at national and local level and we are then seeing more and more scale and standardization being applied to those contracts. So, may be 10 years ago, you used to have small place based neighborhood or village based contracts being led for substance misuse services for example of family support services, you are now seeing quite large local government areas give contracts to mega outsourcing companies for 30, 40, 50 million pounds a year to cover a huge range of different services. [00:21:30] The absolute impacts of that aside from whether you get any quality is that no local providers, very few local providers in most areas are able to be even bid for any of those contracts because you need to have a balance sheet, you need to have a cash flow that commensurate with that value. So, what’s happened over the last few years, is that we have seen great services being grown on local level suddenly being stopped that local providers no longer being able to bid for things and then they have to either face the difficult situation of being a subcontractor [00:22:00] to one of the proliferation of large outsourcing specialist companies that don’t care what’s happening, they just want to run services or they don’t take part in that and they see some new rival organization or team setup down the road, steal all of their IP and steal their staff essentially and it’s been a huge problem for lots of our members and it’s a really important trend I think, we are quite ahead of the game I think in UK at this kind of privatization outsourcing agenda and is warning, I think to all [00:22:30] about the way it can go if we are not careful. So we produced some handy tools of how to try to stop this, which is quite common sense and ranging from if you are commissioning services, talk to people who are already delivering those services and co-design it because local people know best and often local solutions are better as one of our member trusties says, which I always quote “we know people’s names, we know people’s families in this area, so we don’t see people as one side of [00:23:00] a particular problem.” You know, we don’t see people as a substance mis-user, we don’t see people as a mental health problem, we see them as a person who needs help and so you can stitch together better services in that kind of local human edge. We also know that there are simple things you can do. So, if 30 million pound a year contracts are stopping your local providers to be able to bid, stop doing it and have smaller contracts that would be really sensible thing to do [00:23:30] and then also we have this very interesting piece of legislation in the UK, the Social Value Act, which actually gives local governments the power to be able to set social value conditions in the tendering in the procurement process. So, for example you can say we want our proposals to bid to these contracts to be able to show how many local jobs they can create, how many training opportunities for local people, how many apprenticeships and things and we are seeing now that’s starting to be used in quite proactive way [00:24:00] in order to keep jobs local. One of the arguments in this I think, which is always the winner when we talk to local elected politicians, we say to them basically if you agree to put this tender process in the way that your officials are telling you, you are driving local jobs somewhere else as a guarantee, would you really want to do that and that kind of focuses people’s mind, but I think it’s really important in this agenda, if we are starting to see kind of more market approach around community hubs [00:24:30] people bidding to run services then we have to make sure that we are not putting it unintended consequences of that process, which we have already seen. And then the final thing I just want to going to kind of touch on is around local decision making. So, I mentioned previously that we have the Localism Act 2011, which is kind of seen internationally as quite an interesting example of how powers have been shifted. So, essentially a setup community rights, I’ve already mentioned the community right to bid which gives a six months opportunity [00:25:00] to buy assets. I’ve already mentioned neighborhood planning, which transferred powers down to communities over lunges planning and then there is a third power, which also introduced, which is the community wise a challenge, which enabled communities to actually challenge local government to say that they wanted the service run in different way, wanted to trigger a review. I think our general impression of those powers has been they have been interesting, changing in terms of debates, they have been interesting in assessing expectations [00:25:30] but actually they haven’t delivered on everything that they wanted to do with the exception of neighborhood planning, which I think has really, really transformed the way people see planning, it has taken a long time, but now we have thousands of individual communities in the process although having already adopted a neighborhood plan, which gives you direct control of the lunges in the local area, which is just kind of starting point. For the legislation, I think is wouldn’t ready interestingly its set expectations and in a completely different way. [00:26:00] So, although the communities using the right to challenge has not led to one service, being re-commissioned in a different way, that community taking over, what it has done is leads to hundreds of different conversations, hundreds of local campaigns with communities now starting to talk about how services need to work differently and then conversations happening as a result of that. So, it has been really, really important, but it hasn’t done quite what it said on their tin often the way with legislation. So, I think our lesson here is that don’t rely just too much [00:26:30] on legislation, but it can be an important part of the tool. We are trying to start a huge new debate in UK about how powers transferred since the Brexit referendum as I said there has been huge conversation about how people can feel more control over what’s happening in their local lives and we’ve just established an independent commission on the future of localism. So, look at how those community rights can be enhanced and strengthened, how local democracy can focus more [00:27:00] at the neighborhood and the village and tiers rather than just being focused on local authority boundaries. I’m sure it’s the same here but you know we have huge fights between different tiers of governments about who is responsible for what and local communities generated the ones that fall through the cracks while (00:27:16) people are arguing about stuff. So, we want to try and create really good platform of new recommendations about how people can feel more in control of their life because whatever anybody thinks in the UK about their votes on the Brexit referendum [00:27:30] one thing is definite, which is people who feel if they don’t have control aren’t certainly gonna wake up and say feeling as if I have control as a result of the leaving the European union, so it got to do something else to think of. So, just a few kinds of key thoughts to end with before questions, I think some of the keyways to help community hubs and kind of work they can play role or not, I think definitively support community hubs around the ownership of assets. It gives organization strength, it gives organization independence [00:28:00] and makes them most sustainable in the future and we want to make sure that there is more support for fair commissioning if people are taking part in public service and provision they need to have a fair level playing field for being able to compete with private companies rather delivery of public services. The role of government I think is interesting one because we think that we’ve heard a few statements during the sessions today about this phrase of government getting out of the way and I think in some cases [00:28:30] the government should get out of the way to enable things to happen, I personally find that phrase that little bit difficult because it can lead to an excuse of government inaction and I think that if government is getting out of the way then it should be very consciously saying why and in what way it is getting out of the way rather than just not doing things, which I think we’ve seen that being used an excuse a lot in England and I think just be very cautious about why government is always enacting, there are both choices and they should be explained [00:29:00] very carefully, but I think governments national and local and provincial regional level can play really important part obviously in terms of regulation, in taxation, in legislation that make it easier for community hubs to operate and to thrive, but actually also being realistic about where governments can’t make things happen. So, in the UK, government has tried some wave a magic wand, throw billions of pounds at problem to create community hubs, [00:29:30] so similar kinds of organization like that over the past 20, 30 years. It generally hasn’t worked because politicians and official can’t generally sit and say, I’d like a hub in these six areas and here is some money to make that happen. In our experience, it’s tends to be a bottom up process, it tends to be a very heavy burden in terms of sweat equity, if you know that phrase, around people shared bloody minded determination to make it happen and [00:30:00] and that tends to be unfortunately in terms of replicating this model, it tends to be a few committed individuals in the place that had enough or that see an opportunity or they have got the kind of fire into them because of a threat or an external stimulus to local area and what the challenge is to finding the levels of support through community organizing, through community development approaches, to make those champions feel supported, don’t burn out and got all of the things that they need to do to create community hubs to spread out to the local community [00:30:30] than to share the burden, but it’s just as much effort as a starting a business to do that kind of thing in our experience and you need to give support of that end as well. I think the other thing is about culture on behavioral change, we need to make sure that everybody realizes government does not have monopoly on the solutions actually. I think there is a very some good warm signs of this being fully realized here, but it’s also about communities feeling as if they are not waiting for governments of whatever level [00:31:00] to come and find a solution. I think that’s a challenge for communities for individuals if the community hubs and organizations that we can do things if we want and we don’t always need permission. So, one of my favorite phrases you know, it is always better to ask for forgiveness than is for permission and we need to make sure that communities feel that many times. So, in conclusion, I think now although the world is very challenging and I’ve got anonymous person on my shoulders to kind of going by time and actually I feel optimistic and I think you have to feel optimistic [00:31:30] because what’s the point if you not feel optimistic, but I think there is so many good models certainly in the UK and England and around the world we are part of an international federation of settlement in neighborhood houses, I urge you to have a look at that because there are members all over the world doing great stuff. We have a model, which account some of that very, very negative stuff around populism, authoritarianism and ignorance, which I think is very suppositive and it’s really great to be here, physically great to be in Canada so I think we all look at to Canada at the moment as being you may not think that everything is brilliant [00:32:00] here but we all think it’s more brilliant here than it is in our areas. Thank you very much.

So, we do have about every 10 minutes for questions and we have roving microphones around the room I believe, do we? So people have their hands up, do we have the roving mikes, they are at the back. [00:32:30] Okay, so there is one here, there we go.

Thank you very much. The UK has been a really important model for us in dealing with surplus fake properties, so I was delighted to see you on the agenda. My question for you is how do community hubs serve residence in dealing with extreme weather events like flooding.

Tony Armstrong:
[00:33:00] I think this is an extreme weather event by Canadians. Actually, it’s really important because there is an example we had some flooding last Christmas and New Year just over a year ago and lots of our members in the areas that were badly affected, suddenly became the most important facility in that local area. So, an example is Hebden Bridge Town Hall, which was an old municipal headquarters, which was transferred to the community few years ago multipurpose with all different kinds of services from there. [00:33:30] it was the only accessible place in that community during the floods. The police, the fire service and the local offices could not get into the area and so it became an emergency shelter, it became the logistical center of all the local services that had to happen and I think ever since that the whole community have realized the power of that local hub. It just become, because it was independent, because it was for the community, because it was flexible, they were the kind of really, very strong principles I think gave immediate trust and ability. [00:34:00] They thought nothing of opening all the doors and letting people sleep wherever they could. Yeah, it’s I think is very important.

My question is about balance. So, you talked about localism and community rights and the work that you are doing and so I am wondering what you think about the balance between what feels like a kind of movement to you know sort of voluntary sector should take care of everything or the balance even between local rights and the importance of [00:34:30] some kind of overall sense of a public oversight in terms of equity, so that we aren’t just relying on whatever communities really got itself together to make sure it’s there and how do you keep those two things in balance, why and what, they are sort of government responsibility for overall equity and the desire for the local kind of rights.

Tony Armstrong:
I think that’s the big questions, it’s finding a sweet spot, I mean you may have heard from an English perspective, the big society [00:35:00] and agenda for years ago, if you took it a face value and if it wasn’t done as an electioneering campaign stunt then you know actually there is something in there, it’s about trying to re-imagine the role the different players have in the delivery of services and how to engage and regenerate neighborhoods, government needs to play a role, community just needs to play role and public agencies need to and where it went completely wrong was it was a cover for a massive austerity program and cuts, so it is kind undermine [00:35:30] that actually what was quite a good message hidden there because people just saw it [00:35:34] – local council stopping doing all local services. I mean it shouldn’t underestimate the amounts of public sector cuts here have been in the UK.

For example, youth services are not a strategy part of local government and now in the majority of local government areas, there are no youth services that are funded by local governments. So, only the ones are provided by and funding from outside government have been able to continue. [00:36:00] So, in that kind of context is very difficult to be able to come up with a very proactive warm transitional fully supportive program where communities are able to do things and that’s where organizations like locality have come into their own really in the last couple of years because we help community organizations to build that capacity and capability. I think the model that we have in UK is that the government has not done enough, absolutely has not done enough and where it should have played more the role is providing transitional funding, transitional support [00:36:30] and making it very, very clear that there was a public gain towards more community control over what happens locally rather than it’s just being seen as public sector cuts.

Tony, I want if you can comment on municipal approvals. So, there is a lot of good will where people wanna establish hubs and then they get to the municipal process and then there is the bylaws, all approvals, the fire service, all the pieces that can slowdown or just completely stop the hub in its track, so I wonder if you have any advise [00:37:00] in maneuvering that issue.

Tony Armstrong:
I mean the thought that came into my head straight away was just do it despites. I think lot of people often ask me what unites 00:37:11 locality members because they are quite different in rural or urban setting, some are large, some are small and the one things that always I think of is they are all got this bloody minded determination, not matter what happens, just to do stuff and so they’re kind of quite wheel a deal and I think if you are a community hub, you have to be [00:37:30] quite a resilient and if you are kind of leading an organization, if you are trustee of an organization, if you are senior manager one, you need to be able to deal with things, you need to be able to cope with you know wakening up at 3 o’clock in the morning with the sweats about how you’re gonna keep things funded and so it’s about trying doing things despite what happens. I think in terms of structural things that can help is trying to gain as much independence as possible from the public sector. So, whether that is owning your own assets, whether is having [00:38:00] fairly substantial even if they are in the minority funding streams that come from your own earned income, it gives you that resilience to able to say actually we don’t need this local government contract. So, we don’t need to keep this particular local agency happy because we can survive actually if we were not, and quite a lot of our members will find that once you got that position of strength then they can negotiate with people in the public sector but in a different kind of partnership and in a kind of relationship. [00:38:30] I don’t know that’s an easy thing to say and it’s difficult to get there, but I think that driving that, that’s why we focus so much on assets and enterprise as a really important way of establishing a fully functioning community asset because until you manage to get at least some of your income as independently generated, then you always to some extent going to be a part of the public sector and have to trim to adapt to the kind of political and to be official kind of fashions that are happening at the moment. [00:39:00]

Hi, Tony welcome to Canada. My name is Jacqueline and I am one of the funding members of the Toronto Black Farmers Collective. We are a group of food enthusiast who came together because we didn’t have a lot of organic food in our local neighborhoods, particularly in certain areas in [00:39:30] Toronto, they call neighborhood improvement areas of Toronto, we don’t have a lot of lovely services. So, we decided that food was very important to us and in the process we came together as a collective, so we are very eclectic mix of people. My question to you is that as we are grassroots, we were trusted by a bigger organization who’ve been around for some 30 years now and so they got all the resources to do all the things you’re talking about [00:40:00] taking care of smaller organization ensuring that all the checks and balances are in place and so when we noticed this wasn’t happening and we started asking questions, we were oppressed, we were silenced, we were abused and we didn’t get any of that money to say the lease, to do the work that we are supposed to do to build our hub. So, what advice would you give us to address [00:40:30] such a situation here in Canada, because it’s widespread, it’s not only us?

Tony Armstrong:
What is the challenge, I mean I think part of the concept is creating this independent community hubs is many ways by disrupting the kind of status quo (00:40:47) I think you always gonna get challenged. I mean one of the things when we run the community organizing program, the community organizing principle is about challenging power who holds power, how to challenge it and how you need to do things differently and so that leads to [00:41:00] some quite difficult conversations to the program about how organizations may be operating in their own interest as an organization rather than for their beneficiaries and for their values and for their mission. I think you see some of those arguments are happening in the charity sector all over the world. I don’t know the individual circumstances of what’s happened in your local area, but I think again it’s about that trying to if you can to create that we don’t really care what government may be doing, we want to create our own [00:41:30] environments for success and if there is lots of government funding around, I mean, one of that you know doesn’t feel like an advantage, but one of the advantages there not being much government funding around in the UK is that people have stopped worrying about whether government may or may not fund them because they are not going to, so they have to find out different ways of doing it. So, I think it’s still about that kind of… if you determine to do your own thing, if you are determined what you are doing is gonna help your local community, then you need to be able to put that case and make it and not worry so much about whether government [00:42:00] is gonna be favor or not. I suspect with the kind of really interested government here, government strategies, some funding coming out that is in some ways gonna focus everybody’s attention on what government is doing and what government is going to say. I would just advice that it is really great if government is gonna provide that supportive environment, but don’t forget the government is only one player in this whole agenda.

We will have one more question here.

Hi. I represent the private sector [00:42:30] in the sense that we are very interested our company in facilitating the growth of community hubs especially in suburban and in towns, how is that we could support this very interesting time from providing space, it’s not just affordable because that’s obviously one of the issues that’s important here but also security of tenure you mentioned how owning the facilities would be a major innovation [00:43:00] if you can call it that, but absent that having a long tenure would support the same goal I imagine having longer term leases so you know, England is a leader in all sorts of public private partnerships, so in your experience, have you seen the private sector engage either with the public sector in a way that provides that security of tenure you know beyond 10-year lease terms for example or other ways that the private sector [00:43:30] has been able to, the developers have been able to support the growth of these types of hubs.

Tony Armstrong:
I think the examples, we have are primarily around the public sector in terms of asset transfer or asset process, so the public sector transferring all selling assets to community hubs that’s where we have most of the experience. I think shortly this became a big problem and lots of local authorities may well have an empty building that they see that they are being value of it, [00:44:00] being used by a local community and so they may give a year, a rolling year kind of lease rather than a 25-year lease or even a freehold transfer, there is some advantage to that and the communities kind of get themselves together do activities in the short term, but the real power you get and the real economic impacts you got is by holding a long lease, so by holding a freehold because then you are able to use that to leverage in [00:44:24] the funding, to refurbish a building or whatever and [00:44:30] we were trying to encourage actually this meanwhile use concepts where you can actually popup services, popup community events in disused buildings to show what can be done to show local mean, it seems where the private sector links in with all members, this mainly around community hubs working with local businesses around training and developments making sure there is a strong input in local businesses in the priorities of what community hub might focus on and then actually quite lot of community hubs [00:45:00] are landlords and the other way around [0:45:01] to the private sector. So actually, a host to facilitate and rent to local businesses. There is more about that relationship really. I think some of our larger members who employ hundreds of staff have actually quite a strong link to local businesses in the local areas. So one of our members, Goodwin Trust, in Hull, in the north of England; they actually have a training program for some of the local manufacturers on the outskirts of their local area and they feed in actually [00:45:30] local people, they give them training, they give them confidence, they give them lessons on how to present yourself in interview and all of that kind of stuff and have a really good relationship with the local factories who tended to not be employing any local people, they tended to be employing people from further away. So, they put direct economic impact on the lives of local people there.

Thank you very much. [00:46:00] My name is Laura Smagin and I am a member of a Premier’s Advisory Group. I just wanna take a moment to on behalf of everyone here, thank Tony for coming all the way across the pond to our balmy warm Canadian Spring. A lot of the work that Tony has been involved with has been not only a valuable resource to us as we look at community hubs in this province but also an inspiration so we were delighted that you are able to join us today and thank you very much. [00:46:30].

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