This programme has been the most experimental part of USE-IT! For three years we have worked both with the communities and large asset owners mapping and co-creating opportunities for both. This allowed us to dive deep and understand neighbourhoods and build resilience. We focused on building capacity in the communities to enable them to take greater ownership of their local assets and shape the local economy. As a result, we have become the bridge between communities and large-scale assets.
As the work evolved we supported and empowered communities and fledgling organisations: to form a consortium of local organisations to develop a community-driven long-term vision for the Edgbaston Reservoir; to establish a cooperative that promotes participation and local trading for the benefit of the community; to invest in under-utilised assets (e.g., we have turned a local church into a co-working space); to develop a plan to maximise opportunities around the Commonwealth Games 2022; we have supported a flagship initiative (Civic Square) to move to the area by negotiating a space for their Neighbourhood Lab with the local housing developer, and connecting the Lab to local communities and networks. These assets already existed within the communities but none of this would have happened without USE-IT!
USE-IT! has demonstrated that urban poverty can be addressed by unlocking local economic prosperity. This is possible by creating links, a bridge, between local macro and micro assets. It requires local, trusted organisations to facilitate relationships between communities and developers or anchor institutions, and also willingness from those institutions to work in partnership. We are certain the model can deliver lasting change and maximise the local economic and social benefits for all, if resources are put into communities to build the bridge between its assets.
Smethwick Changespaces, which USE-IT! supported with funding
We have stressed the ‘bridging’ role of USE-IT! throughout the project, and this has applied to physical locations too, seeing what can be used in innovative ways, and sometimes having to deal with barriers such as delays to the NHS hospital build, and seek out other opportunities. Sally Taylor from Smethwick CAN was involved in University of Birmingham’s work as one of the community researchers, before recognising the space potential at Smethwick’s Holy Trinity church. There, she has set up ChangeSpaces, a co-working space for local social entrepreneurs, charities, small businesses, and self-employed freelancers. Here, Sally talks us through the setup and offer to local people.
Eat Make Play, making the link with Birmingham Settlement
The Eat Make Play story started with USE-IT! making temporary use of an unexploited playing field near Edgbaston Reservoir. The owners, Birmingham Settlement, allowed the project to hold a community picnic event attracting 200+ people in the summer of 2018, as we see in the video here. This brought people together to eventually result in Eat Make Play, an organisation enabling residents to socialise, share resources, reduce waste and learn new skills. Another Eat Make Play event was held in July 2019. The following video documented the event, featuring the numerous people involved and attending.
Developing Birmingham's identity as a social enterprise city
Part of USE-IT!’s work has been about recognising the potential and developing the profile of Birmingham as a social enterprise city. In November 2018 we organised an exhibition and networking event to communicate the contribution that social enterprise makes in local and city communities. The following video documents that event, featuring many of the attendees.