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Resourcing community involvement in neighbourhood regeneration

This report looks at how community ‘capacity building’ is currently delivered within neighbourhood regeneration programmes, focusing on the key issue of resourcing.

Written by:
Pete Duncan and Sally Thomas
Date published:

The authors look at:

  • What works and what does not;
  • How existing funding might be improved;
  • What additional resources may be needed to fill in the gaps in current provision;
  • Who should provide these additional resources;
  • How resources might best be targeted, including a proposal for a new Neighbourhood Empowerment Fund;
  • How resourcing community involvement can be linked to emerging proposals for Neighbourhood Management and ‘joined up’ action by regeneration agencies.

Based on interviews with a wide range of national organisations and a survey of local agencies involved in regeneration programmes, Neighbourhood regeneration highlights a broad cross-section of views and opinions from those with extensive experience in the field. The researchers conclude that neighbourhood regeneration strategies need to focus much more directly on the less tangible outcomes of regeneration, particularly building up the skills of local communities.


The Government's National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal places great importance on local communities playing a central role in securing a better quality of life for themselves. Sally Thomas and Pete Duncan of Social Regeneration Consultants examined the way community involvement in such neighbourhoods is currently resourced. They highlighted the strategic and financial gaps and put forward specific proposals on how these might be filled:

  • The review of practice suggested that:
    - A range of agencies resource community 'capacity building', but provision is neither comprehensive nor well-co-ordinated.
    - Community development work is not currently a specific priority in many programmes; indeed, there is some indication that the number of community development workers has declined.
    - Many communities have yet to benefit from area-based regeneration programmes, either because they fall outside the statistical indicators of need or have no experience of lobbying for resources.
    - These communities can find getting funding complex, difficult and slow. In particular, there is a lack of small-scale funding, available quickly.
    - Regeneration programmes still do not deploy significant resources on community involvement when preparing bids.
  • The researchers conclude that more effective community development requires:
    - A strategic approach to strengthening the existing network of intermediary agencies involved in neighbourhood regeneration. Regional Development Agencies could play a key role in this.
    - New forms of local management, with a strong emphasis on community development and an enhanced role for community development workers.
    - Significant shifts in institutional cultures, with a core commitment to community involvement reflected in recruitment, training, service delivery, evaluation and sanctioning procedures.
    - Targeted funding for the neighbourhoods identified by the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, with priority given to under-performing regions and communities on the margins. In particular, the researchers propose establishing a 'Neighbourhood Empowerment Fund', to enable local communities to articulate their own priorities for regeneration at the earliest possible stage and to undertake a range of small-scale community initiatives.


The role of local communities in neighbourhood regeneration programmes is now firmly in the spotlight. However, community empowerment or 'capacity building' is a resource-intensive activity. This study set out to highlight the strategic and financial gaps in the way community involvement is currently resourced and suggest how these might be filled.

During the study it became clear that people use the term 'capacity building' differently. The study defined 'community capacity building' as development work which strengthens the ability of community-based organisations and groups to build their structures, systems and skills. This helps them better define and achieve their objectives and take an active and equal role in partnerships with other agencies. It includes aspects of training, consultancy, organisational and personal development, mentoring and peer group support.

Problems with current practice

Management structures
Many agencies, at national, regional and local level, are involved in resourcing community capacity building. However, this 'patchwork quilt' is neither comprehensive nor particularly well-co-ordinated.

  • Nationally, a growing and often confusing array of government initiatives reflects different national policy objectives. Their application through regeneration programmes often takes little account of local variation and involves high costs in time and resources for local organisations and their staff.
  • Regionally, the Government Offices of the Regions (GORs) were expected to deliver a more integrated approach. However, few staff have the expertise and/or capacity to advise and support community-led programmes. The GORs lack sanctioning powers to persuade local authorities to pursue a more community-based approach and without these their monitoring role is limited. The new Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) create another layer of regeneration management, separating the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) from mainstream programmes, and will necessitate further consultation and co-ordination. It is not yet clear how far RDAs will get involved in capacity building as well as economic regeneration.
  • Locally, local authority structures tend to replicate the departmentalism and political imperatives of central government. Because most regeneration programmes are led by local authorities, the relationship between the authority and local communities tends to reflect these institutional structures and approaches. Even where there is a strong commitment to involving the community, there may be little understanding of how to achieve it.

The study found that these unresolved problems cause difficulties for communities:

  • At local level, the array of nationally driven programmes is bewildering.
  • Some communities are suffering consultation and research 'fatigue'. Residents often view consultation as too little, too late and as having little if any visible impact.
  • Timescales dictated by programmes are too short for communities to work to.
  • Roles and responsibilities are rarely clearly established.
  • Councillors, officers and professionals tend to dominate boards and chair meetings.

The New Deal for Communities programme and the Local Government Association's New Commitment to Regeneration are addressing some of these problems, but it will take time for this to spread to other neighbourhood regeneration initiatives.

There are also significant regional variations, with a much greater emphasis on capacity building in some areas than in others. Two-thirds of capacity building initiatives in SRB Round 5 are in London and the North West. Regions with little tradition of community involvement in neighbourhood regeneration still appear to be lagging behind. Many neighbourhoods have yet to benefit from area-based regeneration programmes, either because they fall outside the statistical indicators of need or have communities with no experience of lobbying for resources. Current management structures do not pick up these geographical gaps.

Current methods of evaluating the effectiveness of community involvement and capacity building are also not always appropriate. Some lack rigour and fail to identify poor practice. Communities are not always involved in evaluation procedures.

Financial resources
The most significant resources come through the SRB and New Deal for Communities programmes. Virtually all SRB initiatives are now expected to include provision for capacity building. Local authorities seem to be responding positively; the SRB Round 5 projects are investing at least £50 million in community capacity building, with more than 3,200 initiatives being pursued.

However, previous research suggests that the number of capacity building projects included in bids can be a poor guide to their quality. The study found that, within SRB programmes:

  • No significant resources are yet being deployed for community involvement in bid preparation.
  • More time and resources are needed for capacity building at the start of programmes.
  • Community development work is not currently a priority in many programmes. It is often seen as discretionary and is vulnerable to cuts.
  • Most agencies place more emphasis on resourcing community involvement in the process of regeneration than in its products. More than half the regeneration programmes studied were passing continuing work on to an existing community-based agency or local intermediary, rather than establishing a new community-led body, such as a development trust.

For those communities outside SRB programmes:

  • It is difficult to get small amounts of funding (i.e. under £500) for resident-led consultation or small but essential activities such as hiring a mini-bus. Residents and community development workers often have to spend time and effort fundraising for such activities.
  • Detailed and complex application forms are the norm, and many require the (relatively costly) assistance of a consultant to complete.
  • There can be a considerable delay between application and response.
  • Communities are unaware of many potential sources of funding.

Support for communities
Community development workers are often a community's main link with programmes but they are in increasingly short supply. The research found some evidence that the number of community development workers has declined steadily over the last 10 years, despite the increasing policy emphasis on community involvement. Community development workers are often employed by the agencies leading the programmes, and lack the status, senior management backing or infrastructure support to help push initiatives through.

Communities can also gain much support from a range of intermediary agencies, such as housing associations and development trusts. But the geographical spread and the quality of these agencies vary. Many are financially insecure, some lack

independence and others need development themselves before they are able to contribute effectively. There is no overall strategic approach to the spread, funding or quality of intermediary organisations.

Training is one of the most important elements in capacity building. Much work is being done, but many programmes still do not reflect the fact that residents start at different levels, learn in different ways and want to gain knowledge and skills in different fields. Such differences imply that training programmes should focus on assessing needs and providing a broad range of appropriate training methods. Mentoring, action-based training, placements and group-based training have all been successfully used to complement traditional course-based training.

Lessons for improving practice

Placing communities at the centre of the regeneration process has important implications for deploying future resources. The researchers identified the following key features for improving practice:

Management structures

  • Putting local communities in the driving seat requires an early start, to build up confidence, understanding and capacity well before the investment of major resources. Every community is different and not all will want to take control of their neighbourhoods. It is important to work at the community's own pace.
  • To be effective, community involvement needs support from the highest levels in organisations. Frontline staff need to have access to key decision-makers at both strategic and operational levels.
  • The new emphasis on Neighbourhood Management requires the establishment of multi-disciplinary service delivery teams, answerable to neighbourhood boards. Community development workers could be a key resource within these teams, helping communities identify priorities, developing action plans, establishing consultative procedures and developing and implementing capacity building plans.
  • Regional Development Agencies could play a key role in building an appropriate regional infrastructure of intermediary bodies to support communities.
  • A more diverse approach to evaluating both the quantity and the quality of community involvement is needed. This would draw local communities more closely into the evaluative procedures at various stages, including bid preparation, delivery plan and succession strategy.

Financial structures
The researchers conclude that any additional financial mechanisms for supporting community involvement in neighbourhood regeneration should incorporate the following features:

  • Regional decision-making, with national funding for umbrella organisations.
  • Targeting community groups themselves, especially those excluded from mainstream regeneration funding.
  • Simplifying the applications procedures, for example by using call centres.
  • Flexible funding packages, recognising local diversity.
  • Investment in long-term support, not short-term programmes.
  • Ensuring that additional finance from other public and private sector sources is already available before community organisations apply.
  • Avoiding duplication with existing funding regimes.
  • Prioritising support funding of community-controlled bodies, such as development trusts.
  • Low administration costs.
  • Effective evaluation.

In particular, the researchers propose the establishment of a Neighbourhood Empowerment Fund, to be overseen by the DETR and operated by a consortium of national voluntary and community sector bodies. This would enable local communities to articulate their own priorities for regeneration, as early as possible, and help them develop their skills through a range of small-scale community initiatives. The researchers estimate expenditure of £10 million a year, rising to £20 million a year within 3 years, with funding initially provided through the existing SRB and National Lottery Charities Board programmes. Regionally based intermediaries would be expected to tender to operate regional funds on a franchise basis with criteria designed to ease access for community groups.

Community-based regeneration
The researchers identify the following as helping shift the balance of power from professionals to residents:

  • Written contracts between communities and regeneration agencies, spelling out the relationships, roles and responsibilities involved and subject to regular review.
  • Ensuring that community representatives chair and have the majority of places on Neighbourhood Management boards.
  • Encouraging community-led consultation and community planning, such as door-to-door surveys and community planning events.
  • Paying residents for community development work.
  • Supporting capacity building projects identified by community itself.
  • Training for officers and professionals provided by the community.
  • The development of community consortia and networking, bringing together community groups with common interests.
  • Locating more professionals in communities, giving them everyday experience of problems.
  • Introducing community champions or entrepreneurs, to pump prime the capacity building process and provide leverage for communities.


The National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal will place a heavy emphasis on involving local communities in the planning, implementation and management process. But this won't happen unless it is properly resourced. It needs: support from central government down to individual community development workers; co-ordinated action at national, regional and local level; new, inclusive and holistic forms of local management; significant shifts in institutional cultures; and targeted funding.

About the study

The research was conducted between March and July 1999. It involved an extensive literature review, structured interviews with 22 national organisations and a questionnaire survey of 23 local regeneration agencies directly involved in managing neighbourhood programmes. The DETR's Successful Bids document for SRB Round 5 was used for its analysis of community capacity building activity. The researchers also drew on their extensive experience working directly with local communities on urban regeneration programmes.