Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Groundwork (GRI 12)


  1.  Groundwork is a federation of 48 locally owned Groundwork Trusts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, between them working with over 100 local authorities to deliver "joined-up" solutions to the challenges faced by our most deprived communities.

  1.1  Groundwork has twenty-one years' experience of engaging and involving communities in practical projects to improve quality of life and promote sustainable development. Last year Groundwork supported 4,500 projects encouraging volunteers of all ages to give up 300,000 days of their time, provided 43,000 weeks worth of training and created 1,300 jobs.


  2.  Groundwork began as a Government-backed experiment initiated by the Countryside Commission in the late 1970s. The aim of the "Urban Fringe Experiment" (UFEX80) was to find new ways of improving the environment on the edge of industrial towns and cities.

  2.1  The first Groundwork Trust was set up in 1981 in St Helens and Knowsley on Merseyside and quickly produced two guiding principles: get local people involved and work in partnership, running practical projects in conjunction with the local councils, local businesses and other voluntary bodies. Within two years there were five more Trusts in the North West and Groundwork soon spread to other parts of the UK. This rapid growth led to the establishment in 1985 of the Groundwork Foundation (now Groundwork UK), to co-ordinate the expanding network. Responsibility for Groundwork passed from the Countryside Commission to the then Department of Environment. It now lies with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

  2.2  As Trusts grew in number and scale, so the range of work diversified. Groundwork became increasingly successful at delivering not just environmental improvements but also social and economic benefits and began working with small businesses, young people and the long-term unemployed. By the time of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, there were 30 Trusts engaging in " local sustainable development" and no longer just on the urban fringe.

  2.3  Twenty-one years on from those experimental beginnings, much has changed, but the guiding principles of community involvement and partnership remain as strong as ever and have been adopted as mainstream practice in many Government regeneration initiatives. There are now nearly 50 Trusts in the UK, working together as a federation, and the Groundwork approach has also been adopted in other countries.

  2.4   Groundwork is a local delivery agent for Government policy and currently receives £7.7 million p.a. grant in aid from ODPM, which is used to lever in around £76 million of extra investment—nearly ten times the core grant. One of the reasons for Groundwork's enduring success is a unique structure—it is effective because each Trust is locally owned and managed—and yet this network of local entities has strategic connections with Government which serves to connect top-down policy with bottom-up needs and aspirations. Groundwork believes that there is clearly potential for capitalising on this model and develop its own role in delivering the Government's agenda.


  3.  Groundwork has always capitalised on the value of practical environmental action as a means to deliver a wide range of social and economic benefits in disadvantaged communities. A recent study conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which focused on Groundwork's role in neighbourhood renewal concluded that: "The environment is a powerful tool with which to commence activities in deprived and neglected communities: it is relatively uncontentious, an issue on which everyone has a view, an area which offers relatively quick and visible wins, and can contribute massively to the restoration of community confidence".

  3.1  However, environmental concerns were largely absent from the Government's neighbourhood renewal strategy. The Government is beginning to redress this balance through its work on public space. However, Groundwork believes there is huge scope for promoting local community-led environmental action as the route to delivering key anti-poverty targets, for example public health, employment, education, fear of crime etc.

  3.2  What's more, the local environment is the forum within which joined-up thinking can become joined-up action. The connections between the environment and poverty have been recognized at a global level, but a commitment to environmental justice must begin at home. This requires a stated commitment from the Prime Minister and, as the key funding department, the Treasury, to environmental justice, in order to ensure the environment is central to the Government's anti-poverty strategies at home as well as abroad.


  4.  Groundwork works with a clear area focus, establishing a long-term presence in deprived neighbourhoods. Much of its activity is focused on building links between different area-based initiatives and supporting community groups in the process of securing funds, building partnerships and reporting outcomes. Government and other public sector funders such as lottery distributors are rightly concerned about ensuring regeneration funding reaches grass roots groups by the shortest possible route. However, it is important not to overlook the importance of intermediary organisations, which have a successful track record in helping communities and other local agencies benefit from the wide range of initiatives and funds available.

  4.1  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation study noted Groundwork's capacity to act as a "neutral intermediary" and suggested that it "may have a valuable role to play in helping broker the difficult partnership issues that will be faced in many areas as LSPs are established."

  4.2  One of the Government's main aims is to give local authorities more freedom to respond to local needs and priorities through deregulation and greater independence in relation to local taxation and investment. Another is the rationalisation of area-based initiatives and funding streams. Groundwork feels that there may potentially be implications for non-mainstream activity that currently meets the needs of local people and builds community capacity as a result of funding being directed principally through local authorities rather than area based programmes. An example of this is the winding-down of the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB).

  4.3  Groundwork has a proven track record of working with local communities and accessing funds to support local projects that produce multiple benefits for local communities. We feel that the Government should be aware of the possible effects on this type of activity from these proposals in terms of reduced choice and flexibility of community response.


  5.  Groundwork operates as a catalyst, developing local capacity within the community rather than creating a dependence on the Trust. This includes involving local people in all stages of project development, planning early on to transfer responsibility for projects to local organisations, building and developing local organisations as part of a succession strategy and helping to identify funding streams to enable projects to continue in the long term.

  5.1  For example, Groundwork Black Country's role on the Wren's Nest Estate in Dudley, involved working with the Wren's Nest Tenants' Association and the then Countryside Commission to convert a derelict site into a small park, the Jack Turner Memorial Millennium Green. This was mainly funded by the Millennium Commission, with support from English Partnerships. To be eligible for Millennium Commission funding, an independent charitable Trust had to be established. Groundwork dealt with the necessary procedures and requirements, and the Green, once completed, was handed over to the local Trust. A resident and Trust committee member agreed to take on day-to-day supervision of the Green and the improvement of a prominent site and the involvement of local residents helped to boost community confidence and capacity.

  5.2  The JRF study of Groundwork emphasised this role as a catalyst, as an agency that develops local capacity rather than cultivating a dependency culture. Groundwork Medway Swale has adopted a formal "exit strategy" procedure to shape its dealings with community groups. This includes a discussion within the community group of its aims, objectives and mission statement, the meeting structure, a work programme, to include detailed 12 month proposals, a five-year plan and information on Groundwork's future commitment; fundraising, training, contacts, monitoring and evaluation. Groundwork believes that it is crucial for all regeneration projects to include an exit strategy that takes into account the ability of the local community to ensure that initiatives are both sustainable and manageable.

  5.3  In another example, Groundwork Dearne Valley has developed a stewardship model to help ensure the longer-term maintenance of environmental improvements in ex-coal mining villages like Bolton-on-Dearne. Maintenance plans are initially developed through community based steering groups. These may involve key holder arrangements whereby groups of local residents agree to open and lock improved facilities. Planning and maintenance are usually carried out by a village caretaker with a remit to maintain physical improvements under supervision from the Stewardship group. Village caretakers are likely to have undertaken previous Groundwork organised Intermediate Labour Market training and are also provided with more general supervisory assistance from the Trust. Support has been secured through the Single Regeneration Budget and other resources. Critically, Stewardship groups seek to develop legal agreements with the local authority concerned. Barnsley has proved especially interested in developing such agreements, which cover obligations by both parties, liability insurance, funding, review, etc. The advantages are that the commitments of different parties are made explicit, added value is provided by local volunteers, local ownership is encouraged, competition between different providers is reduced, and there is a longer-term integration of environmental, social and economic goals. These agreements have a role in encouraging and guiding the longer-term sustainability of community based regeneration.

  5.4  Providing training and support to enable residents to stay involved in voluntary activity has always been a central element of Groundwork's approach to sustainable regeneration. Groundwork's Changing Places millennium programme, for example, involved establishing a network of Friends Groups to oversee the regeneration of 21 areas of post industrial dereliction. Groundwork was able to organise learning and networking activities for these groups, many of whom are now playing an active role in the management of the new facilities on their doorstep.

  5.5  A common characteristic of local community regeneration projects is that voluntary groups came together around a specific issue, but then dissipate once the immediate issue has been resolved. The Groundwork Millennium Awards were established to tackle this by providing training for volunteers to continue working together and move from project to project. The Groundwork Millennium Awards programme was supported by a grant of over £1 million of National Lottery funding from the Millennium Commission. The scheme aimed to make sure individuals and groups have the skills and abilities they need to continue to make a difference to the quality of life in their community. To date 411 volunteers have participated in the GMA programme and in addition, approximately 130 staff have been trained to support and train volunteers.

  5.6  Anybody over the age of 16 with ideas about how to improve their local environment were eligible to apply for an award, which entitled them to a six-month package of training and support. The type of training on offer ranges from picking up practical skills to learning how to use computers, raise money for projects or organise a voluntary group. Additional support was also available for those people who need help with basic skills such as reading and writing. Each award recipient was allocated a mentor whose job it was to encourage and support them as they undergo their training and put what they have learned into practice in their community.


  6.  It is now widely accepted that attempts to improve deprived areas should not be judged just on whether houses are better kept, streets are cleaner, the number of trees planted or the number of people involved, but on how people living in these areas feel and act. Most regeneration organisations and funders are now beginning to understand the need to move away from measuring purely outputs to considering how peoples' lives have been affected—the outcomes from regeneration initiatives. One of the most important of these outcomes is social capital.

  6.1  Social capital rarely gets counted in evaluation and certainly not in any systematic way. While priorities often appear physical, behind these lie much more human concerns, such as trust, confidence and friendship. A Harvard University study demonstrated that violent crimes were 40 per cent lower in neighbourhoods where residents willingly mingled and worked together, compared to areas where no such interaction took place.

  6.2  The desire for evaluation of the social capital resulting from neighbourhood renewal projects was the starting point for collaboration between Groundwork, Barclays and New Economics Foundation (NEF). In 1998, work began to evaluate Barclays SiteSavers, a national programme launched in 1996 which helps communities reclaim lost ground by turning derelict areas into dynamic and useful places for play, education, relaxation and fun. The aim of the evaluation, called Prove It!, was to go beyond measuring visible differences like the number of trees planted and to capture invisible impacts. The evaluation was particularly interested in capturing changes that have a lasting impact on communities—such as confidence and trust.

  6.3  The Prove It! approach makes invisible aspects of renewal visible. It has three basic characteristics:

    —  It involves local people in evaluation to contribute to project aims

    —  It captures the impacts of projects on people and their sense of community

    —  It contains a tested menu of indicators to guide the measurement process.

At the heart of Prove It! is a participative process of measurement which highlights and rebalances relationships between local people and institutions, drawing in local expertise to area-based initiatives.

  6.4  The Prove It! model is currently being developed, to develop a replicable framework that will enable effective measurement of value added whilst building local capacity. Prove It! will be adapted to capture impacts for programmes, communities and institutions as a whole—building social, environmental and economic capital. This adapted model for programme evaluation, called Prove It Plus!, will be carried out in six pilots across the UK.


    —  Groundwork has a proven track record of working with local communities and accessing funds to support local projects that produce multiple benefits for local communities. The Government should be aware of the possible effects on this type of activity from the potential mainstreaming of funds available for neighbourhood renewal and regeneration projects.

    —  Environmental concerns were largely absent from the neighbourhood renewal strategy and it is now down to the Government to redress this balance, particularly in the light of the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development, by promoting local community-led environmental action as the route to delivering key anti-poverty targets.

    —  It is crucial for all regeneration projects to include an exit strategy that takes into account the ability of the local community to ensure that initiatives are both sustainable and manageable.

    —  Evaluation of the social capital gained through neighbourhood renewal projects is a crucial and often an integral aspect of Groundwork's community engagement work and this model should be explored as a potential template for all Government regeneration initiatives.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 28 October 2002