Category: Neighbourhoods

A learning journey to Hastings – or how to buy buildings and build community

Sometimes you need to just trust people when they say come on a journey.

That’s what we did when UnLtd (a lab partner) invited us to Hastings for a thunderously damp day-and-a-bit by the sea learning journey. The heavens opened and ideas poured in.

Lorna Prescott, Louise Cannon and Nick Booth spent the day with a range of others who are building place-based community.

We were hosted by Jess Steele and the rest of the team at White Rock Neighbourhood TrustHeart of Hastings Community Land Trust and Jericho Road Solutions in Hastings.

This is Jess explaining the work they’ve done to buy buildings which act as the basis of long term sustainable community and neighbourhoods.

Some notes:

They began with a meanwhile space in the basement of an old office block in Hastings, £200 a month, with the aim of animating a curious alleyway in the town. It turned out that this was a toehold into a neighbourhood they cared about.

Partly because they were already there the landlord approached them to see if they wanted to buy the building — ‘why not?’, they thought. Jess offered nearly half the asking price and, within a few weeks, they owned a 9-floor office block.

We bought this building in 2014 before we’d done a lot of the thinking, this building helped us do the thinking”

Now full of life and living, this developed gradually


They began to use the building even as they were refurbishing it, three floors, at first, now all 9 floors are used for a mixture of homes and workspaces.

We wanted to:

Use community freehold — to de-commodify the market. Use the freehold power for social good instead of private profit

explains Jess.

This means that the tenants have a sustainable rent which only rises by the rate of inflation. Tenants are selected thoughtfully:

1 Based on need
2 They have a local connection — this is for Hastings people
3 They have enthusiasm for the ethos of collaboration and self-management
4 They have a willingness to make a personal contribution to the physical and cultural aspects of the neighbourhood.

But the idea has evolved beyond one building. In part through the creation of Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust, they have gone on to buy a huge print works next to rock house and acquire other buildings. The money is raised and the buildings run through an ecosystem of organisations, private, social enterprises and charities, which share an ethos and ambition.

It’s a combined desire to provide affordable living and workspace, resist the pressures of gentrification and nurture a neighbourhood for social good. All for the long term, or rather forever.


Jess explain that through the ecosystem the boards of the organisations are integrated, they intentionally work to understand each other’s values :

The neighbourhood is the enterprise

Together they tackle the twin challenges of dereliction v gentrification, they take community action “forever “ and Jess tells us “No we won’t wait for the master plan — we don’t accept your master plan”.

“Ownership is a process,” she explains, “it’s not an event. You need different skills and cultures. At one point you have to do the deal at another you need to build different expertise alongside other organisations good at other things — these are alliances based on shared values. “

They call it intentional neighbouring.


This day in Hastings was stimulating, encouraging and energising. Some of their approaches echo many of the principles we are working to at Colab Dudley:

Persistence and Being There matters.

Relationships matter.

Encourage abundance thinking and practice.

Nurture the courage to be curious and experiment.

Default to a doing imperative

Work at the speed of trust.

But above all, I was bowled over by the vigour, the emotional heft and intellectually flexibility that the team is bringing to the ambition to buy and build a neighbourhood for sustainable living, forever.


(first published here:

Commscamp 2018 – what I heard and what I learnt

These are notes from Commscamp 2018, held in Birmingham 12th July 2018.

Session: Public Health Campaigns

The general view is that public health messages often fall flat.  One public health team not keen on meeting the public, instead they do a leaflet.   Often the message comes better from the GP, not the council.  At one council they have data which says the messages don’t work on our channels.. so we stop doing it.

It is also often “messaging for morons” – often patronising.

How do we have a different conversation with the public?  One always checks messages with real people first.

Health and Wellbeing boards should have their local priorities.  One described putting people in a room to discuss a topic, eg neglect.

Session: Stress and Mental Health

Problem for blue light comms in terms of stress and impact.

The problem of always-on digital comms and the impact of being trolled.

For some public services who receive many online complaints or criticism (for example the courts) means that staff deal with large levels of negativity. One charity offered subscriptions to headspace app and other ways to look after your head.

Find the people at work you can trust and talk to.

Keep the work limits clear, when you stop work stop monitoring social media.

Employers have legal obligations for your health and safety – if you’re expected to work 24/7 or something big happens like the Manchester bomb, the employer is obliged to assess risk and make sure you’re alright.

TRIM Trauma risk incident management happens after major incidents in the blue light services, but comms people don’t always have that option.  Some roles. like family liaison officers, have to have it but comms teams are only just starting to use it.

“I sobbed all the way the home after a suicide – but hadn’t been troubled by anything else in 3 years”

Session: Co-production and engagement

One way to think about this is councils getting out of the way, help support people create spaces where they can connect.

Community reporters collect information and report it back to services. Community information champions. Training on how to offer information.

Some of the best co-production work happens with vulnerable people and personalising what they receive, thinking about the individual. The way to measure the success is through whether the individual feels they have been listened to.

Get real people in and expose them to the management team,  it’s rare

Software building is iterative, not try and fix the services, keep asking, keep changing, keep iterating.

Improve the system, don’t create a fix.








Notes from the #Locality17 session on: Community Health and Wellbeing – what works

These are just notes from a session at the Locality Convention 2017.

Meena Bharadwa introduced the session and explained that locality has a place to link real community groups into the academic research on this subject and translate between the two. She briefly reminded us that Community Wellbeing is Complex.

Andy Pennington – University of Liverpool

The point of the programme is to provide state of the art evidence to help allocate resources.  The focus is on people, place and power.  research is being shared here:

Andy outlined some of the key ways in which issues around the quality of places and power within places can either lead to better or worse community health.

There is so much evidence that decision makers are becoming overwhelmed.

Key things it shows….

1: In the workplace environment (Marmot’s work on civil service) showing that those with more control have better health.  Cardio-vascular heath and life expectancy.  In health institutions those who can share in decision making fare better health wise..

2: In the living environment (in our communities) –  Is there joint decision makaing (by which they mean “the meaningful involvement of people in decisions that affect their environment…”.  Positive outcomes of being involved are..

Depression, self-esteem, sense of mastery

Sense of community, creation of social capital

New skills,  learning, better employment, personal empowerment

Also wider impact for those not directly involved in decision making.  So they also receive the benefits of improving community resources.


Psychological strain from being involbed

Some groups are over consulted leading to stress and frustration (although not convinced about methods used for these studies)

David Wilford , Royds Community Association in Bradford

The community Association focuses on getting people into work.   They say they found a lack of investment from CCG’s – they called the residents:  Buttershaw men and Buttershaw women and thought of them as drinking to much and needing fixing.   We studied what people were doing in their communites.  Foudnt hat to get thing going

People needed a little help at the beginning

Proper co-design (not the council working up most of it)

Community anchor orgs featured well (hospitals and GP’;s can be intimidating) – so community centres/setting important

Invited GP’s to decamp from their surgeries and come to local orgs.

So we’re building up social capital around health.  There’s a lot of talk of pooling budgets – but people not willing to put theirs into the pool.

Voluntary sector assets need to be resourced

The money needs to follow the patient into the third sector (as it would to a physiotherapist)

System says VCS are not evidenced, clinical interventions also not evidenced (often)

The voluntary sector needs to steadily and deliberately re-train the public sector rather than hope for a radical change.

We need to convince that the VCS is value for money.

“We drop 10 million pound balls regularly in the NHS – what could the VCS do with £10 million!”.


Hurricane Sandy and the Trump Tornado  #locality17


The Donald Disaster from melissa AAse
The Donald Disaster from Melissa Aase (who is speaking on the right of the picture)

She calls it “The Donald Disaster”.    Melissa Asse of University Settlement in New York  (a community organisation/housing for 350000 New Yorkers) has just finished speaking to the Locality Convention in Manchester. 

During Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy Melissa recognised that, although they were poorly prepared, some of the best first responders  were recent migrants. Especially those  who had been learning or teaching english.

They had two key things: trust and languages.  [ trust grown through learning together – which is also what happened at the Stagehuis Schilderswijk in The  Hague and what is happening at Co-Lab Dudley, indeed happens all over the place. ]

She says she can see that they are now facing another disaster. Trump is a storm heading for their communities…  “disorienting and fever pitched and reminds us of other disasters” 

These are the lessons from Hurricane Sandy that Melissa belives community organisations can apply to political hurricanes.

  • Get people together. In a disaster people want to come together and they naturally do,  anchor organisations can be that, can bring them together. get spaces and staff ready to open up.  Be explicit about your intention to be a safe space.
  • Tackle racism: Inequity and racism makes things worse in a disaster – poor and communities of colour are hit hardest but rarely part of the planning.  Tackle white supremacy head on. 
  • Make the most of immediate relationships: Social ties might save your life – in the current storm or right wing hatred and xenophobia, the skills of community, story telling, improvisation, social capital can help us respond to attacks on immigrants, LGBQT people, mysogny
  • Keep your organising skills sharp: Local activism has morphed a little into providing transactional services. It’s time to brush up on skills of community organsiation and civic engagement.
  • Be careful with yourself:  self care matters –  find inspiration from each other. Avoid disaster porn, read the history of movement  read “Hope ion the dark”
  • Wire the network in many ways:  In disaster there can never be enough forms of communication., Things change quickly and we have to change responses quickly, even if the decisions are imperfect.  Find community, find partners.
  • Exploit the disruption.  In No Is Not Enough,  Naomi Klein, expands on how she sees capitalist engineering shocks to create disruption they can exploit.   Melissa says disasters can be opportunities for local organisations, creating new ways of working and unexpected alliances.  Be ready to take advantage.
  • Use it to strengthen:  Intentionally build human relationships build resilience.  We already do that and need to keep doing that.