Lesley Riddoch on the "power of local" - communities taking control in their own way

Paisley’s projected Baker Street Cinema complex

Paisley’s projected Baker Street Cinema complex

We’re delighted for the opportunity to profile Lesley Riddoch on A/UK - a Scottish journalist and champion of local power for decades.

Highly prominent as a broadcaster and writer, Lesley has also been a notable land-rights activist. She was heavily involved in the crofers of Eigg and Assynt buying out their own land. Riddoch also wrote a book called Blossom (published in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum), which was notable for its critique of the “stand there till we fix you” attitude of paternalistic parties and local authorities in Scotland.

One of her many projects is a column in the new Sunday National paper called The Power of Local. It’s similar in a way to the recent series “Alternatives” from Aditya Chakabortty in the Guardian - levelling their journalistic gaze at a lower level than the usual party, parliamentary and policy realms, and seeing what enterprises self-starting communities have been getting up to.

Here’s the first nine of them below - identified by the locality focussed on, the date of the article, and a signficant line in the piece:

Eigg (9 Sept 2018): “Genuine question: where does most pioneering change happen in Scotland?”

Strontian (16 Sept 2018): “Is it time the local government map of Scotland changed to give organic communities the same powers of self-governance that Scotland seeks for itself?”

West Whitlawburn (23 Sept 2018): “In the last three decades, hundreds of Glasgow’s poorest people have blossomed from being powerless tenants on a run-down peripheral council scheme into members of a dynamic housing co-operative”

Clydesider magazine (30 Sept 2018): “As conventional newspaper business models face challenges, maybe trust can build a new future for the hyperlocal community-owned press”.

Tayview Community Garden Dundee (7 Oct 2018): “The UK’s best community garden sits on an inner-city site near one of the most polluted crossroads in Dundee and started life in 2016 with a bunch of community workers sitting under a gazebo on scrap land, waiting for locals to get curious and come and speak to them. They did”.

Kirriemuir (Oct 14th 2018): “Community control is definitely habit-forming”.

Portpatrick (Oct 21st 2018): “It’s the first village in Scotland to save itself and its harbour by issuing community shares.”

Childrens’ Wood Glasgow (Oct 28, 2018): “How much time would you devote to saving a tiny bit of inner city woodland? A few months? Two years? Try almost a quarter of a century.” 

Baker Street Cinema, Paisley (Nov 4 2018): “The Paisley Community Trust is bravely going where (probably) no Scottish community has gone before – financing, building, owning and managing a state of the art, all singing, all dancing, brand-new £24.7 million cinema and performing arts theatre complex that will rival anything in cities”.  

From the  “Children’s Wood”,  Glasgow

From the “Children’s Wood”, Glasgow

In her blog covering these, Lesley also helpfully gives local power groups some tips on how they might make their endeavours attractive to the media in general:

Each story needs to have something special. Something that makes an unknown reader go "mmm - that's interesting" and read on. It helps if it's unusual – like the Strontian community who have built their own school so it can eventually become four affordable homes.

Or a bit of history like West Whitlawburn, who tackled slum conditions in the 1980s with a bold buyout of substandard flats. Or a revelation about the community itself like Paisley Trust, who've discovered their town has more listed buildings than anywhere in Scotland, bar Edinburgh.

What is NOT likely to get folk reading this column is the size of grants, the list of services you provide or even the length of time you worked to get funding. Facts and figures aren’t interesting enough to hook readers until they’ve engaged with your story as humans – so we need to create a story not just a collection of stats!

Lesley offers localists a few obvious media pointers. (There is some Scots language here, so be ready):

  • Why did your community buyout or project come about? Why was it necessary? What big problem was it overcoming or what big opportunity was it grasping?

  • Is there anything special or unusual about your project?

  • What kind of community have you got? Anything unusual or special about it?

  • Who got the thing off the ground – what personalities, reasons, backgrounds? Dinnae be o'er modest!

  • What problems have you encountered and overcome along the way? (problems are GOOD to read about so dinnae be shy because they show what you’re made of and encourage others who are struggling. If every community achievement looks painless and  problem-free, communities facing difficulties think they are alone, incompetent or failing).

More on this force of nature here.