Hazel Sheffield tells stories of communities ambitiously owning their own assets, like Portpatrick Harbour in Scotland

Portpatrick Harbour

Portpatrick Harbour

There’s a growing beat of journalists who, frustrated with reporting on the punch-and-judy of official politics, are trying to tell stories about local and community power. We are doing our bit (see this “localism” and “a better media” categories from the Daily Alternative). Aditya Chakrabortty is a senior journalist at the Guardian, and ran a series called The Alternatives until about 9 months ago. In an interesting interview with Stir To Action, Aditya explains his rationale:

From the point of the journalist, I’m in a situation where there are a wealth of bad news stories, with which the readers of the Guardian, who are very engaged on both paper and online, are sort of familiar. There is also a general sense of fatigue – while our readers want to hear these stories, they are also interested in what can be done about them. 

Personally, I wanted to hear how things are going differently. So housing, food, food and schools, how to get house building done, care, and wages. These are the basics of our lives. 

Read more here. We’ve also come across another mainstream journalist who is trying to carve out a space to tell good and positive stories about local power - Hazel Sheffield of the Independent. Take her current lead item - on how local assets can be transferred to communities under recent laws in Scotland, and how that might open up a model for thousands of assets across these islands:

I was in Portpatrick to report on a historic moment for residents. In 2015, frustrated at the lack of maintenance by their harbour’s private owners, local people made the decision to organise as a community benefit society, an organisation accountable to the community, and sell shares to buy their harbour and secure the village’s future. 

Three and a half years later, the community-owned harbour has catalysed the regeneration of several other buildings in the village. The society has acquired a row of toilets and a patch of land near the harbour from Dumfries and Galloway council, at a price of £1, to save the facility from closure. Two people have been employed directly by the society to service the toilets. 

The society has now applied to transfer the local village hall into community ownership under the Communities Empowerment Act Scotland 2015.

“People are coming to the village and making the comment that they can see the changes,” says Calum Currie, chair of the Portpatrick Community Benefit Society. “The harbour is much busier. We have now made the harbour a venue from which we’re looking at doing more festivals and events.”

In England, there are more than 6,300 assets like the Portpatrick harbour in community ownership, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Power to Change. These community halls, sports centres, parks and other spaces contribute nearly £220m to the UK economy every year, its research shows.

Three-quarters of these assets are reported to be in good financial health. And the sector is growing: one third of the assets came into community ownership in the last year.

“This is a surprisingly good story,” says Ailbhe McNabola, head of research at Power to Change. “The proportion of assets in good financial health is really promising. Councils are under huge pressure financially, but with the assets they can dispose of, they are thinking about the community first and how they can continue to provide access.” 

Under the Localism Act of 2011, community organisations have the right to delay the sale of a building or land so that they can develop a bid. They might also register the building or space as an “asset of community value” in order to be alerted if the asset comes up for sale. In Scotland, the government has conferred additional rights to community groups to buy large landholdings and estates through a Right to Buy, which enables the forced disposal of a property if it is abandoned, neglected or detrimental in some way.

Eighty per cent of the assets transferred into community ownership are community centres such as village halls. When these are taken out of the equation, the rate of community asset transfer for other assets such as sports centres, parks, open space and libraries is increasing even faster, McNabola says. 

More here. We also note some of the other stories that Hazel is covering include