The main priority of those involved in Community Rights Made Real has been to ensure that there is a real, long-term commitment to changing the way that community and voluntary groups and Dudley Council work together around assets and services through utilising MASH principles. This was emphasised both during the Our Society Our Solutions group meetings and in the initial meeting with council directors to agree collaborative working principles (MASH) and to initiate some projects/proposals in this area.
As part of the preparation to move forward, we conducted a follow-up survey of community organisations in Dudley. At the initial stages of the Community Rights Made Real project, the intention had been to re-survey the original respondents to see whether or not knowledge and understanding of the agenda had increased, or whether appetite around community rights had changed. However, given that the scope and focus of the project changed significantly upon analysis of discussions and through the important work of the Our Society Our Solutions group, it no longer seemed appropriate to focus on the questions of the original survey.
Therefore we designed a survey that, while testing respondents’ knowledge of community rights, also incorporated some of the suggestions and priorities emerging in the co-design stage from Our Society Our Solutions group and the MASH principles. Given the large percentage of respondents who misinterpreted what community rights were about (particularly in relation to the Right to Challenge), we rephrased the questions to ask about specific details in the legislation.
We found there was still a large gap in terms of knowledge about community rights in the Localism Act, but this was much lower with the Right to Challenge than with the details of the Right to Bid. In fact, almost half of the respondents were aware that the Community Right to Challenge was coming into force. In terms of the Right to Bid, there was more awareness about the fact that local authorities would be required to keep a list of assets of community value than the fact that this would simply allow local communities to have a six week window of opportunity to register an interest to bid and six months to put together funding for this. In relation to neighbourhood planning and the Right to Build, 64 percent of respondents were unaware of the measures in the Localism Act.
We also asked a few specific questions about appetite for Community Rights areas, but took a ‘sliding scale’ approach when asking about assets and services, as opposed to focusing simply on taking over services or buying buildings. To reflect the MASH principles designed through the project, we decided to enquire about different levels of aspirations around services and assets.In relation to services, the survey asked whether there were particular services that people would like to: have more influence over; be involved in designing changes to; work with the council to jointly deliver; be funded/contracted to deliver part of the service; and be funded/contracted to deliver the service in entirety. There was a vast array of different services suggested, but the most striking result from these questions was the much larger number of respondents who were interested in having influence over certain services or being involved in designing services as opposed to jointly delivering or being contracted to deliver them.
A need for better access to land and buildings
We also asked group if they were interested in any of a range of the options in relation to buildings or public spaces?
49% would like more access to space such as renting rooms, sports pitches etc. and 48% would like access to public spaces for community events etc.
40% said they were interested in sharing premises with another voluntary/community group to save costs.
Only 14% of respondents were interested in short-term leases or buying a building.
These findings seem to be consistent with the conclusions of the Our Society, Our Solutions group – namely that Community Rights legislation does not fully meet the needs and aspirations of the majority of groups in Dudley. Our work to implement a Community Rights action plan was revised to take a broader more holistic approach based on initial feedback, and this thread of wanting better access, more involvement and more conversations as opposed to confronting the local authority and taking over assets or services is validated in the follow-up survey.
We also found that the proposals developed by the Our Society, Our Solutions group held interest among community groups in Dudley. Of particular interest to survey respondents were proposals around contracting, commissioning and grant giving policy, a policy to enable Dudley Council to donate unwanted furniture, and changing forums to facilitate collaboration as opposed to consultation. These findings, as well as results of questions about what groups would like to have more information and support around (such as where to get information, how to influence service providers and how to get involved in designing services) have been taken on board by Dudley CVS and Dudley Community Partnership to continue and inform their work on MASH and creative collaboration.