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  • Charlotte Zemmel

What enables the development of good Social Infrastructure?

What we have learnt from the field

In our previous blog post, we explored what constitutes ‘good social infrastructure’, based on our research across England. What we are really interested in is how to ‘bring about’ good social infrastructure, and we have used our development grant from the National Lottery Community Fund to explore what enables good social infrastructure around the UK. Below, we explore some key enablers and show how they helped to bring about a fantastic example we came across in Birmingham.

Our emerging (and growing) understanding of what enables good social infrastructure:

We began this journey by focusing on the role that partnerships between the third sector, the public sector, and the private sector play in bringing about social and community infrastructure. Sharing our model with practitioners in different locations across England, we uncovered that so much more needs to be put in place for an instance of social infrastructure to be ‘good’. Our flower diagram above summarises our learnings to date, and we continue to add and refine this as we continue with our research.

We want to highlight two enablers that were particularly instrumental in helping to bring about Moseley Hive, a vibrant community space on the main highstreet in Molesey, South Birmingham

The first enabler we took note of was how the space was developed through immense power sharing. The space emerged when private donors bought up a disused plot right at the centre of the neighbourhood highstreet. The council supported this effort by designating the space for community use, so that the site was held for the donors. A community trust consisting of a local neighbourhood forum and housing association was formed, and the donors handed over responsibility of the site to this trust. As a community owned and led organisation, the trust keeps the organisation’s purpose, agenda and initiatives close to the needs and desires of the residents of Moseley.

This is an incredible example of private funders, the council, and the community coming together to lead on different elements that together make Moseley Hive great; the council used its power over assets to enable private funders to use their power to buy a community site, and the community trust uses its power to act as a voice and opportunity platform for the community to make sure the space is place-based.

The second core enabler is the good physical infrastructure that enables the site to be well used and accessible. Before the site was transformed into a community asset, it was an old supermarket that had been sitting empty for some time. The site sits in the centre of town, on a busy high street, and is therefore well-known and well-frequented by the local community. Empty high street units present a fantastic opportunity for revived social infrastructure, especially given new research which suggests that 16% of shops on British High Streets are empty. It is likely that continued partnerships, like the ones that enabled the power-sharing in Moseley Hive, will be necessary to help transform this ‘dormant’ physical infrastructure into thriving social infrastructure.

As our flower diagram suggests, there are many enablers of good social infrastructure, and determining what enablers are needed when and why is one of the goals of our next round of research into this topic. Watch this space!

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