This project has created a unique model of economic development that is inclusive and results in lasting urban regeneration, by raising aspirations, building community resilience, and connecting people to local resources.
NEW APPROACHES TO PERSISTENT DEPRIVATION
The "Unlocking Social and Economic Innovation Together!" (USE-IT!) project began with the aim of pioneering innovative approaches to inclusive urban development in Birmingham, to combat poverty in areas of persistent deprivation. Recognising that orthodox urban economic development approaches often exacerbate inequality and have little impact on enduring patterns of deprivation, the USE-IT! partnership set out to test an alternative approach in a neighbourhood in West Birmingham.
A UNIQUE REGENERATION MODEL
After three years, the inclusive growth project has successfully trained over eighty people from the local communities to become Community Researchers, connected medically qualified migrants to well-paid medical jobs, supported over 120 community-led businesses and social enterprises, promoted social mobility by raising people's aspirations, and encouraged community leadership and grassroots innovation. In fact, much more than this has been done – a unique model has been created with a new way of thinking about inclusion, that has revolutionised the approach to regeneration – resulting in a regeneration that works! There has been a focus on building resilience in communities and linking people with their local resources and assets, such as opportunities linked to large development projects, under-utilised buildings, and green spaces.
IDENTIFYING AND USING LOCAL ASSETS
At the heart of this approach has been the principle that the physical, financial, and human assets of a place can be leveraged for local economic benefit. USE-IT! has delivered lasting change through anchoring institutions and identifying and developing relationships amongst local assets. The project has unlocked a number of opportunities for people that were previously not accessible to them. For example, the project led to the transformation of an under-utilised church space into a vibrant co-working space. Most importantly, the project raised people’s aspirations and showed them that they can co-design their futures. This project represents a new way of working and thinking about regeneration. In three years, it has engaged with over 3,000 people, co-creating the project’s successes.
The current political and financial climate of austerity and neglect raises some important questions for those of us who want to revive communities. How do we deliver real co-production? How can anchor institutions realise their local economic and social potential? How do we encourage local entrepreneurship? How do we engage communities in their own future? USE-IT offered a response to all these questions. What really impressed me about the project is that it sought to engage with residents right from the very beginning. This was not a “doing to” project, it was absolutely a “doing with” project. It is an example of an inclusive growth project - we are committed to it and would like to replicate it in other parts of our city.