Last week the Leapfrog team attended the Strengthening Communities Conference in Aviemore. The conference kicked off with two highly insightful and thought-provoking key note presentations, which focused on community asset ownership and supporting place-based community development. After each presentation, community stakeholders and organisations where invited to take part in a Q&A discussion.
In the first presentation, Building our Future: learning from 20 years of Community asset ownership, Douglas Crown, Director of Strengthening Communities, Highlands and Islands, showed a film featuring stories of community land ownership across Scotland. This included stories from the Isle of Eigg, South Uist, Knoydart and North Harris. The evidence in the film suggested that, fundamentally, when communities own their own land they are stronger, more invested, and empowered to make their own decisions regarding development, regeneration, employment and revenue for example. To discuss this further, Agnes Rennie, a trustee of Galson Estate Trust, and Ian Hepburn and Lincoln Richford from Community Land Scotland were invited on stage. As community stakeholders who have been at the coalface of the community land ownership process, issues surrounding government support in negotiating the purchasing of land, access to grants and how autonomous communities are sustained were debated.
Following this, in the second key note presentation, Supporting Place Based Community Development, David Cowan, Head of Regeneration at the Scottish Government, explored community-led neighbourhood regeneration projects that have taken place in urban and rural contexts across Scotland. Featured in three short films was the transformative work that has taken place in Fife, Dornoch and Campbeltown. Local champions and stakeholders from each of these communities joined David Cowan on stage to discuss their place-based approaches and reflect upon the impact these projects have had both socially and economically. Hazel Cross from Fife Council discussed the regeneration of Lochgelly; Joan Bishop from the Dornoch Area Community Interest Group reflected on the collaboration between community groups and local businesses in innovating Dornoch’s events and branding for tourism; and James Lafferty and Malcolm McMillan discussed the heritage-led regeneration projects in Campbeltown, where historic buildings were repaired and given back to the community as community-assets.
During both presentations, several key insights emerged that we felt were highly inspirational with regards to the work we do in Leapfrog. Ownership empowers communities through automatous decision-making, leading to self-efficacy and self-sustained projects. Supporting communities through place-based approaches can led to strengthened, confident and resilient communities, where they are able to leave a legacy for future generations to come.