Representatives of local Development Trusts and Community Councils from across the Borders came together on Saturday 21st November 2015 at the Borders Community Empowerment Conference at Tweed Horizons. The conference was arranged by the Borders Third Sector Partnership and chaired by Nile Estephan, CEO of Eildon Housing Association. Marco Biagi MSP, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (pictured below) gave the key note address. The aim of the conference was to raise awareness of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and to help communities understand the positive changes this legislation will bring.
Minister Biagi gave an inspiring address, noting that although the areas covered by the Act were varied and it was hard to sum up, it was all about solutions: communities finding out what they need to improve things on a local basis and then taking forward solutions in partnership. Every response by the relevant public agencies should be grounded in what the community wants. This was a common thread throughout the Act and the more disadvantaged communities would be supported to play a full part.
Other speakers followed: Nicky Donald, an Advisor with the Community Ownership Support Service (COSS), presented an overview of the Act with particular focus on the Asset Transfer section; there was a presumption in favour of requests by local community-controlled bodies to take over land or buildings belonging to public agencies, for community benefit.
Duncan Davidson, chair of Tweedsmuir Community Company, gave an enthralling account of how their small rural community had raised the funds to buy The Crook Inn, when it was threatened with demolition. He showcased their plans for a community Hub, which would provide community and business facilities, tourist accommodation and employment, bringing new opportunities for the local population in the future and saving a much loved historic landmark in the process.
Douglas Scott, Senior Policy Advisor with Scottish Borders Council, outlined the opportunities that the Community Empowerment Act would bring for Scottish Borders communities to work alongside the Council and other public bodies to tackle challenges and issues.
A “question-time” Panel of all the speakers answered a range of queries from the audience, before the delegates broke into groups before and after lunch to attend workshops on various aspects of the Act: Community Planning, Participation in Service Delivery, Asset Transfer and Community Right to Buy, and Community Benefit. Participants heard more detail about the improvements that the Act would bring and considered in lively discussions how they could make it work for them. Most parts of the Act should be in operation by late summer 2016.
Lunchtime gave the participants a welcome opportunity to talk to speakers and each other and discuss many of the issues raised. They also had a chance to look at the information stalls and talk to COSS, the Scottish Land Fund and the Big Lottery. Plans and photos of The Crook Inn were also on display.
And the verdict by those attending:
“This is going to be good for communities.” “We can’t wait! “ “Public agencies should be acting in the spirit of the Act right now!”