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2 - The case for community economic development

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2023

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Summary

Every generation of people looks for ways in which they can prosper in the settlements and localities in which they live out their lives; and arguably every generation ends up rediscovering the tools of community economic development. This chapter looks at the field of community economic development, to understand how that process of rediscovery could be eased and conversely why it might repeatedly be obscured.

There is no better introduction to community development than the story of Tony Gibson, who made his name on the Meadow Well Estate in Tyneside in the United Kingdom (UK), which was constructed in the 1930s. Starting with a talent survey of random houses in 1991, residents came together to respond, with the idea of ‘a new heart for Meadow Well’ in the form of a development centre built on a discredited youth centre. The response, though, was inertia. Despite the efforts of one sympathetic local employee from the council, a senior officer was heard to say: ‘those fuckers couldn't plan a pram shed’. A decision was taken, instead, simply to close the youth centre (Gibson et al, 1997).

As this dragged on over five hot summer months, the residents started to drop out and then a group of local young people burned the youth centre down. What followed was two days and nights of riots, with fires, a burnt-out corner shop and pot shots at a police helicopter cruising above. The riots forced everyone to think again. The working party held estate-wide elections to form a group that could negotiate with outsiders. They used Tony Gibson's Planning for Real approach – which creates a mock-up of the neighbourhood, from litter on the ground to buildings up high – on a table that people could then walk around, explore and together discuss options for improvement. This led to the development of a new community building, launched with a fun day. The first of many community-led improvements, it was the first building scheme in the borough that had taken shape from day one to completion without a single case of vandalism or theft.

Founded in 1994, Meadow Well Connected operates a community café, a freeto-use technology suite that supports local people to acquire the skills to get the jobs they need, as well as a community garden, joinery workshop and after-school club.

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Tomorrow's Communities
Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises
, pp. 19 - 36
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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