Locality has been working for nearly 3 years in partnership with Kirklees Council to support community asset transfers in the district, one of the few such arrangements of the kind in the country.
Our involvement has been three-fold: John Dawson and I have been attending internal Council meetings to discuss approaches and coordinate support to groups, we have given one-to-one governance and business planning support to around 20 groups, and we have facilitated an asset transfer network meeting between all the groups at different stages.
The groups are all very different, and so are the assets they are applying to own and manage: established social enterprises, unincorporated charities, brand new groups of residents, parish councils looking to secure buildings and land ranging from heritage town halls to parks – and even public toilets!
A few things have stood out for me in this work:
- Kirklees Council are choosing to transfer assets on a freehold basis to groups, thereby trusting communities in perpetuity with the care of public assets – and helping them raise external funding to support them.
- The Council’s Communities department was able to act on the technical support gap raised by most groups, and set up a development grant programme which has helped many groups access legal, marketing, and property related assistance.
- The groups are supporting each other tremendously and the network is a source of information, reassurance, partnership-working, and sometimes of expressing frustration before moving forward with what is a complex task.
The evaluation report shows areas for improvement, which I am sure the Council will consider in their practice going into a new phase for asset transfer, for instance in their revised asset transfer policy. This is a local authority who has also learnt a lot from 2 COMA (community ownership and Management of Assets programme) projects where assets in a local postcode, as well as 6 town halls were looked at in the round for multiple asset transfer potential.
A dozen or so transfers later, and I am amazed and humbled by the tenacity and efforts local residents put into saving public assets from closure and redeveloping them for their communities long-term. For some it is a long road to travel, and quite a responsibility to consider, but the rewards seem to far outweigh the obstacles.