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Sure Start, But Weak Connection

May 5, 2010

Elections offer the opportunity to take stock and choose futures – as do decisions taken in regeneration every day, year in year out.
But to act wisely we need to understand how things come about. Politics locally or nationally underpins almost everything which happens in urban and community renewal, yet it remains often unperceived as the changes occur.

I went to an election hustings last night. It was in downtown Liverpool, it was crowded out with people of every imaginable sort, and it was noisy.

Lobbies, not policies
So much for the perception that ‘no-one is interested in politics’; but nonetheless it soon became obvious that for significant numbers of those present, this was at least in the formal sense the case.

People attended to this meeting because they had particular interests, or they intended to lobby (sometimes vociferously) about matters of specific concern. Only a few of them wanted to debate the political parties’ policies and philosophies, whether open-mindedly or even just to point-score against political opponents.

Learn who supports it, or lose it
As the local Labour candidate said, everyone knows that Sure Start, social housing, Working Families Tax Credit and much else in the area has come about or improved greatly in the past few years. But far from everyone in that locality perceives this to have been the result of deliberate choice by the government of the day.

It would be a tragedy for that community if this lesson were learned only if or when these elements of community well-being come under threat or are no more.

As we in the regeneration trade keep telling each other, only proper joined-up thinking makes real, sustainable good sense.

Regeneration is more than bricks and mortar
So maybe we need to start emphasising consistently ourselves that initiatives for children and family support, personal well-being, the green economy and the like are at least as important in regeneration as the brand new bricks and mortar which go alongside them.

If we don’t articulate this loudly, clearly and often, it’s not too surprising that local people whom we seek to serve don’t always see it either.

A version of this article was first published on the New Start Blog on 5 May 2010.

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