In 2015, The Ubele Initiative (hereafter Ubele), with support from Locality, published A Place to Call Home: Community asset ownership Initiative in the African diaspora community (2015). The report provided an important overview of community asset ownership within the African Diaspora community in England. The significance of the report not only stems from being a first major attempt to capture stories from around the UK where African diaspora communities are to be found, but it sought to address topical community conversations around sustainability, presence and identity. Seven years on, the conversation has not changed, and in light of the current pandemic situation we currently find ourselves, coupled with the push ushered in by the Black Lives Matter campaign in the wake of the George Floyd murder in 2020*, the debate is even more pronounced and necessary.
The publication then focused on the ownership (or barriers) of community assets, primarily those secured during the 1980s, and often after periods of social unrest, and were predominantly secured by and for the Black Caribbean communities. While this is still a concern, Ubele would like to explore how other communities are faring; how those other racially minoritised owners of community assets are faring. This marks a shift from the ‘Windrush Generation’ focus of the 2015 research to one that is more embracing with a wider reflection of Black and racially minoritised community ownership of assets.
The key question that the research is trying to answer is perhaps best summed up as: What are the implications for civil society in communities owning their own assets and what are the benefits and value of a cultural and community asset?
In trying to answer the question, five themes are being explored through a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches, largely built around participatory action research methodology and survey questionnaire. The five themes underpinning the research are:
Theme 1: Geographical spread and type of community assets
Theme 2: Ownership, management and leadership
Theme 3: Service provision and take-up
Theme 4: Support and sustainability strategies
Theme 5: Future development opportunities
Some emerging and conceptual challenges
The first emerging observation is that there is no single challenge but multiple challenges and all intersecting and converging which indicates there is no one size fit all solution, and neither are the solutions time specific. That is, we are looking at multi-years development and sustainability strategies which are likely to be in decade terms rather than a few years - and certainly no longer than five years.
A second feature coming through of the work so far focuses our attention on the identification of some of those challenges that we are observing and seeing being reported. For example, we have started to cluster some of the emerging challenges into three broad ‘spheres of consideration’:
1. External factors: Policy (incl. regeneration development and government policies)
2. Internal factors: Governance and leadership of organisations (and by definition cultural and community asset ownership)
3. Structural and institutional factors: Relationships (within communities and with external agencies, such as local authorities and funders etc); and structural and institutional practices and factors (e.g. discriminatory practices).
Against each sphere of consideration, we have started to delve deeper into the concerns as they are emerging through interviews and survey responses amongst other processes currently underway (e.g. local dialogues and consultation events). However, this process is work-in-progress, and we want to hear further from swathes of communities that we have so far been unable to connect with outside London (we have so far conducted 16 interviews with community organisations in London).
A third emerging aspect of the work so far has been the mapping of community owned assets across the country. As indicated earlier, one of the five themes we are exploring is the ‘geographical’ spread and type of community assets that exist. In the 2015 publication we were able to map 150 African diaspora community assets, that were either at risk then of closing, had closed or flourishing. This is an ongoing process as assets are likely to open and close over time. Through the online survey, which will now be extended to January 2023, we are looking to capture the presence, location and status of the wider Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community asset ownership to add to our already existing sense of what we already know from 2015. We have so far reached out to organisations on Ubele’s data base – including and especially those that had responded to the 2015 research - using various approaches including social media and newsletter promotion and advertising. From our initial approach we have identified over 700 organisations that met the initial criteria of BAME led organisation either renting, leasing or owning outright cultural and community assets, and have reached out to them complete the updating online survey.
As with most surveys, responsiveness can be slow and unpredictable. We have so far received 5% responses from the initial call and so, through this blog, we are once again reaching out to those who had received the survey request but, due to other commitments, have not been able to respond as well as those for whom this may be the first time they have heard of this piece of research. We want to hear your views on the challenges being faced and, hopefully, help us to help you to identify possible solutions that would facilitate ongoing development and/or sustainability of the asset. As the Jamaican adage goes: “one hand can’t clap”, and it is in this vein we are appealing to those able and capable of responding to do so by the 21 January deadline.
To access the online survey, please click on the link below or scan the QR code below: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5WNNM9L
Associate Director, Research and Evaluation
*In response to the 2020 Black Lives Matters movement, following the death of George Floyd, the ‘world-wide’ protest brought into sharp focus a ‘desire’ to address the systemic racism and discrimination that has for long underpinned community conversations around presence, identity and sustainability.