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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 16:26 GMT
Here goes the neighbourhood

How do you turn around a neighbourhood blighted by crime and poor services? The Government backs a bottom-up approach - getting local people to lift their own communities.

Touring the streets of Stepney, in London's East End on Monday, Tony Blair told local people: if you want a better community you'll have to work for it.

Self-help is the sentiment at the core of the Government's neighbourhood management initiative.

Rubbish
The plan is to clean up dozens of communities
Mr Blair was in one of the capital's most deprived quarters to announce details of a 130m plan that will target hard-up communities across England.

The idea of neighbourhood management is to devolve power down from town halls, getting local people and local agencies - for example housing associations, the police, residents associations - to take control.

But does it work? A number of similar-style projects have been piloted around the country, including ones in Coventry and Hull.

Coventry

Coventry is hailed as a leading example of a participatory scheme. After one community piloted community involvement in the early 1990s, today about 30 deprived neighbourhoods in the city take part.


There's tension between wanting it tomorrow and the time it takes to let everyone have their say

David Galliers
Council staff act as go-betweens for residents and community organisations to plan solutions to local problems. Police, health workers and voluntary organisations are involved, and local businesses help fund projects.

One example is the regeneration of Edgewick Park, which had been all but abandoned by local residents, says area co-ordination manager, David Galliers.

"There were problems with drug-users, vandalised play equipment, litter left blowing around. The responsibility for these problems lay with police, with the parks department, and with youth services."

These groups worked with residents to identify ways to reclaim the park for the people, and have since installed sports facilities designed by the local children.

Pram pushers
Local people will need to get involved
"There's basketball hoops, a youth shed where they can hang out, and a five-a-side football pitch. The crime rate has dropped by 30%, and there's now half a dozen Neighbourhood Watch schemes."

But Mr Galliers says getting the community involved is not easy. And it can take several years to see results.

"Many of these neighbourhoods have been going downhill for 30 years. Then there's the tension between locals wanting it tomorrow and the time it takes community groups to let everyone express their views and get the project underway."

Although relatively few local residents get involved at the planning stage, many more are keen to have a say in which projects will address their needs.


These solutions are much simpler than something a bureaucrat could come up with

Mary Clear
The unit runs regular events, complete with childcare services and family-fun activities, during which residents vote on potential projects for their area.

Hull

Despite under-funded social services, high unemployment and poor prospects, residents in Hull have been determined to make their neighbourhood a better place.

In partnership with the voluntary development agency, Hull DOC, residents identify the problems in their area and work out solutions, says community development worker Mary Clear.

Football
It means giving children something to do
The money comes from lottery funds, the local council's community chest, which hands out grants of up to 500, and Hull City Vision, a public/private partnership.

"The beauty of these 'ground-level' solutions is that they are much simpler than something a bureaucrat could come up with - and cheaper too," Ms Clear says.

On one estate where local children had nowhere to play, residents suggested installing lights and new goalposts in a nearby sports ground.

Last year, residents of an estate with the lowest literacy levels in Hull published a book of poetry, using contributions school children and prisons.

And the agency has set up a year-long apprenticeship scheme, training 12 local residents to be community development workers themselves.

Both Mr Galliers and Ms Clear hope the government's 130m cash injection will make their task easier.

"For years, groups such as ours have been struggling," Ms Clear says.

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15 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour highlights assault on poverty
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