Crowdfunding for Cities – Introducing community-led regeneration

Nov 15, 2016 ·

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More than ten years ago, a chance conversation with an old man on a dilapidated bench in Cuba forced me to think critically about how we engage with our government here in the UK. He was frustrated that Cuban citizens couldn’t involve the local authorities in addressing the changes they wanted to see in their communities and pointed to the bench we were sitting on as a key example. The bench, positioned under the shade of a nearby tree, provided the perfect stop for people to rest and socialise and through regular use had become badly worn so that now all that was left was a splintered piece of wood balanced on two stumps.

Fixing the bench should have been an easy task but with no way to alert the local authorities about its importance to the neighbourhood and without access to the funding or permissions needed to do it themselves as a community – the bench was falling into serious disrepair and a much-used local amenity was on the verge of disappearing.

This struck me as a huge waste of resource – a community of people who wanted to make a difference and no straight forward way for them to do so. It stayed with me years later when working as a journalist covering architecture and planning in London as I observed local people here were also struggling to engage with local government to fund projects in public spaces.

In founding Spacehive we are working to solve this disconnect – our civic crowdfunding platform provides a single portal where people with project ideas can build support from their community, ensure their plans are viable, pitch for funding from the crowd, councils and businesses.

Successful projects to date have included everything from street art and community gardens to large-scale architectural feats like the Liverpool Flyover project which successfully raised over £43,000 from 344 backers to transform a disused motorway into an elevated park.

And now excitingly the Mayor of London is using Spacehive to work with Londoners more directly; putting more power into the hands of local communities to propose, share and deliver the projects that matter to them. In the last two years, the Mayor of London has backed 54 community-led regeneration projects alongside more than 5,500 Londoners worth a collective value of £1.75 million.

The most recent round of funding saw nineteen civic entrepreneurs across the Capital raise over £600,000 through crowdfunding - from Barnet to Bromley and Tower Hamlets to Twickenham. Projects included a new market on the site of the first Tesco, transforming disused garages into a community hub and the rebuilding of a lido in Peckham.

Together they are forecasted to have a significant impact on the local economy with nineteen businesses being started, 35 jobs created, 40 qualifications provided and over 11,000 hours of volunteering opportunities produced. The Mayor’s crowdfunding initiative has inspired Londoners to use technology to attract diverse communities around ideas for improving their local area.

Kay Richardson was one of the leading figures behind a successful crowdfunding campaign to bring back Well Street market in Hackney. As a resident in the area for over twenty years Kay identified that increased gentrification in one of London’s most deprived boroughs brought with it tensions between the different groups of people now living side by side. Wanting to ease these pressures and to build a sense of community Kay surveyed locals and discovered the need for a Saturday market offering local produce.

"We want Well Street Market to be a creative community hub that will reinvigorate the local area, increase footfall, offer pathways into work and celebrate our wonderfully diverse community. We want Well Street to unite communities and be a street to be proud of" said Kay.

The collective effort of 340 people will be involved in delivering the different projects in addition to the more than 38,000 hours that were invested in running the campaigns themselves. It’s projected that 11,500 more people will be attracted to the project sites and 1480m squared of green space will be created or enhanced. This new way of funding grass roots regeneration manages to connect people with the change happening in their communities, prioritising local engagement over international investment.

Nicholas Okwulu of social enterprise Pempeople and Ulrike Stevens of what:if projects are neighbours who joined forces to develop plans for the transformation of 60 vacant garages on the Ledbury Estate on Old Kent Road. Located in one of the most deprived wards in Southwark, the project addresses the need for training and support in an area with high youth unemployment and low levels of educational attainment.

Nicholas said: "There’s loads of people who want to set up small enterprises. And with the regeneration of the Old Kent Road, we want local people to compete with companies who are moving in."

More than just finance and resource, the initiative was successful in building relationships as project creators were connected directly with City Hall, helping to forge real links between the community and the local authority. Alongside the increased community cohesion in their own areas (you can read about the social impacts of the Mayor’s crowdfunding programme here), project creators also developed real relationships with each other throughout their crowdfunding journey. As well as giving each other encouragement and support, 75% of the projects backed one another’s projects in solidarity.

Each of these projects represents the powerful effect of what can be achieved through the collaboration of communities, councils and companies. These civic entrepreneurs set out to create a ‘place for everyone’ and through meaningful engagement with the people who live in the area have done just that using technology.

We’re excited to be showcasing the work we’ve done with the Mayor’s Civic Crowdfunding

Programme as a partner of the Mayor of London at his stand at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona on the 15th of November. If you’re at the event, come over and say hello! You can learn more about our work with City Hall here.

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