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29 September 2017

Capturing Creativity Award finalist #3 - Space Saviours (Valley to Coast Housing)

Housing associations often seek tenant and resident input on regeneration of open spaces. If space is used badly or not enough, local people are most affected. But are residents aware of all options available? Are they fully informed on impacts of play, biodiversity, lighting or road layouts?

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Space Saviours was established to address these questions. With Lottery funding in the first years, the team ran information sessions directly to residents on the benefits of creating food growing areas, impacts of play deprivation on mental and physical health, importance of pollinators, and other potential uses of urban open spaces. Some of the biggest Welsh players helped deliver these messages: Keep Wales Tidy, Natural Resources Wales, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, Urbanists, Sustrans and Play Wales.

Housing association can do this directly, but Space Saviours does it better. Housing associations have many roles in their communities – rent collection, repairs, monitoring ASB complaints – and it is right that they are open to feedback on these issues. However, momentum on community projects can be slowed by meetings becoming a forum for housing management issues.

Space Saviours is created and managed by a housing association partnership but has an independent identity which allows arm’s length delivery. This avoids a dual role of housing associations as developer of regeneration projects with local residents AND potential funder. It allows the residents to freely propose and consider ideas around use of open space, and to consider the housing association as just one of the potential funders.

Residents are encouraged to form groups to take forward their ideas. In some cases, the outcome has been simply a litter-picking group meeting to clean a local woodland or grant funding to start a community orchard or growing space. Groups with more detailed ideas can be taken through to design phase. Professional designers draw up the ideas for the group to consult with the community and seek funding. Some groups have been supported by their local housing association to create ambitious natural play areas.

The new phase of Space Saviours, post-Lottery funding, is a shared service. V2C has joined with United Welsh, Tai Calon, Newydd and Monmouthshire Housing to continue the programme. We believe that, in the challenging new landscape of housing and funding, that shared services are a creative solution to better delivery. Combined resources allow better visibility for community-based regeneration projects and, with the rising profile of Space Saviours, other agencies are contacting them about grass roots projects, especially in the targeted areas that housing works in.

The first years of Space Saviours has far exceeded targets for numbers of engaged residents and groups formed. ‘Unplanned’ outcomes are impressive –events arranged, people into employment and external funding accessed.

Space Saviours is already a winner for over 700 participants. This award could recognise the project’s original approach to real resident engagement and self-sufficiency. It recognises the power of partnership working through a shared service, and taking a step back allowing tenants and residents the freedom to establish their own priorities.

Find out if we’ve won the Capturing Creativity award at CHC’s One Big Housing Conference next week! https://chcymru.org.uk/en/events/view/2017-one-big-housing-conference