USE-IT! – Unlocking Social and Economic Innovation Together!

USE-IT!, Unlocking Social & Economic Innovation Together!, is a whole neighbourhood approach to addressing urban poverty.

It innovates by building bridges between the places, the people, the public sector, the private sector and civic society partners in a community so they can co-produce solutions to poverty that unlock opportunities and that fits their needs.

By doing this, USE-IT! works by respecting what is already there in a community rather than by assuming what needs to change.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The USE-IT! project began with the aim of pioneering innovative approaches to combating poverty in a neighbourhood of persistent urban deprivation in West Birmingham and Smethwick. The neighbourhood was chosen because it has previously been the subject of millions of pounds of regeneration funding that many would say have failed to deliver lasting change for the community. In simple terms this failure has been for one of two reasons. Either the funding has been “top down”, such as the funding of a large infra-structure project, which does bring benefits but rarely do these benefits reach the most disadvantaged in the community. Or the funding has been “bottom up”, such as funding community development, which again does bring improvement but this tends to last only as long as the funding lasts.

At the heart of the USE-IT! approach has been the idea of being the “bridge” between these two approaches. The principle being that more can be done to leverage the physical, financial and human assets of a place for local economic benefit and it is in identifying and developing bridging relationships amongst such assets and communities that lasting change can be delivered.

The USE-IT! model has succeeded in unlocking local assets through four distinct but connected “bridging” programmes that attempted to answer four linked anti-poverty questions.

Question #1 - How do we unlock communities to realise their local knowledge, experience and expertise?
Led by the University of Birmingham, USE-IT! has empowered local people to get involved in the regeneration and development of their neighbourhoods through community research. Recognising the diverse skills and experience that exists within the local community as an asset, our community research programme has trained over 60 local people to identify challenges and tackle problems where traditional public policies have failed. Through a diversity of community research projects local people are changing our urban futures by co-designing research that is impacting policy.

Question #2 - How can we unlock anchor institutions to realise their local economic and social potential?
To start the process of unlocking a local hospital as an economic asset, USE-IT! set up a skills matching programme to identify medical professionals, with overseas health qualifications, living in the area who could be matched with jobs vacancies in the NHS. Tapping into a wealth of clinical expertise in the refugee and migrant communities, which was previously ignored or inaccessible, and providing the necessary language training and work experience in a clinical environment, has allowed over 250 people to find a way to resume their medical careers, whilst putting much needed resource back into the local NHS.

Question #3- How do we encourage local entrepreneurship?
Social enterprise supports local economic development! In order to create the opportunities for local people to benefit from the investment coming into their neighbourhoods USE-IT! has been working with both existing and new social enterprises and community businesses to develop their capacity to grow and therefore enhance local economic development. Organisers have leveraged significant additional funds into the area by supporting local organisations to win contracts or apply for funding. So far the programme has enabled 41 local entrepreneurs to start up their businesses and 39 existing organisations to grow. As a result of USE-IT! new consortiums now exist to bring social enterprises together and build capacity around tendering for larger pieces of work.

Question #4 - How do we engage communities in their own future?
This programme has been the most experimental part of USE-IT! For three years project organisers have worked with both local communities and large asset owners, mapping and co-creating opportunities for both. This allowed them to dive deep and understand the neighbourhoods, to build resilience and capacity in the communities to take greater ownership of the local assets and shape the local economy. As a result they have become the bridge between communities and four large-scale assets which has seen residents taking the lead to redevelop; a vacant local playing field, a reservoir, an underutilised church building and an empty factory site in the middle of a new 1,500 home housing development.

Conclusion
USE-IT! has demonstrated that urban poverty can be addressed by unlocking existing local economic opportunities. This is possible by creating a bridge between local macro and micro assets. It requires local, trusted organisations to facilitate relationships between communities and developers or anchor institutions, and also willingness from those institutions to work in partnership. Organisers are certain the model can deliver lasting change and maximise the local economic and social benefits for all, if resources are put into communities to build the bridge between its assets.

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Year: 2017
Level of government: National/Federal government

Status:

  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

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