Could community land ownership help tackle isolation in urban areas?

Caitlin Logan

Glasgow event to raise awareness of benefits and barriers to community ownership

COMMUNITY LAND SCOTLAND (CLS) will host an event in community-owned Barmulloch Residents Centre on Tuesday 6 March to highlight the opportunities and challenges of community land ownership in urban areas.

The event is the culmination of a research project on the subject conducted by CLS, which will be published later in March.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Jasmine Chorley Foster, research intern for CLS explained: “Community Land Scotland has seen the benefits of community land ownership in rural areas, and part of this study was to see if those social and economic factors can benefit urban areas in the same way.

“Social bonds can be really hard to achieve in urban areas so having these inclusive spaces to can be an incredibly powerful tool to do that”. Jasmine Chorley Foster, CLS

“The event is aimed at anyone from communities already engaged in community development, including those looking to buy land and buildings, those just considering it and those who want to find out more about it.

“We want more people in urban areas to learn more about community land ownership. It’s often seen as a rural thing, so we’re looking to show that it can be transformative in urban areas too.”

Chorley Foster said she thought that community landownership could have particular benefits in urban areas in light of the nature of the “precarious and transient” nature of urban areas, where jobs, homes and communities are often impermanent.

She said: “I think there’s so much good that community land can do. Community land owners have been able to establish places constitutionally bound to communities. That means they’re democratically set up, and unlike private businesses they can’t just leave and relocate.”

“They offer spaces to provide non-exchange related social bonds, reduce isolation, and improve mental health. These social bonds can be really hard to achieve in urban areas so having these inclusive spaces to achieve community and own land can be an incredibly powerful tool to do that.

“It offers a certain amount of commitment to the long term and a certain kind of confidence in the community. It also provides opportunities for projects with potential to improve lives.”

That being said, Chorley Foster explained that there were a number of key barriers to community land ownership in urban areas, which have formed a central part of the research.

“It’s difficult to get groups of people in urban areas who have the desire to stay in one place for a long time, or who are able to do so.” Jasmine Chorley Foster, CLS

“A lot of my research focussed on inequalities, and the barriers due to the nature of life in urban areas,” she said. “There’s a lot of hidden poverty in rural areas but the sheer numbers in urban areas means there’s so many more people with that experience.”

She continued: “It’s difficult to get groups of people in urban areas who have the desire to stay in one place for a long time, or who are able to do so, due to high rents or job opportunities, so it’s harder to find community groups able to take these big projects on.”

So far, there have been a number of successful examples of communities purchasing land in urban areas, from Action Porty in Edinburgh and Greener Kirkcaldy in Fife, to Linwood Development Trust in Renfrewshire, and Barmulloch Community Development Company in Glasgow, whose building Tuesday’s event will take place within.

Chorley Foster explained that there are limited examples of community owned land in urban areas as a result of legal factors which have recently changed due to the Land Reform Act (2016). “I’m expecting to see a lot more within the year and after that, as groups receive money from the Scottish Land Fund and start purchasing their land,” she explained.

However, she said, it is also important for communities to understand the nature and purpose of the right to buy as it may not always be the appropriate solution. “I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the right to buy,” she said.

“We might see some reactionary responses of groups trying to save important buildings in the community, which is not what the right to buy is for. So we might see some disappointed people in that period.”

Community Land Scotland will aim to explore some of these issues at their event on Tuesday which will take place from 12-4pm. The event is free and registration can be completed online here.

Picture courtesy of Barmulloch Community Development Company

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