Communities making their choice in Ferguslie Park

David Reilly attended the Community Choices PB event in Ferguslie Park, Paisley and saw how local people are quietly using their talents to make a difference.

I met a community hero at Ferguslie Community Choices. Marc Small works six days a week and is busy with his family and young kids. When he was doing a community clean up Marc noticed the number of old abandoned bikes lying around.

Marc was inspired to start a new venture for Ferguslie Park, ‘Own your Bike’. Now, young people work with Marc to breathe new life into old bikes, learn how to maintain and repair them and receive their own bike at no charge: “the kids do all the work, we just show them how”.

Voting in action

Voting in action

Because of the efforts and talent of one person, young people in Ferguslie Park are learning new skills, getting free bikes and contributing to a cleaner community. Marc’s ambitions for Own Your Bike are boundless:

“We want every kid in Ferguslie to have a bike if they want it. We’ve three young men working with us and we’re working with the school to make sure they can get qualifications to help them get right into jobs as bike mechanics when they leave school. The school want us to work with more and more boys like them.”

To meet his ambitions Marc took part in Ferguslie Community Choices. He was looking for an investment of just over £4,000 for parts and tools so that they can keep running for a year without costing people in Ferguslie Park a penny. Everything they need to buy is on display and itemised down to the penny. So far, the only funding for Own Your Bike has been £195 loaned from Marc’s own pocket, and to be as transparent as possible, their stall displays the entirety of ‘Own Your Bike’s’ accounts.

The process was held by the Tannahill Centre, who brought £25,000 of Scottish Government Community Choices funding from into Ferguslie Park, with the ambition that how and where that money is invested is decided by young people living in the community.

Jamie Mallon

Jamie Mallon

Jamie Mallon, Manager at the Tannahill Centre explained their thinking.

“It’s been my job to re-engage local people with the Tannahill Centre so we’ve been asking local people what do they want? A priority was for ways for young people to identify and take action on their own issues. So for the past six months we’ve been working on this event where the community comes together to decide how £25,000 is going to be spent in Ferguslie Park”.

Ferguslie Park has had a lot of attention, not all of it welcome, after being identified as the area of Scotland with the greatest level of deprivation. This led to concerns about people coming in to ‘fix’ the community. Ferguslie Community Choices was an example of people in the community doing things for themselves by using their own skills and assets. Jamie pointed out: 

“Ferguslie Park is a fantastic community, with a real strong sense of community that I’ve not seen anywhere else.  It’s known as being the most deprived community in Scotland but actually its really rich here in family connections, really rich in a sense of community and really rich in people who get up and do things for themselves .”

There were lots of lessons from Ferguslie Community Choices, not least that time and resources are needed, and that not everything will go to plan. Jamie was open about this, saying:  

“The big big lesson is that Participatory Budgeting needs to be resourced effectively. If you’re wanting to engage the community and engage meaningfully, you have to put the resources in upfront.”

With limited time to do deep engagement and co-produce Ferguslie Community Choices with young people, a consultation route was taken, leading to funding being opened up for the whole community. Jamie explained: 

“If I’m honest, we’ve found it really difficult to engage young for a number of reasons, I don’t think we’ve put the resources we really should have into it, we didn’t really have the time to establish relationships we needed. However, we made sure that young people were consulted on every decision, priorities for the fund, award amounts and crucially, young people decided that Ferguslie Community Choices should be open to everyone’s needs, not just young people.”

the Feegie Needlers

the Feegie Needlers

The vote was open to anyone living in Ferguslie Park age 8 and over. Everyone had three votes to vote for three separate projects. Voting results are available here. The thinking was that many voters will be involved in a project that they’ll naturally want to support, but that they should be encouraged to support other projects that they think is needed in the area

Community members taking part drew more lessons from the experience.  Marc Small said:

“This is a good thing for the community, but I’d prefer if it was just for totally voluntary groups within the area – groups that don’t pay a wage. Schools get funding already. So services that are funded are bidding to do things in the community? Why can’t the community do that ourselves? That’s something I’d change if we did it again.”

Elaine Carter was at the event with the Feegie Needlers, set up by local people and open to everyone interested in sewing or needling. They’ve also been doing intergenerational work with the local nursery and primary kids. Elaine said the group makes a difference, “it brings people out their houses, when we would just sit in the house all day. It helps us socialise and do something useful”

Marc and his stall

Marc and his stall

Elaine echoed some of Marc’s comments on Ferguslie Community Choices:

“I think this is a fair way to decide on money but feel that some of the other groups who already get funding from elsewhere shouldn’t be taking part. It should be local groups like us who are totally self-sustainable. We don’t get a penny and are totally self-sufficient.”

PB has great potential for Scotland and can make a real impact in a community when it’s done well. But there are challenges to meet, and they include being willing to commit the time and resources to being truly community led. Time and resources are limited but it’s worth it, because our communities are full of people like Marc and Elaine, quietly using their talents to make a difference.

The Poverty Alliance have called for an end to the ‘poverty of participation’ experienced by many communities in Scotland.  They argue that ‘if people from low income communities are not active, then it is likely that decisions will not reflect their concerns and priorities’. On the flip side, the Poverty Alliance have learned that participation leads to improvements in individual wellbeing as well as at community level

Participation can be a challenge because we are more likely to take part in something when it’s meaningful for us - there has to be a transfer in power. Participatory Budgeting works best when shifting power to people like Marc, Elaine and the Tannachil Centre, they’ll rise to the challenge. That’s a real lesson from Ferguslie Community Choices.

There’s more great photos here.