It's always good when you see your friends being highlighted as a beacon of hope in the national press, but especially this week to see John Harris in the Guardian singing the praises of Witton Lodge Community Association. We have been supporting WLCA throughout their 30 years of tireless support for the community in Perry Common, and Afzal, Linda and all the rest of them thoroughly deserve their moment in the sun.
Highlighted particularly was their latest proposal to take over the former swimming baths at the top end of Erdington, and turn it into a community hub to promote local enterprise with a creche, cafe and event space. But those who know WLCA will be aware this is just the latest in a long line of projects - the restoration of Perry Common Hall, the work on shop fronts and the green, other local assets restored and revitalised - to emerge from their work, and it won't be the last either. So why does Witton Lodge matter?
It matters first of all because it is owned, run and managed by local people. The majority of the board are elected from the community, every few years, and see themselves as accountable back to that community. The focus is resolutely a-political, in a party sense - WLCA is very clear that they will work with any MP or councillor that will support them to improve the lives of local people.
Secondly, WLCA is a charitable enterprise, and the funds that it generates - primarily from the 120 odd social rent homes that it lets out - are permanently recycled back into the area. There are no owning investors drawing funds out of the community, just a virtuous cycle of enterprise, growth and reinvestment.
Thirdly, the neighbourhood focus of WLCA means that it can respond flexibly to local need, which we have seen supremely in the pandemic - delivery was shifted around so that WLCA took an active part in the local task force response, reaching isolated individuals, sorting access to food and generally making sure that people had what they needed.
John Harris is quite right to point out the hope for a better society that WLCA engenders and the inspiration they can offer. But it would be a mistake to think that they are the only example. There are hundreds of locally owned community organisations, quietly doing amazing work and responding to neighbourhood need. Many of them are members of the national charity Locality, like WLCA. They are all different and distinct, as varied as the communities they represent. But perhaps it is indeed time that our jaded politicians, if they need a little inspiration as to how the world can really be changed, come down to the local level and listen. Because that is where hope begins.
in five days in and around Birmingham, the most hopeful thing I found was not in a manifesto, but at the heart of a trailblazing local institution called the Witton Lodge Community Association.