Angels back regeneration via the crowd
Regeneration needs to consider the needs of the community the area serves, says Clare Jones of ClearlySo.
Those who live in certain London boroughs – and other urban centres throughout the country – are all too familiar with how regeneration, with its millions of pounds in investment, can be an exclusive and far-removed process for those communities it should be serving.
Brixton is famous for protests from its residents against ‘gentrification’, while the Elephant and Castle regeneration project has had vociferous criticism from some local residents throughout the process. While the process is top-down, some developers and certain lobbying groups can push through building or planning projects that may not serve the local residents, but a consultation process that is laborious and difficult to access does not encourage collaboration between housing associations, local authorities and those who live in the area.
Indeed, in 2012 the government created a toolkit for “community-led regeneration”, in which they stressed that “it is for local people to identify which areas need regeneration, define what it should look like, and what measures should be used to drive it”. This report highlighted the need for investment into social enterprises to form part of a collaborative regeneration process.
With the Social Investment Business running the Communitybuilders Fund in 2012 for sustainable regeneration projects – and the Prince’s Regeneration Trust being awarded a £200,000 Big Lottery Funddevelopment grant in March 2014 to establish a community investment fund targeting regeneration projects in deprived areas – there is certainly a move towards supporting sustainable enterprises involved in community building work.
In early August, our Clearly Social Angels network co-invested with Angels in the City and others into tech start-up Commonplace – an example of a business supporting bottom-up community regeneration.
Commonplace, which also received funding from the Big Lottery Fund through the Big Venture Challenge, has created a technology solution that opens up regeneration to the crowd. It is a mobile and web app that crowd-sources the needs and opinions of residents to provide real-time intelligence on a neighbourhood. Using Commonplace, residents can add comments and insights from a mobile in a matter of seconds. It gives developers and local authorities insight into the needs and wants of their residents, and offers unique opportunities for collaboration.
By ensuring that communities have direct input into the planning process – using technology to make it simple and accessible – Commonplace is part of a wider trend that uses the power of the crowd to create social change. With the rapid rise of crowdfunding in recent years, and a growing trend towards open data and crowdsourcing, technology supports the democratisation of long-established processes, giving a voice to those who are directly affected.
Disruptive technologies such as these change the power dynamic and provide a neutral, transparent platform – so important in urban planning where often those most affected by the change are those least engaged in consultations around it.
Clare Jones works at ClearlySo, which raises capital for business and funds that create social or environmental impact. ClearlySo also runs the UK’s first and largest angel network focused on social impact, Clearly Social Angels.