Ouseburn Trust: Blending the social with the commercial

1403_JamesPlaceStreet_VIEW FROM CUMBERLANDCombining the commercial with social value

Like all local authorities, Newcastle Council is facing unprecedented cuts to the very revenue budgets that have served the third sector well over the years and supported many valuable community projects.

The sector hasn’t felt the full force of these cuts yet, but the austere landscape presents an opportunity for those previously dependent on the public purse to take control and instead offer solutions to these problems, drawing on the powers local authorities still have and the strong partnerships that exist.

We are currently embarking on one of our most ambitious projects yet to build a mixed-use development of affordable housing, self-build properties and further commercial business space for small creative businesses in the valley. Like our other endeavours, the vision is for creating more than houses, or workspaces; instead building a community, somewhere people can live, work and play.

‘Without leadership from those determined to embed social

value into regeneration, we won’t secure the future we want’

Our realisation of this latest vision means a more enterprising approach, and the rhetoric from central government would suggest this is what they want to see, but the generation of income from commercial endeavours doesn’t have to mean the lining of shareholders pockets.

There is less obvious distinction between the sectors now, with the private sector more keen to demonstrate its social responsibility, and the third sector forced into a commercial marketplace as a means to continue its work embedded in social value.

This presents challenges with regard to leadership among development trusts and like-minded organisations, as the perception is often that a commercial operation has less intrinsic social value, which can lead to criticism that a social organisation has misplaced its objectives.

It is imperative that we check and recheck that each new opportunity we embark on or business decision we make meets with our organisational objectives, directly or indirectly and preferably both, and that the community we exist to support has ownership of that decision.

In January 2016, the Ouseburn Trust will have survived 20 years of regeneration in the valley. The trust is often modest with regard to the contribution it has made, but what we have learned is that without leadership from those determined to embed social value in the regeneration of an area, we won’t secure the future we want.

Chris Barnard is chief officer of the Ouseburn Trust
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