Ouseburn Trust: Blending the social with the commercial
Celebrating its 20th birthday in 2016, the Ouseburn Trust has turned a derelict area of Newcastle into the biggest creative cluster in the north-east and become a case study example of how to embed social value through regeneration, as chief officer Chris Barnard explains.
Once the cradle of the industrial revolution on Tyneside, containing glassworks, flour mills and the world famous Maling pottery, the Ouseburn Valley is located just one mile from Newcastle city centre.
By the early 20th century its industries were in decline and over the following decades workers’ housing was demolished. By the 1980s, historic buildings that had survived were surrounded by pockets of dereliction, and few residents remained.
Early regeneration began with the Byker City Farm and the purchase of a former flax mill at 36 Lime Street as artists’ studios, and its occupation by Bruvvers Theatre Company, setting the tone for a strong creative sector and cultural identity and the start of a slow burn regeneration for the next 35 years.
‘The generation of income from commercial endeavours
doesn’t have to mean the lining of shareholders pockets’
Influenced in part by a fire that almost completely destroyed the former Maynards Toffee Factory, the Ouseburn Trust was formed in 1995 to protect the unique heritage of the Ouseburn Valley from wholescale demolition and re-development, and to promote the area’s sensitive regeneration as an urban village.
The concept of developing mixed-use facilities for cultural, residential, leisure and small business populations underlies the regeneration strategy that was developed through a partnership between the Ouseburn Trust and Newcastle Council, and which informs much of the work engaged in today.
Slow burn regeneration through partnerships and the re-use of historic assets
The Ouseburn Partnership, led by the trust and working closely with the council, secured £2.5m of investment to spend in the valley over a five year period to help preserve its heritage and support its sensitive regeneration.
This stimulated further growth in the valley, attracting small creative businesses, pubs, music venues, visitor attractions and residential development, through the re-use of existing buildings.
The trust became the guardian of some of the valley’s historic built assets, housing a range of businesses and projects creating local employment and delivering services and social value, and the occupation of these assets provides it with an income stream to reinvest in the development of the valley community.
Thus property management and development has become a core activity of the trust, and offers significant stability in times of uncertainty, but also allows us to retain an influence over the wider redevelopment of the area.
The Ouseburn Valley is now a vibrant place to live, work and play with a strong sense of community and an infectious enthusiasm. Thanks to imaginative, culture-driven regeneration projects, the valley is home to artists, musicians, a myriad of creative businesses and several of the region’s top visitor attractions. It is recognised as the biggest creative cluster in the north east and attracts half a million visitors every year.
Combining 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