The head of Locality, the support network for community organisations, has called for greater support for community ownership in the UK.
Chief executive Tony Armstrong made the remarks while welcoming a government project to open up empty shops to community groups.
The Open Doors project was announced by UK communities minister James Brokenshire at this year’s Locality Convention – the annual conference for the community, voluntary and social enterprise sectors.
New figures point to 27,000 vacant premises in England’s town centres, and Mr Brokenshire said: “We need to be imaginative in tackling the social and economic challenges our communities face. This includes seizing the enormous opportunity before us to transform our high streets into vibrant community hubs where people work, live and shop.”
Mr Armstrong said: “The Open Doors project sounds like an interesting idea. We’re pleased there is to be a renewed government focus on community but those warm words need to be backed up by concrete action.
“It’s shocking that there are 27,000 vacant properties on Britain’s high streets. We know that there are huge numbers of community organisations out there who can put these places to productive use.
“To make the most of this opportunity, we need to recognise that community organisations are already stretched, with rising demand for their services and limited funding. It is critical that any funding available is channelled to the charities providing the services and breathing new life into our high streets.
“What’s promising is the potential for spaces to be led by communities, which is why we’re calling for greater support for community ownership, to save our spaces for all of us, forever.
“We’ll be working with the Secretary of State on these opportunities through the Communities Partnership Board. This is the group that brings together civil servants and key national membership organisations, which Locality co-chairs. This is a great chance to work together to develop this agenda and ensure the government puts the right measures in place to unlock the power of community.”