NEW research detailing how community democracy can be used to create vibrant communities is being published shortly by Preston's ground-breaking Community Gateway project.
Preston City Council is the first local authority in the country to put into practice the Community Gateway model developed by the Confederation of Co-operative Housing and Co-operatives UK in association with the Chartered Institute of Housing.
Early experiences and lessons learned by the Preston Community Gateway team form the basis of the Empowering Communities in Preston report – the result of a collaboration between Preston City Council and Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services.
The Community Gateway proposals in Preston stem from the need to bring in substantial resources to modernise and improve the city's council housing.
The council has concluded that the only way to raise sufficient funds to get its 6,700 properties up to the Government's Decent Homes Standards by 2010 was to seek stock transfer to a new, locally-based, independent housing authority run which allowed tenant empowerment at every level of decision-making.
At the heart of the proposals is a dual track approach to tenant engagement.
One track offers tenants the opportunity to join and play an active role in the Community Gateway Association covering the whole of Preston, while
the second track offers local communities the opportunity to make decisions about how their neighbourhoods are run.
Nic Bliss, a Senior Community Regeneration Officer at Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services , said: `Although the immediate focus must be on delivering urgently needed improvements to the housing stock in Preston, Community Gateway offers far greater potential in building communities where people support each other and share decision making.
`It's about encouraging community engagement to tackle a wider agenda of issues that determine quality of life.`
Peter Deacon, lead consultant to Preston's Community Gateway, added: `Our early experiences are that tenants have proved eager and enthusiastic to grasp the Community Gateway principles, but there are still major challenges ahead.
`Community Gateway will require important changes in culture and attitude governing the relationships between tenants and their new housing service as well as between the Gateway housing association, investors and the Housing Corporation.
`And, of course, none of this will take place unless tenants approve of the idea in a ballot scheduled to take place in December.`
The Empowering Communities in Preston report will be launched at a conference on Community Gateway in Preston next Friday (July 16th).
For information regarding the conference and copies of the report, contact Rehana Patel at Preston City Council on 01772 906486.