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Centre for Regeneration Excellence Wales sponsorship feature

Reimagining the future

As the current economic gloom extends indefinitely into the future, it\’s all too easy to settle into a very pessimistic assessment of what might be done to regenerate communities in Wales. We start from an already difficult context in which many of the social and economic problems acquired in the 1980s remain a major challenge. Despite the programmes of the intervening years, major difficulties remain unresolved despite some of the gains from initiatives such as the Heads of the Valleys programme. The areas supported as regeneration areas and by programmes such as Communities First are certainly hugely improved from their mid 1990s nadir and are significantly better places than they would have been without those interventions. Yet the current double dip recession hits already weakened communities with more than their fair share of challenges. The immediate horizon of rising unemployment, cuts in public expenditure and falling benefit entitlements also creates a darkening scenario which saps confidence and optimism for the future of Wales and its communities.

So are there any grounds for optimism for our most disadvantaged communities? The answer is yes, but only if we radically change our beliefs, values and methods. In the nineteenth century, Wales was the dynamo of the UK and wider transatlantic economy. Our collective wish ever since has been to reproduce the wealth and employment levels such a position created. Consequently, we seek to reproduce and recreate a past that is no longer available to us. The current regeneration paradigm remains attached to the holy grail of attracting a large employer to the industrial park or a major retailer to the declining town centre. The reality is that neither is particularly likely to happen and, if it should, it does not present a secure, embedded model of economic activity that can be projected into a long-term future. The reality of those models of investment is that they all too often prove fragile and precarious as more economically favourable regions emerge.

So where must we look for more optimistic aspirations? The answer, as always, is that we must look to ourselves. Just as in the 1980s when communities throughout Wales were slammed by rising unemployment, public service cuts and benefit reforms, they built their own organisations to alleviate the impact of hostile and punitive UK government policy. The recipe for self-help is different today and must centre on building a resilient and environmentally sustainable future. Rather than try to reproduce the past, we must re-imagine the future to build a vision of what an economically viable, low carbon community looks like. We need to be planning for 2030 and a world in which our current consumption will have been forced to change by high energy prices and a post-oil economy.

Starting that process now can also be the vehicle of our current regeneration. The retro-fit of our homes for low-carbon performance can provide a major economic impetus and significant employment opportunities into the future. Colin Hines and the Green New Deal have mapped that for us and we can draw on the ARBED experience in Wales. We already have communities developing renewable energy supplies at the local level and this will be the future model as each community will establish energy self sufficiency through wind, hydro and photo-voltaic generation methods. We should be building collective power and heat sources using bio-mass fuels, the growth of which can re-energise our farming communities. Local food production must become the norm and live/work units connected to the wider world by super-fast broadband will end the commuting model of work.

We need to collectively imagine this future now and immediately begin the process of building for it, not just in terms of infrastructure, but the skills sets we develop in our schools and colleges. This is the path to regeneration and the development of a more local economy will provide a buffer zone between us and the global economy. We need to stop what we are doing and imagine what we should be doing.

CREW news

At CREW, we have begun this process with the hosting of our nine visitors from State University, New York. They are now returning to the US but leave behind a master plan for a production cycle which begins with willow growth, then extracts bio-fuels before the waste product is burned in bio-mass boilers powering large industrial scale greenhouses producing organic foods. If you’d like to know more contact [email protected]. As soon as the master plan is digitised, you’ll find it at regenwales.org.

One of the key questions for developing this new future is how we might fund it. In December 2011, CREW co-hosted a seminar with the Charity Bank, the Cooperative Society and BRASS to explore innovative funding models and financial resilience for Wales. We will report on this shortly.

We now hope to have resolved our funding difficulties and will be catching up with some of the project delays we have experienced. If you’ve been waiting for something to appear on our website, we should be fully back up to speed by early in 2012.

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