Slugger online debate on ‘community asset transfer’ starts next week…

From next Monday, Slugger will play host to a series of blog essays and on-the-ground interviews on the subject of community asset transfer (see this piece on the Guardian’s blog for an idea of what it actually is). Here’s the Asset Transfer Unit’s description:

…asset transfer is a shift in management and / or ownership of land or buildings, from public bodies, (most commonly local authorities), to communities, (community and voluntary sector groups, community enterprises, social enterprises, etc).

The main purpose is to convene a series of coherent conversations (if we can) here on Slugger, and across a number of social media networks (hashtag, #CATJRF).

The context is a research programme conducted by Queens University in Belfast for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which takes a depth look at how it is being implemented on the ground; what its potential is for future development; its political pros and cons. In short the aim is to give the report some living context.

At the moment, I am keen to source as many views and experiences on the subject as we can convene over the two weeks period. You can participate in a number of ways:

  • submitting a blog essay to me ( with a word limit of between 400 and 600 words;
  • contributing to our live blog on Thursday 23rd from the project seminar at Queens;
  • flagging articles or projects either here on Slugger or on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus and tagging, where appropriate with #CATJRF (so we can find it).
Although the primary focus will be local the remit of the blog content is not limited to Northern Ireland alone. We’re very interested to hear from groups or individuals in other territories, not least Scotland, England and the Republic and other countries within the European Union.
This is very much an experiment. It starts on Monday, when we’ll certainly have enough content to get us started, but we’re particularly keen to take responses from new contributors which help tease out issues conversationally as we go along

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  • Reader

    What is “Community Asset Transfer”?

  • Mick Fealty

    Good Question. It can mean lots of things to lots of different people, but it can mean opening up publicly owned spaces to community management structures, such as leisure centres, or libraries faced with closure…

    Here’s a few examples from England:

    Things are rather more advanced in England where communities of people are actually taking over ownership of some assets from top to bottom…

  • Mick Fealty

    Have amended the original post to make it slightly less inscrutable…

  • Drumlins Rock

    Have been involved in a few cases of this, in most cases it is just the land being transfered for a nominal fee, and the community getting funding for the structure, I think a more flexible approach to public ownership is good, working both ways that is, with other neglected community property coming into public ownership, mite see if I can do a blog on it!

  • Reader

    Mick Fealty: …opening up publicly owned spaces to community management structures…
    Thanks Mick.
    Must..resist.. temptation
    No good – here we go – Isn’t there a risk that what it might actually amount to locally is handing over parks and playgrounds to be managed by Loyalist paramilitary drug barons (“retired”, obviously)?

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, I think that’s a legitimate question, let’s hope we can find you an credible answer…

  • It looks like quite a good idea for a seminar.
    Per the flyer attendance is free and no need to preregister so presumably is open to any Belfast-based Sluggerite who wants to see it at close quarters.
    Unfortunately I will be elsewhere next week but Id certainly be tempted.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Readed, “managed” is the key word, not many of them are up to that.

  • Reader

    Drumlins Rock: “managed” is the key word, not many of them are up to that.
    It depends on what you think they will aim to manage. After a couple of community development seminars they will be officially qualified.
    Actually, I think in rural areas with good social capital it may all work out fine. I shudder to think how it might work out in the Cities and big towns.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, one of the things I am keen to do is to record some case studies and to ask people to say what worked and what didn’t.

    Sustainability is a key question, whether in rural settings, where social capital is generally good, but perhaps restricted in numbers and urban settings where numbers are higher but social cohesion less strong…

    And what does it take to sustain a working project beyond the first of fit of enthusiasm?

    I suspect life cycles are something that can only be determined in the longer term and the idea is relatively underdeveloped in Northern Ireland…

    I’m not planning to stick too rigidly to the subject either… I think some input on collaoboration between communities and other organisations should be in the frame too…

  • Quintin Oliver

    There must be loads of examples here already, from Housing Executive flats for tenants’ groups, through use of land, shopping complexes, old schools and leisure centres, to former military sites and prisons – so what works?

    What are the pitfalls? What skills are required in the community? Is the state just off-loading or this sharing power and assets? Discuss…

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed. I would emphasise though that it’s crucial we get people examining some of those issues from the top of the blog too… so if you know something of this territory, or you have suggestions as to who might get involved, please email me at

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mick, are you looking examples where this has or has not worked?

  • Mick Fealty

    Either/or… But I am looking for people with real experience…

    BTW, the email address is actually, not Mick…

  • Stewart Finn

    Mick I have a few ideas so will email you.

  • Mick Fealty

    Great… better still give me a call…

  • exsdlp

    What a load of balls

  • Red Rob

    As one of the local civil servants tasked with taking forward this new Programme for Government commitment, this debate is extremely helpful. I also hope to be at the seminar on Thursday.

    Community asset transfer has operated very successfully in other UK administrations but we are somewhat behind the game here. Our early investigations have shown that there is no real barrier to transferring public assets to the voluntary sector, at nominal value. Government’s ‘Managing Public Money’ guidance makes it clear that physical assets can be transferred at less than market value where a clear business case can be presented demonstrating the community impact of such a transfer.

    However the challenge here will be to change mindsets, particularly within government, as many public servants here are not used to taking risks. The Strategic Investment Board has started to populate a register of public assets which may be available to transfer for community use and it is hoped to publish this in a few months.

    We will be working to develop a policy framework to facilitate community asset transfer in NI and this will be rolled out across Departments. We will also be looking for a few pilots to test this policy framework.

    Another key aspect of this is the ability of local voluntary sector organisations, Trusts and social enterprises to assume responsibility for these assets. Can they utilise these assets to make themselves more sustainable or will eh prove to be a burden?

    There is muck work to be done but I look forward to seeing further contributions on here and on Thursday.