RESTART Alliance Northern Ireland

Northern European Alliance

Banbridge District Enterprise is a local economic development group with a vision of sustainable regeneration fed by a growth in entrepreneurial attitudes and skills. The journey we are setting out on with our Restart Alliance partners over the next 18 months is not a simple one, but it could be a catalyst for long overdue change in many of our small communities that are easily overlooked and isolated.

Northern Ireland is a society with a strong volunteering ethic, so there are also small community groups and local networks scattered across the region. However we also have a dominant and risk averse public sector that is a gatekeeper for regeneration resources. Before it collapsed in 2017, regional government had begun to make moves towards a social economy and incorporating social outcomes into its planning processes. We are now without direction amidst the turmoil of Brexit.

This creates a situation in which willing volunteers have heavy demands on their time and many professional skill sets to navigate. We have been told by Alliance members that access to training is hampered by a complete lack of resources. So while there are accredited vocational courses from entry level upwards in social enterprise, for example, there is no way to finance the course, the travel or the time commitment.

There is also intelligence that the type of training offered can be too focused on legal and governance issues. Leaving a vital basket of regeneration skills untouched. All of which reflects a more top down approach, vulnerable to short term political enthusiasms rather than the more strategic, long term, grass roots growth that makes sustainable community regeneration possible.

Already in our Alliance we have expertise in key issues such as returning land to community ownership, developing a community profile and embedding social value within local government and economic regeneration. Our partners are committed to making small communities sustainable in a rapidly changing world with many challenges that can only be met by coming together to create change. Recently I was reminded of the transformative power of the Co-operative movement that has hundreds of years of experience to offer, and of the fact that we have an instinct to work together. Freeing the ingenuity and energy of small communities is more important than ever and we look forward to building our Restart Alliance and being a catalyst for sustainable change.

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