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Uncovering the ‘Community Sector’ in Aberdeen City and Shire

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I am currently compiling a database of community-based initiatives active in the energy, food, transport and waste sectors, in and around Aberdeen.  This is very topical because for the past few years the Scottish Government has been seeking to encourage community-led activities.

My colleagues and I have found over 60 initiatives dispersed over the whole Aberdeen region. These include social enterprises, community energy groups, development trusts, community transport groups, eco-congregations, community council sub-groups, transition towns, student societies, allotment associations and others. These grouMap of community-based initiatives in north east Scotland, Credit:Simon Heslopps are delivering a huge range of services to their local areas, such as community buses, car clubs, energy saving advice, composting facilities, access to food growing spaces, food banks, re-use and repair centres, foot and cycle path developments…. and more! Some are funded from community-owned developments such as renewables (see work by Jelte Harnmeijer, my fellow SEGS member, for more information).

Researchers in six other countries are carrying out similar mapping work, as part of a European-funded project called TESS (Towards European Societal Sustainability). This international collaboration is showing us that Aberdeen seems to be particularly rich in such initiatives.

This profusion of community groups is particularly interesting because of some recent arguments pointing out issues with local government in Scotland.  For example, Scotland is thought to have a relatively weak local democratic structure versus other European countries (e.g. see my colleague Andrew Copus' recent blog post on local democracy) and authors such as Andy Wightman (see his comprehensive report to the Scottish Green Party) have argued that there is a lack of public buy-in and interest in these structures.

I think it is interesting to speculate whether there could be a connection between this profusion of community initiatives and the argued problems with local government in Scotland.  By giving people an opportunity to get involved in providing public services at a local level, are these initiatives tapping into energy that in other European countries would be channelled into the structures of local government?

Logos of community-based initiatives in north east Scotland, Credit:Joshua Msika

This is possible, but our data suggests we should be cautious in making this leap.  As a starting point, although there seems to be a great many community initiatives, the scale of their work is still very small when compared to local government in Scotland or indeed in other countries.  Furthermore, many community groups spend a lot of time struggling to access funding and to maintain volunteers’ enthusiasm.  I think that these initiatives are undoubtedly tapping into a strong latent desire to improve local communities, but whilst they remain independent from official structures it is questionable whether they will achieve significant impact.

We are still working on this and other questions: expect further blog posts in the future! In the meantime, you can find out more about our work at the TESS project’s official website, our twitter account and our informal online platform.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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Printed from /blogs/segs/uncovering-the-community-sector on 28/02/24 03:46:34 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.