At last week's meeting of River Community Council, Simon Noble gave those assembled an update on the organisation's various potential projects:
“You may recall a couple of meetings ago the community council agreed that we should endeavour to set up a working group to take forward our ideas about the maintenance of the common areas in Nairn. We had made a pitch last year to the Community Challenge Fund to, at that point we were inviting the Council to explore with us the possibilities of the Community Council taking on some of the services currently operated by the Council which they wanted to hand over under the community challenge fund. So that was one project, another one was to take forward some of the work that had been successfully done under leader funding with the river regeneration. The third idea had been to do with the recycling/reuse project that had been floated
The Community Council agreed that we would try and set up a steering group to see how we might take that forward and in the intervening time we have had discussions with Highland Council’s Employability Service because the newly announced Deprived Area Fund some of which has been specifically allocated for Nairn. We had discussions with Highland Council’s ward manager and with Highland Councillors and, as a result, we made a pitch for the deprived area fund money to help us to take the project forward. We would not have the capacity to do it on our own. We made a pitch for that funding and that funding was to help us to pay for someone to project manage on our behalf in the early stages of looking at what is the best way to develop our approach to these three projects.
We invited a range of people from across the community to come to a meeting on the 18th of June. That range of people included some of our local politicians, two members of the Community Council (myself and Tommy), but also one of the local church ministers, two local business owners and another business manager and the manager of CAB. A cross section of people who are not the usual suspects but also who have good investment in the town and an interest in supporting developments in community enablement if you like.
The outcome of all of that has been that Highland Council through the Area Committee awarded £5,000 through the Deprived Area fund to facilitate this project and to enable us to get started by hiring, in due course, a project manager just to take forward building the ideas, getting in place the kind of legal framework that we will need. Also putting together a basic business pitch for public funding to get the thing moving and also to help us in developing our discussions with Highland Council about the Community Challenge Fund pitch that we had made last year. We were really pleased about that and the group when it met on the 18th gave us loads of sensible advice, not the least of which and probably the best advice was, keep it simple don’t try and get more complicated and clever about everything. So the conclusion of the meeting it was agreed that our priority should be to take forward a development of a social enterprise which will in the first instance seek to get an agreement with Highland Council to take on maintenance of selective common areas in the town. That’s what is commonly called the grass cutting but there is an awful lot more to it than that.
The object of the social enterprise is, first and foremost, to create routes to employment for local people. So the possibility of training, apprenticeship, that kind of thing. The vehicle would be this common areas maintenance work and the long term aim if that proves to be successful and sustainable to develop something which could then take forward the ideas about recycling and reuse schemes and the river regeneration scheme. At this stage that is as far as we have got. We have a further meeting coming up next month.”
Tommy Hogg said: “I’m quite impressed with the way it is all coming together and when you see what can be done and you see it all set out in front of you. I know there are a lot of pitfalls but I honestly think myself that it can be achieved with sensible ideas and slowly, not just diving in. It’s going to take a lot of business management things that have to be addressed. [...] If it is carefully thought about and we don’t get too ambitious, I think it could actually work.”
Colin MacAulay then said: “This isn’t easy, this is about taking on, effectively considering taking on a contract and all that then entails in terms of responsibilities to staff, employing staff, taking on their training, health and safety. There is just a barrow load – it’s a major commitment and the Council will be very supportive both on the Community Challenge side of things and both on the employability and from the local politicians but is about capacity of individuals in the community that want to take on the role of delivering a social enterprise and that’s a bit undertaking.”