Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Community Enterprises as Boundary Organisations Aiding Small-Town Revival: Exploring the Potential

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Community Enterprises as Boundary Organisations Aiding Small-Town Revival: Exploring the Potential

Article excerpt

Introduction

For small towns located close to large urban areas, with heritage assets and/or within areas of natural amenity, the prospects for amenity-led revival are often favourable (Green, 2010; Powe and Hart, 2017). However, not all towns have such potential. Following decline in their traditional industries, many towns have struggled to reinvent themselves (Powe and Hart, 2008; Markey et al., 2012; Wirth et al., 2016; Powe, 2018). Where revival has occurred, in-depth studies have illustrated how positive efforts have often been required for perhaps a generation before a transformational change is realised (Barnes and Hayter, 1992; Smith, 1998; Paradis, 2000; Markey et al., 2012; Burayidi, 2013; Powe et al., 2015). Revival usually results from taking advantage of a series of 'moments of opportunity' (Healey, 2007; Powe and Hart, 2017). For some towns there are, however, very few positive forces of change upon which to build even a partial revival. There are simply too many other, less risky, places to invest where the potential return is higher (Nel and Stevenson, 2014; Wirth et al., 2016; Powe and Pringle, 2017). Whilst the death of towns is rare, for some settlements merely stabilising population losses and economic decline can be a significant challenge (Tonts, 2000; Wirth et al., 2016; Powe, 2018).

In the context of limited opportunity, recognising the potentialities for positive activity is essential and requires effective governance (Westerhausen and Macbeth, 2003; Courtney et al., 2008; Powe and Pringle, 2017). For this to be achieved, it is argued, there is a need for sustained professional support at the small-town level. Whilst external support might be available, it tends to lack the necessary understanding of local issues/potential, to be highly prescriptive and to be short-term in nature (Vangen and Huxham, 2003; Edwards et al., 2000; Osborne et al., 2004; Markey et al., 2012; Burayidi, 2013; Powe et al., 2015). As Powe et al. (2015, 198) suggest, 'government agencies represent temporary partners within the long-term processes of change'. Although local leadership is required, revival partnerships based primarily on volunteer time often lack animation, direction and the necessary delivery mechanisms to manage change (Osborne et al., 2004; O'Toole and Burdess, 2004; Markey et al., 2012). In the absence of professional support, settlement-level volunteer organisations are likely to struggle to address some of the challenging issues faced, such as the physical constraints of land assembly, infrastructure provision, remediation of contaminated land and removal/reorientation of outdated structures (Powe et al., 2015). Local actors may also lack the 'innovation, experimentation, risk taking and entrepreneurship' required to tackle otherwise intractable regeneration challenges (Williams, 2002, 107).

How can sustained professional support be provided at the small-town level? As the direct employment of funded professional support at the small-town level has usually proven to be an unsustainable option (Powe et al., 2007; Countryside Agency, 2004; Molden et al., 2017), an alternative route to such provision is required. One way might be through commercial activity. Indeed, there is a growing realisation of the important roles of social enterprise (SE) within place-based revival. Social enterprises are 'controlled by their members and have social as well as economic aims' (Somerville and McElwee, 2011, 329). Small towns can benefit from the services that they provide to local communities (for example, training and skills development, office space and local foods) and their physical location within the towns (for example, jobs created, new uses for redundant buildings and the protection/renewal of environmental/ heritage resources) (Gore et al., 2006; Somerville and McElwee, 2011; Eversole et al., 2013). Whilst supportive of small-town revival, these organisations may not contribute significantly to small-town governance. …

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