Ownership or control of land and buildings is a powerful tool for communities to drive change and achieve their own goals. In the first place it provides a base for activities and services that might not otherwise be accessible to members of a particular community, and can provide jobs, training and bring income to the local area. More widely, it can provide stability and sustainability for the community organisation, allowing them to develop new initiatives and support other developing groups, and it can create a stronger sense of community identity, cohesion and involvement.
The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 moves forward from this voluntary approach by the public sector, and introduces a right for community bodies to make requests to all local authorities, Scottish Ministers and a wide-ranging list of public bodies, for any land or buildings they feel they could make better use of. Community bodies can request ownership, lease or other rights, as they wish. The Act requires those public authorities to assess requests transparently against a specified list of criteria, and to agree the request unless there are reasonable grounds for refusal. This shifts the balance of power clearly towards the community body, and ensures that asset transfer is available throughout Scotland.
A dedicated team within Vibrant Communities was established to support the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) process across East Ayrshire. This involves the transfer of the responsibility of an asset from the Council to a community group or voluntary organisation. The approach has attracted interest from other local councils in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Following adoption of the Community Asset Transfer policy in October 2012, 55 CAT applications have been approved including community facilities and areas of green space as well as sports facilities for football, boxing and karate. The CAT process presents local groups and communities with unique opportunities to get involved in running facilities and delivering services; empowering them to help themselves and create a more sustainable future.