People can benefit by becoming involved in setting up and running the services their communities need.

Broadband for the Allen Valleys

One such example of an alternative business model currently operating in the Hexham constituency is the Broadband for the Allen Valleys project known as B4AV. It aims to provide fast but inexpensive broadband for the community and is registered as a not-for-profit, community benefit society. This means it can never be bought by a commercial operator and its profits can only be distributed back into the local community. The core investment is made up of shares and all shareholding members have one vote. Shares are mainly purchased by people living in the Allen Valleys with volunteers managing and delivering the whole project. So the project is a form of cooperative in which communities can invest as well as benefit from its service. People are also involved as workers and decision makers – people are quite literally ‘doing it for themselves’. You can find out more at http://www.b4av.org/

Members of the Allen Valleys Labour Supporters’ Group are involved in the project. Broadband for the Allen Valleys isn’t going to create billionaires but it will help members of the community live richer lives. The kind of benefits that accrue for people involved in these kind of endeavours can be more than simply financial reward and satisfaction in using a service.

Wylam’s Falcon Centre

Here is a further example of a local initiative being explored by Bywell Labour and a group of existing providers and users of services at the Falcon Centre in Wylam. The Centre is an attractive and stylish former school building with an impressively large, stylish and well lit interior that houses the local library, railway museum and offers space for the provision of local services and facilities. It has enormous scope for expansion. Currently owned and maintained by Northumberland County Council it is widely considered underused. However the premises could, through a community asset transfer (CAT), be transferred to a trust set up by the village or wider community. A Community Interest Company could be an option. This would mean services being managed by the community.

As a local asset, a range of small local businesses, services and cooperatives might operate from and in conjunction with the premises. This would consolidate several services in the same building with each benefiting from a shared economy of space and attendance of a wider group of service users. This may well transform the Falcon Centre and have a beneficial effect for the community. Significantly it might provide the community with the space for accessible and local GP surgery provision if the closure of a local surgery goes ahead. In addition as part of the local economy the building could play a new role as a centre for tourism in East Tyndale. Tourism based on walking, cycling and natural and historical site visits by private and public transport are well established features of the area. Both short visits, longer term stays and the catering and service provision associated with this kind of tourism could be expanded on behalf of the community.

This is a suggestion of how the Falcon Centre in Wylam can be secured as a valuable community resource, generating funds to assist in its upkeep as a significant civic building and facility at the centre of the health and wellbeing of Wylam and surrounding villages.  The closure of libraries and other community assets has been commonplace in recent years. But now with the prospect of Labour winning the next election and creating a real post-austerity society, we have the chance to reverse this trend. Expansion of the Centre and other similar premises in the constituency could benefit current service providers and users, enhance local services and improve the local and even regional economy and point to a different form of community led management, cooperative services and local business.