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The village of Renton in the Vale of Leven near Loch Lomond, population 3000, has unemployment above the national average. Cordale Housing Association (CHA), and its sister organisations Renton Community Development Trust and the Carmen Social Inclusion Centre, have been at the heart of a 15 year community-led investment programme, which has transformed Renton’s fortunes … and is getting them national recognition.
The CHA never intended to just build a better standard of housing for people to enjoy their poverty in. From the moment the organisation started, when it made the bold decision to replace its stock-tranferred housing with new-build, CHA has always been committed to working with the community to make Renton a great village to live in. It recently completed 40 ‘extra care’ flats for older people, and has built an integrated Healthy Living Centre and a local supermarket – with free-to-use cash machine. Its current projects include building 282 new homes for sale and rent on a brownfield site and the re-development of local shops.
The Renton Community Development Trust has recently taken over the Council community centre, establishing ‘Ma Centre’, currently a local youth centre run by teenagers with a café and access to sports. Eventually, childcare, elderly day care, a restaurant, conferencing facilities, and a small theatre will be included. The Trust is becoming ‘the glue’ that binds local organisations and partnerships together, and is looking to work with neighbouring communities and to restore a community woodland.
Another key element of regeneration has been the development of the Carman Centre, a social enterprise working with all ages and offering many activities including: drama, art and music classes, bingo and social events, a community café and a small fitness centre. It has become an accredited learning centre, has IT facilities, is starting to offer SVQs, and is looking to provide a business centre.
CHA, its partner organisations and West Dunbartonshire Council have been awarded the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland’s ‘Excellence in Regeneration Award’ (2009). A recent performance evaluation suggests that CHA and its local partners helped create more than150 local jobs between 2001 and 2006. For instance, CHA’s Employment Ladder initiative provides skills and opportunities in the Association for school leavers who might otherwise struggle in the jobs market.
The three organisations are now working to a Community Regeneration Strategy for the village, developed with local people, and future plans include a partnership with the Council to build a new primary school on a single site through what would be Scotland’s first Public Community Partnership.
Archie Thomson MBE, Chair of the Trust, sums up the ethos of the work across Renton:
We change people not just their environment. We don’t just build houses, we build community and develop local assets. Poor architecture, inappropriate houses and services destroy community. By working with local people and using local knowledge we are re-populating this village. Local people can feel proud to live here: we might not be as affluent as some but we have a cultural wealth that is more valuable.