Back in the Good Old Days, when life seemed less complicated, NICE emerged as a grass-roots community movement. We enthusiastically embraced the possibility of making a difference in Nairn, indeed, by working together we determined to “Improve Nairn”. We met in small groups and looked at several issues – the Bus Station, the Regal Bar, affordable housing, empty properties like Barron House, Open Spaces, Common Good, Arts, Culture and Tourism. We presented the “NICE Vision for Nairn” in October 2012.
The reality turned out to be much more complex than we expected. We took up the challenge to develop a business plan for the Old Social Work Building. We did produce a workable business plan and secured the funding to buy the building, but our anchor tenant pursued another option. Highland Council were in many ways extremely accommodating, but it was harder to develop a partnership approach than we had anticipated.
Nairn Town Charrette
We fully engaged with the Nairn Charrette last year and fed in survey feedback from our members. It was encouraging to find that there was broad agreement from all parties about the general direction of Town Centre Development. It was agreed that the Old Social Work Building ought to function as a “Gateway” for the town centre. So some progress was made, but having largely identified a plan for the Town Centre, there was no effective delivery mechanism and Highland Council was budget constrained.
At a meeting facilitated by HISEZ on 12 May this year, Highland Council, elected Councillors and community bodies including NICE agreed to develop a new “partnership relationship” to deliver to Nairn the Town Centre and other initiatives that it deserves. NICE perceives its role as two-fold: firstly, as a “Community Body” and registered charity it has the ability to source funding and deliver projects; and secondly through its membership it directly represents the interests of its members in the community. Furthermore, there have been huge changes in both National and local politics since we set out on the journey, and it is now Scottish Government policy to empower communities. In particular, the Community Empowerment Act represents a powerful statement of intent by the Scottish Government about a re-balancing of power. Each part of the Bill will be brought into force separately, once the relevant regulations and guidance are in place. The Development Trusts Association of Scotland (of which NICE is a member) hopes to contribute to the development of these, particularly in relation to asset transfer, community right to buy and participation requests.
Why does NICE have such an Important Role to Play?
NICE was identified at the 12 May meeting as having a key role to play by virtue of its status as a “Social Enterprise”. This is one of a potentially confusing number of titles that basically describe the same thing – viz. “Development Trust”; “Community Body”; “Social Enterprise”. What they have in common is that they are set up to tackle local issues and to improve the quality of life in the community. They seek to work in partnership with other private, public and third sector organisations, and seek to achieve the sustainable regeneration of a community or address a range of economic, social, environmental and cultural issues within a community. A “Development Trust” implies it is about community property ownership; a “Community Body” is really a Development Trust that meets the criteria under the “Right to Buy” legislation; and a “Social Enterprise” is a body that can engage in a wide range of community based activities.
So, what is NICE?
NICE is in legal form a Company Limited by Guarantee whose members live in the local community; as members they each have a vote through which they directly exercise ultimate control of NICE. NICE is also a “Community Body” which means that with community support it can exercise a Right-to-Buy property from its owner. NICE also has the consequence of an “asset lock” – nothing can leave NICE and if surpluses are generated, they can only be used by NICE in further activities. NICE is also a registered charity, which is necessary to access most sources of funding. As a charity NICE is governed by OSCR, and it can only engage in activities that are “charitable”, which in NICE’s case means for the benefit of the local community. These are the reasons why NICE has such an important role to play.
Town Centre Action Plan – What Happens Next?
The regeneration of high streets and town centres remains a high priority for the Scottish Government. DTAS secured funding from Scottish Government for a number of pilots, and through its DTAS membership NICE has secured a grant of £10,000 from Scottish Government to drive the Town Centre Plan forward. NICE will be working with its partners to use this money to best effect, and initial meetings have taken place with a view to developing an action plan. NICE will make a further statement when this has happened. NICE is also involved in several other community initiatives, and will be making further announcements as they come to fruition.