Iftikar Karim on Norton Hall and Community Asset Transfer

Iftikar Karim has been involved with Asset Transfer since 2002. As a board member of Norton Hall Children and Family Centre he has helped the organisation navigate taking on a 50 year lease of their building from Birmingham City Council and then undergo a £250,00 renovation.

Here he talks about the lessons he has learnt and the advice he would give to other community groups and local authorities:

What are the benefits of Community Asset Transfer?

  • It is a great opportunity to empower community led and community based groups. It provides a sustainable future in terms of controlling your own asset which can provide a stable source of income and a base to make a long term difference in regenerating the local area and strengthening community life
  • A very long lease (50+ years) enables groups to go to funders that offer capital for improvements and modifications to the building (e.g. Big Lottery, Communitybuilders, Futurebuilders etc.)
  • greater control over the asset enables greater confidence in running other events
  • it allows income generation by renting out rooms and spaces to other organisations

What are the challenges that you have had in going through this process?

  • There were challenges in responding to the legal requirements and the need to complete funding applications, signing documents and negotiating with legal services people
  • Many of the officers and other agencies operate under a very different ethos and structure and at times there can be a clash of cultures that must be overcome
  • Often community groups involve community activists who take immediate action where possible and can be frustrated by the levels of bureaucracy and timescales involved

What have you learned and gained from the process?

  • We have developed really good working relationships with members of the constituency offices and property services that we worked with regularly. We have developed trusting relationships with them
  • Contact with other parts of the Local Authority that were less frequent could be more frustrating in terms of making progress together
  • The end result is a fantastically refurbished building! There’s lots of excitement now within the organisation which is now on far firmer footings to look at expanding its work and working even more effectively to achieve its mission to support and provide opportunities for children and families
  • Going through a difficult process such as this has given the board confidence and strength to engage in other processes around applying for funding etc.

What recommendations do you have for future projects?

  • The process within the Local Authority needs to be led by people who’ve got community development / regeneration experience or that of some kind of support role in terms of working with voluntary and community organisations
  • They should be able to serve as intermediaries between local community groups and other parts of the Local Authority for example to ensure that timescales are appropriate for the structures in both organisations
  • The key advice would be to have a very clear understanding of what the challenges are going to be and to be realistic that it is a hard and demanding process
  • It is important that there is some kind of existing strong infrastructure within the organisation. There has to be a board which has active people within it who can vigorously fight their case where necessary and have the time and energy to progress the project
  • There needs to be at least 1 or 2 paid members of staff to take up some of that load

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