Karen Cheney on lessons from the Community Asset Transfer Development Programme in Birmingham

Kareh Cheney of Birmingham City Council

Karen Cheney has been the co-ordinator of  the Community Asset Transfer Development Programme as part of her job as Senior Manager – Community Empowerment Projects Lead in the Neighbourhood and Communities Team of Birmingham City Council – Constituency Services.   Below she talks very clearly about what the programme has achieved and more importantly the lessons – both good and where improvements are needed  coming out of the work.


At the core of what Karen says is how important it is to change the relationship between local government (officers and members) and community groups – so that the relationship is more naturally “equally weighted”.  She also talks with great conviction about how Valuing Worth will be useful in a whole range of new forms of working for local government.

We have also included a presentation Karen gave in March to the End of Programme Regional Networking Event and some bullet points which summarise Karen’s key points in both that presentation and the interview.  But don let that put you off listening, the whole conversation is interesting.

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  1. Background to Programme
    • Birmingham – Round 1 of DCLG National Demonstration Advancing Assets Programme 2007-8
    • Valuing Worth – very initial stages
    • Capacity Building- Mobilising Your Assets ,VISIBLE and small Capital Improvements – Northfield Constituency
    • Setting up of Quirk Review Project Group – Cross Directorate and Voluntary Sector partners
    • From the very beginning focus not just on “bricks and mortar” but the valuing and supporting of community organisations and partnership working
    • Cabinet Report – September 2008 and embedded into LAA Delivery Plan, “Strengthening Communities” (NI4)
  2. Development Programme
    • AWM Grant – Phase 1 Revenue – Development Programme and linked Phase 2 Capital Works Jan 2008 – March 2010
    • BCC to act as Regional Exemplar and demonstration project – from the beginning a Learning Programme
    • Key areas of focus continuing good practice from advancing assets pilot
    • Support to Community Assets Capital Work – Norton Hall and Witton Lodge Community Association – legal fees, business planning and pre-contract fees
    • Protocol Task Group – development of a new consistent, clear, transparent corporate lease and protocol ie how TSOs navigate through BCC and are supported through that process – involvement of both statutory and voluntary partners
    • Valuing Worth – developing tools to measure the social value and impact of asset transfer inc. piloting with Norton Hall and WLCA
    • Development Work Strand – roll out of capacity building and support and piloting VISIBLE/Pre-VISIBLE (Community Matters –Operating principles for community organisations and multi-purpose community organisations)
    • Communication and Learning Strand – including Training and Information Workshops – staff, TSOs and members, Production of checklists and toolkits.
    • Structured Dialogue methodology plus Action Learning Set with other LAs both Regionally and Nationally and Critical Friends Group
  3. AWM Capital Programme – Sep 09 – March10
    • Successful AWM Funding to pilot 2 building refurbishment projects – Norton Hall Children and Family Centre and Perry Common Hall (WLCA)
    • £250K / building plus additional support costs for Business planning plus WLCA contributing own monies
    • Organisations piloted new Lease agreements and toolkits
    • Innovative work around Video Diaries and pod casts – Physical regeneration acting as catalyst for social regeneration and enterprising activity
    • Facilitated Joint Dialogue de-briefing session
  4. Personal reflections on journey so far and key Learning points
    • Come a long way very quickly but complex – acknowledge that need to be in it for the long haul and lots of patience for all partners
    • CAT is not resource neutral for either side – time, capacity and finance
    • Learning is key for everyone – LA, other public agencies and not just TSOs and learning from our mistakes as well as good practice and success!
    • CAT is not for everybody – not enough to be a good idea need sound business plan, governance and finance – need to be honest
    • Asset Transfer is so much more than the building/ asset but more to do with relationship building and strengthening communities. Physical regeneration/ refurbishment can be the catalyst for social regeneration and social enterprise
    • Importance of joint approach linking property and community development approach – strategic context and embeddin
    • Importance of CAT is the transfer of management of an asset plus advice, guidance and support to TSO to ensure sustainability and viability not liability
    • Key has been the Partnership working , engagement and empowerment with Third Sector Partners and internally
    • Communication and use of language – honest robust dialogue and challenge to build mutual trusting mature relationships adult to adult rather than parent/ child – usefulness of neutral facilitators
    • Importance of Celebrating Success – reward and recognition of largely voluntary input from TSOs
    • Useful to have a Champion – both political and key officer
    • Impact of recession and stock condition – Efficiency plus Effectiveness debate…
  5. Next Steps…
    • Cabinet Report – Summer 2010 to include recommendations for consistent Cross Directorate Lease and protocol arrangements including Valuing Worth methodology and need for revenue funding stream to support TSOs to be building management ready
    • Work with Third Sector Infrastructure Organisations to develop key capacity building work and information around Community Asset Transfer
    • Ongoing Information Workshops for all Directorates around Protocol Buster and Valuing Worth
    • Ongoing Information and support sessions on VISIBLE, Community Land Trusts, Updates for all partners
    • BCC EMT Priority Work Programme – Asset Transfer and Co-Production
    • Collate Library of Learning Resources from the Development Programme to be available Regionally via AWM and DTA, Nationally via ATU as well as locally in Birmingham
    • REST and THANKS to everyone who has been involved in the Development Programme – this is not the end but the beginning of the Journey………

Join the Conversation


  1. I think it’s a good idea if community groups keep these assets in a good condition, similar to how the council would keep their assets. I would be delighted to learn more about this from Karen Cheney

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