Chris Khamis , Director, CSK Strategies Ltd.
Originally published by the British Urban Regeneration Association, March 2008

Community engagement, diversity, equality and community cohesion have been moving up the agenda of government policy over the last couple of years. More recently, this is also true of BURA. However, too often in the regeneration world, these issues are seen as a nuisance, to be dealt with as an after-thought and with a tick-box approach.
Worse, diversity is sometimes seen as a threat to social cohesion, to be dealt with by a top-down enforcement of uniform identity. Communities facing discrimination and unequal outcomes are blamed for the difficulties they face in integrating with the rest of society rather than asking whether it is this society that is raising barriers to their integration, sometimes actively promoting their exclusion. Deprived communities are often fobbed off with tokenistic consultation events, but remain excluded from opportunities to shape regeneration in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities and, as a result, are also excluded from the benefits of regeneration.

BURA has declared that it wants to change this sorry state of affairs, an aspiration that CSK Strategies fully supports. We believe that celebrating diversity, working for equality and long term community engagement are essential pillars of successful regeneration, and of sustainable and cohesive communities. Diversity underpins resilient local economies, makes for much more interesting localities and stimulates creativity and innovation. Commitment to equality underpins social cohesion. And genuine community engagement helps avoid silly mistakes in regeneration initiatives, generates new ideas and harnesses resources that are often ignored or squandered.

Furthermore, we believe that effective community engagement is a two-way, interactive process with professionals making suggestions and providing technical assessments but also listening and helping to develop ideas and comments from local residents and businesses. It involves a dialogue through all the stages of designing, delivering and reviewing regeneration projects.

These beliefs inform all our work. A current example: we are working with Ancer Spa for Birmingham City Council to develop a strategic regeneration framework and individual proposals to bring jobs and investment to the Stratford and Warwick Road corridors which pass through three deprived, multi-ethnic Wards. Technical assessments and economic appraisals are integrated with a transparent community engagement process through which local residents and businesses can suggest ideas to professionals and also question their judgements. Accountability and securing ownership are the names of the game.

The process also recognises minorities within minorities, with specific activities to engage women and new arrivals. We are optimistic that out of this will emerge a series of deliverable projects that will begin to transform the area, supported by and benefiting local people and businesses.