Towards a community manifesto



Housing and care services are in crisis. Can local community co-operatives help to meet local needs?

These are questions for a radical new community project in Edinburgh Northern and Leith. Side by Side aims to explore how we can learn from each other and work together to create positive practical change in our local neighbourhood. 


Housing, environment and care of the young and elderly were the top concerns to emerge from two community Open Space events in the last 12 months.  The first event identified the needs; the second came up with bold ideas to fill gaps in local services – including housing and childcare co-operatives 


Now Side by Side, aims to take the next step with The Gathering, at Norton Park Conference Centre on Saturday 3 December.  And this time the event will start by celebrating the successes and achievements of local groups who are already changing lives.     


‘Through our events we discovered fantastic creative enterprises in Edinburgh Northern and Leith,’ says Fay Young, one of the organisers, ‘But not everyone knows about them. We hope to learn from each other to build on what is here already and generate new ideas to enhance quality of life in our area.’  

Keynote speaker, Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of Social Bite, will set the tone of an event which seeks to ‘share best practice and build on local achievements’. A panel of experts from Pilton Community Health Project, Port of Leith Housing Association, Shrub Swap and Reuse Hub and North Edinburgh Childcare will also provide first hand accounts of successful community enterprises and projects.


Workshop discussions and outcomes will be led and decided by the audience and facilitated by Judith Chivers. Proposals put forward by The Gathering will contribute to a community manifesto for our neighbourhood in time for the local authority elections in May 2017. 


Side by Side has grown from two Open Space community discussion events hosted by Councillor Lesley Hinds, in December 2015 and April 2016.  Local organisations and residents were invited to explore how we might make use of new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament to improve life in our part of Edinburgh.   


Councillor Hinds who is standing down after 33 years on City of Edinburgh Council said ‘I promised to turn words into action and that is what The Gathering aims to do. My colleagues will ensure this is taken forward”.


Side by Side is a community project open to all. The Gathering will be introduced and hosted by Labour Councillors for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, and is supported by Leith Open Space, an intercultural community discussion group formed in 2005.


Edinburgh based Selah Corbin, a cinematic songwriter and multi-instrumentalistwhose work has been likened to “paintings that comealive”  will provide the music and a light lunch of delicious food from Punjabi Junction will be served.


To take part, book now on   Eventbrite 





Could community co-ops help to solve local housing and childcare shortages? These were two of the most radical proposals to emerge from a Community Manifesto meeting for Edinburgh Northern and Leith. Other priorities included zero waste strategies for the local economy, an empty space audit and devolving more resources to community level.

 Taken together that’s a challenging agenda for local democracy. “Perhaps this could be the start of a movement for positive, practical change,” suggested the event facilitator, Judith Chivers, at the end of the evening’s discussion.



Certainly, the event in Newhaven Church Café on 12 April was full of positive energy and plenty of practical ideas. This was a follow up to a successful Open Space event in December when discussion identified key priorities for the community based on opportunities presented by new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament. This time the focus was on practical strategies for a Community Manifesto and Judith Chivers asked us to identify which actions would be taken by community organisations and which would be the responsibility of Councillors or MSPs.


Both December and April events were organised by Lesley Hinds, Scottish Labour Party candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith in the Scottish Parliament Elections on 5 May. 


In each case the agenda and discussion were decided and led by community groups and residents. It was great to see that the people arriving for an evening of fairly intensive workshop discussion represented a mix of community organisations, creative enterprises, local residents, local Councillors and community activists. Organisations represented included:

  • Active Inquiry Theatre Group
  • Edinburgh Performing Arts Development
  • Granton Improvement Society
  • Leith and Newhaven Harbour Community Council
  • Remade in Edinburgh
  • Trinity Community Council
  • (and Leith Open Space)

Five priorities for collaborative action

We can learn a lot from each other. Workshop groups quickly discovered that many inspiring projects are already happening in our neighbourhood or in other parts of Edinburgh. Though funding is important, lack of money is not always the biggest obstacle to progress which is why groups pointed to a need for champions and access to suitable venues. Creative community enterprises could get off the ground more quickly with the right help from the right people at the right time.

With that in mind, five key priorities were identified for collaborative action between community organisations and city councillors or MSPs.

  1.  Co-operative approach to childcare provision. This could begin with learning from the example of St Mary’s playgroup in East London Street. Development would bring together all childcare providers to explore setting up a co-op childcare provider based on not for profit and making use of suitable available space
  2.  Devolving resources down to community level. Replicate something that already works well – for example participative budgeting like Leith Decides. Run a pilot study for Citizen’s Assembly using models from Porto Alegre, British Columbia and New York.
  3.  Housing Co-operatives. Working with Trinity Community Council and other organisations to explore existing, successful housing co-op models in Edinburgh and learning from what works elsewhere. Focus on affordable and creative models such as self-build, portable solutions.
  4.  Audit of empty spaces. Working with Granton Improvement Society and other community organisations to carry out an audit of empty spaces which will inform development of practical and affordable housing and childcare solutions.
  5.  Zero waste economy. Build on the work of Remade in Edinburgh to develop and publish a Repair and Reuse Directory. Organise networking events to develop collaborative ventures and learn from each other.

What happens next?

Contacts made at the event have already led to action with participants raising ideas in other community forums.

 Everyone who attended the event has been sent a copy of the notes of the main priorities, including space for follow up action by both community groups and Lesley Hinds. Once the May Elections and the EU Referendum are over Lesley Hinds and other local Councillors will be working to develop the Community Manifesto for further discussion. If you are interested in getting involved either through your organisation or as a concerned local resident, you can download the full notes from the event here (sorry this document is being updated)


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