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From Total Place to Total Neighbourhood: the Resident-led Renewal of Balsall Heath in Birmingham

Change Management

The steps which led to these objectives:

1. Broken windows, hedges, gates, alleyways, graffiti, dumping

As the saying goes, if a broken window is left unmended, the message says 'nobody cares'. It invites others to be broken. So, a volunteer handy-person or two were identified to:

  • Mend broken windows
  • Trim overgrown hedges
  •  Fit gates to gardens and side entryways
  • Clear overgrown alleyways
  •  Remove graffiti
  • Clear dumped rubbish
  •  Organise litter picks


2. The village was covered by 15 residents groups


First one, then more, resident groups were formed until the whole area was covered. Each group covers just 3 or 4 streets, meets every 2 months and agrees what needs to be done. As some 30 people attend each group this means that 30 x 15 = 450 people regularly meet and either tackle small jobs themselves or notify the relevant services that they need to be done.


3. Good Neighbours


Each residents group has 2 or 3 particularly good, active, neighbours for whom nothing is too much trouble. They visit the elderly, phone the police to move any dumped cars and befriend the lonely. They 'give' a lot and 'receive’ much gratitude and respect in return.

4. A Capacity Builder – Community Organiser


None of these three steps or those which follow could have been sustained without a full-time Capacity Builder. So, residents raised the money to permanently employ their own organiser. Just as the workers in a factory need a shop steward to help them to improve their working conditions, so also residents need a 'Street or Community Steward' to help them to improve their living conditions.


5. Communal Celebrations


Fireworks nights. Every November 1,500 people gather to watch and enjoy and display of fireworks. “Its good”, said one young girl,”It’s like we are all just one big family. It puts me on cloud nine for a week”.


Carnival. Thirty years ago, 200 people attended the first Carnival held on the village green, one of the small local parks. It was policed by 15 officers on the alert for problems. Last summer, 5,000 people attended and there were only three 3 police (staffing a stall distributing smoke alarms!)

6. The values which guide the steps


What motivated those who led the renewal, volunteered to serve on the Forum's committees, attended the residents’ groups and combined to make the difference which the statutory agencies once said they were unable to effect?


Sir Paul Scott-Lee was a young police officer in Balsall Heath 20 years ago. He saw it at its worst. Upon his return to Birmingham as Chief Constable he re-visited Balsall Heath and found the transformation to be 'almost unbelievable'. He explained it in terms of the development and driving power of 3 social values:

  • Togetherness
  • Confidence
  • Ambition
About this case study
Main Contact

Dick Atkinson

Balsall Heath Forum

0121 446 6183

Dick Atkinson provided Governance International with this case study on 15th May 2010.

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