USE-IT! Sandwell and Birmingham initiative helps to inform international projects

Conrad Parke is Regeneration and Partnerships Manager on our Business Growth Team at Sandwell Council. Conrad leads the council on various regeneration projects, finding ways to maximise their positive social and economic impact. Part of his role is leading USE-IT! – one of 17 pilot projects funded through the European Urban Innovation Action (UIA) programme to explore innovative approaches to addressing urban poverty.

USE-IT! stands for Unlocking Social and Economic Innovation Together. Conrad is heading up its pilot in the Greater Icknield Master Plan area (which includes Ladywood in Birmingham and Smethwick in Sandwell), seeking to connect people, local organisations and neighbourhoods with large-scale regeneration opportunities.

To explain further: Smethwick and Ladywood are historically disadvantaged neighbourhoods, which over the next ten years will become home to six new housing developments (up to 3000 houses and apartments), the new Midland Metropolitan Hospital and the aquatic centre being built for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. This time of change presents an opportunity for ‘inclusive growth’: to ensure residents of those neighbourhoods will benefit from the developments in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Fighting urban poverty with innovative solutions: six UIA citiesIn October 2018 Conrad was invited to represent the USE-IT! initiative at the European Week of Cities and Regions conference in Brussels. As well as learning about other regeneration initiatives around Europe, he delivered a presentation to spread the word about what USE-IT! is achieving here in the West Midlands. Then he ran a further workshop for about 60 delegates.

Conrad explained how USE-IT! is currently focused on delivering three specific work programmes:

* Recruiting and training community researchers who can help to inform the regeneration developments, as well as representing the views of the local community in an enabling way
* Developing a range of social enterprises that will be ready to benefit from the economic opportunities stemming from the new homes, hospital and aquatic centre
* Supporting residents with health qualifications gained overseas into careers in the NHS.

“It is the aim to use these three specific interventions as a gateway into then informing and developing a whole host of other inclusive growth opportunities using the USE-IT! model,” Conrad told us.

In the audience in Brussels were representatives from Queens University Belfast who invited Conrad to visit and help them with their own UIA bid – a collaboration between the university, the inner-city Shankill Road estate and the outer-city Colin estate.

“In brief their project is looking to break the cycle of poverty in two historically disadvantaged Belfast communities by taking a child-centred approach to raising and meeting aspirations of young people currently living on these estates,” said Conrad. “They felt there were strong parallels between their proposal and USE-IT!”.

He flew to Belfast to deliver a presentation and workshop, and to visit the two estates. As well as answering questions and sharing his own lessons learned through the UIA application process, Conrad said he found the trip “amazingly positive” and brought back observations about community cohesion and leadership to further inspire USE-IT!.

You can find out more about USE-IT! at https://www.uia-initiative.eu/en/uia-cities/birmingham and contact Conrad at conrad_parke@sandwell.gov.uk.

:-)