The rebirth of public ownership in a changing society

By Samantha Watson

The concept of neighbourhood renewal projects are far from new. In fact the government continues to push the idea that communities should acquire land and buildings to transform their areas both socially, economically and environmentally. What is intriguing is how some individuals are taking the bold step of using public ownership as a way to build new communities within communities.

The creative ways in which people can engage is forever changing. For example, the use of social media give people the opportunity to create their own virtual communities with people around the world. 

The idea of what community is has changed over the decades. Recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics reveals that when looking at the wellbeing of older people there is a link between the feelings of loneliness and their low levels of daily activity.  Some people don’t have the close connection they may seek with neighbours, elderly people may unwittingly shut themselves away from the community. At some point you may have had the conversation or thought to yourself “I don’t know my neighbours” or perhaps you don’t speak to you neighbours enough, usually a quick “hi” or “bye” suffices for many.

The calling for community ownership of buildings and land was particularly evident during and following the London 2012 Olympics. Opportunities to rebuild cohesive communities sprouted across the capital and provided opportunities to strengthen communities socially, economically and environmentally.

Pop-up shops, temporary stores that spring up on your high street then disappear after a day or two, are on the rise providing people the opportunity to trade, exchange skills in an affordable way. Even co-op style supermarkets, where groups of people own and work in a shop has seen a revival.

The need for an environmentally sustainable community is also not new, the idea of growing your own vegetables or upscaling used material and green spaces is a great way to bring about an environmentally conscious community whilst maintaining the general ethos of community.

Caravanserai is one such project that is building a community within a community. Some of the individuals from the project all live in London but are also from all parts of the world including France, Spain, Montreal and further afield. For those who come to a country feeling isolated Caravanserai has become a hub to engage with likeminded people interested in environment, reusable materials, growing food, meeting new people and finding a place to feel at home. Again it provides a way for people to take ownership of the area they use.

Cany Ash, one of the founders for the project, explained the need for projects to use unused space to benefit the whole community:

Other members of Caravanserai share how the project has benefitted them and the community in East London:

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