Community empowerment begins when a community realises that… it can. Every community has assets and potential within it – land and buildings, people, skills and networks, funding – even communities with the most challenging needs.
But, we don’t always recognise what we have. Mapping a community’s assets is an important means of identifying local strengths and opportunities. It helps us to develop a positive mindset about the future – not to be trapped by past patterns or present challenges. By seeing what assets we have, it encourages us to think about opportunities for the future. What do we already have? What are we capable of? Where do we want to go from here?
One of the most important types of assets in any community is its land and buildings. Some of these places will be of particular value to local people – maybe an historic landmark, the local park or the only library left in town. There may also be places with great potential for social benefit too – a redundant cinema that could become a community space, a derelict area of land that could be used for affordable housing or a vacant shop unit that could become a community art gallery for a few months. It is now increasingly possible for communities to take part in reviving, preserving or transforming local land and buildings that matter to them.
Community asset mapping is a way of getting together with others in your local area to identify the places that matter and places with potential. It is not just an academic exercise. We map for a purpose – to help us to identify actions that we can take, as a community, to improve our local environment and make better use of local assets for the benefit of local people.
Community asset mapping is easy to do. It requires no technical expertise or tools. It is free. It can be done together with other people. It can be fun too! This guide offers some simple ideas and steps to help you get started. We encourage every community to have a go at asset mapping. It helps communities to think positively about what opportunities exist to transform local places. It helps to focus attention on places with the most potential. It generates momentum for change. It brings people together to work for the common good. And local communities are often best placed to know what is needed locally, and where the opportunities are.
A community asset is a local building or piece of land which the community considers to be of particular value to the local community. Each community is free to decide for itself what it values.
We think there are three main reasons why something might be considered a community asset:
Or it might be two or even all three of these. For example, an historic building from which the local library is being run, but which has spare space and could be used for much more would fit all three reasons.
These are only suggestions. A place might fall into more than one category.
Sometimes we need to use our imagination. What does the local community want its local area to be like? Are there opportunities to create new places or services? Is there anything important missing or in short supply?
Opportunity sites might be:
Potential uses include:
We might value these services even if we are not so bothered about which building they are located in.
What: Think about what you want to achieve. Why are you doing this? When do you want to complete it by?
Where: Be clear about which area you want to map – start small with a neighbourhood/village. Keep it manageable.
Who: Who can help you? Try to work with other groups. Having a mix of people will give you a more balanced view – young and old, male and female, different interest groups. What about working with local schools or youth groups? Your local authority may be able to provide you with information about public and community assets.
How: There are lots of different ways to approach mapping – you can try more than one. Use the mapping process to generate suggestions about which assets matter:
Online surveys can reach hundreds of people easily and can be done free of charge. If you have a membership database, you could try this, asking them to email you suggested assets or going to a survey web page to give their views. A more open ‘crowd sourcing’ approach can also be used, inviting the public to take part, maybe through your website, twitter or social networking sites.
Focus groups and discussion groups are good for bringing people together to identify possible opportunities, discuss issues and see where people agree. Having a map in front of you can help stimulate ideas.
Walkabouts with small groups of people, armed with cameras, can both stimulate ideas and generate discussions within the groups. You could agree which streets each group will look at.
The local media can be used to generate interest and report on discussions, including newspapers and local bloggers.
Try to record all of the suggestions in a visual way if possible, ideally on a map, as this will make it easier to discuss. This could involve putting post-it notes on a simple map on a flipchart or on a wall map, or using an online mapping tool.
Having generated a long list of suggested assets, get together and discuss whether it is possible to prioritise them. Which assets does the community value the most and thinks offer the most potential for being revived, preserved or transformed?
Follow up your discussions by using the information to stimulate action. Be realistic, focus on some manageable goals. There are more ideas on the next page about what you can do next…
We map for a purpose. For each community asset that you identified as a priority, there may be action that you can take… to revive, preserve or transform for the benefit of the community.
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