The Balsall Heath Forum was established 20 years ago to tackle social degeneration in the area. Since then, the change in the area has been applauded by local authorities and welcomed by citizens.
Balsall Heath, in Birmingham, was home to a cohesive working class community. Economic change, development and immigration gradually replaced the traditional community with one that was fragmented and less assertive. This allowed a red light district to expand and become a major problem for the area. Schools were also poor, the environment was run down and there were problems with anti-social behaviour.
Local citizens, trade unionists and spiritual leaders from across the faiths joined together 20 years ago in an attempt to save the area from demise. They sought to address local issues and to present young locals with more positive role models than those offered by the area’s social ills.
To build community cohesion, raise living standards and improve the life chances of those living in the area.
The Forum began with a small group that set up a day nursery and a school. The success of these inspired the Building a Better Balsall Heath Campaign. This was aimed at:
• Increasing the aspirations of the community
• Widening the participation of residents
• Giving residents the confidence to self-govern
• Improving the area more generally
The campaign led to the setting up of the Forum. The principles and training of the Trade Union participants were particularly important in emphasising the need for mutual support, self reliance and organisation. The Forum structure has since established a steward for each street in the area. The stewards spread information and welcome new residents into the area, helping them to settle in and find out about services. They are regarded as positive local role models and also organize 22 residents groups. Through their local knowledge they can identify important local issues, keep in contact with local police and can tackle problems immediately.
The Forum has many roles. It co-ordinates the stewards, 22 residents groups, service providers, a Green Team, a Safety Team, Health Team, and organises local festivities. The Forum operates like a commonwealth; common issues are distilled into the overarching Forum structure. The Forum contributes to the strategy of other agencies through a Neighbourhood Strategy Partnership, chaired by the Forum and attended by statutory services. This employs a Neighbourhood Manager and local development plans emerge from this partnership, which from the plans for the year.
The Forum also employs two outreach youth workers paid for by the police. It supports young people who have started to act anti-socially, changing their behaviour through family support and diverting them into positive activities. It has also helped young people to develop communication and leadership skills by participating in community arts events.
A Health Village has been developed in partnership with the Primary Care Trust, with modern facilities and services such as minor operations and children's mental health care. The village hosts 11 voluntary organisations. The multi-agency approach has also been applied to the development of an early years drugs education programme.
The Forum is seeking to spread their model throughout Birmingham and beyond, by building the capacity of statutory sector managers outside their area to engage with communities.
• In the past, local police considered Balsall Health to be at risk of major disorder and one of the two worst areas in the city. Current Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, Paul Scott-Lee, who used to patrol Balsall Heath over a decade ago, stated that he could not overstate the confidence, aspiration and cohesion that he now sees in residents.
• Balsall Heath is one of only two areas in Birmingham where fear of crime is not rising.
• Housing in the area was valueless, and is now seeing the fastest price rises in the city.
• The community has recognised the need to act responsibly and that it can solve problems that statutory authorities cannot.
The Tree Nursery
82-89 St. Pauls Road,
Birmingham B12 8LS
Tel: 0121 446 6183
Fax: 0121 440 5060
Build skills and capacity of participants
Generate new ideas (innovation)
Create a shared vision amongst participants
Number of participants
Self selected participants attending as individuals (open access process)
Level of awareness and interest
participants are well informed and can articulate their interests
Crime and justice
Environment and climate change
Limit search to...
... face to face processes
Level of involvement