Sebastian Salek, chair of St James Street Big Local, says our borough should have money for the people, spent by the people
Back in the days when commuting was a thing, I often used to pass a sign near Blackhorse Road tube station. Fashioned out of sequins and faded glamour, it read: “Welcome to the home of people who make and create”.
I’d always assumed it was a reference to the area’s industrial past, or perhaps a nod to the many locals who work in creative industries. But now I think there’s more to it.
You see, an unusual trait of Waltham Forest is how much people take ownership of their community. Think of the dazzling murals organised by volunteers at groups like Wood Street Walls, Invisible Numbers and St James Street Big Local (which I chair), or street-wide Christmas displays and mini food banks that look like local landmarks. Even the littlest of Little Free Libraries perched in a front garden came about because a resident willingly gave time and effort to make their area a nicer place to live.
In that sense, Waltham Forest dwellers are ahead of the curve. The government is only just realising that communities must be at the heart of any post-Covid recovery. But political whims come and go. We need a long-term strategy to give residents a bigger say in how our area is run, and the money to let them make a difference. The answer may lie in a Community Wealth Fund.
Let me explain: billions of pounds lie in dormant bank accounts around the country. The holders of the accounts may have died, changed address, or just forgotten about them. After many years, and reasonable attempts to reunite the assets with their owners, the money can be given to good causes.
But instead of dishing it out, Community Wealth Funds generate maximum value by investing the money over the long term. Returns are given to communities like ours to be spent on whatever we like. Those decisions would be made by residents. After all, they’re the ones who really know what needs to change in their area.
At a time when so-called culture wars are pushing people apart, a Community Wealth Fund would bring them together, and allow everyone to feel they have a stake in where they live.
So as we all try to ‘build back better’, what smarter way to ensure Waltham Forest is the home of people who make and create for many years to come?
To find out more, visit the Community Wealth Fund Alliance page