Over the last year I have had the opportunity to participate as a ‘collaboration partner’ in a fascinating research project led by four European universities to explore the role that 'Smart Urban Intermediaries' play in making a difference in ‘deprived’ local areas across Europe.

image of trams on a Lisbon street

Despite the somewhat confusing name (something I’m assured works better in translation), Smart Urban Intermediaries (SUIs) are essentially the anchor individuals within local communities who are recognised as making a difference in their area – whether they work in social enterprises, community or voluntary organisations, are employed by public bodies as community development or regeneration officials, or are local residents, activists, elected Councillors or, simply, Community Leaders. The common feature among SUIs is that they are individuals who manage to bring people and resources together in creative and/or innovative ways to address shared problems within their local areas.

Trying to better understand just how it is that SUIs are able to create change in their local areas has led to the establishment of four ‘Living Labs’ in parts of Birmingham, Copenhagen, Glasgow and Amsterdam. These ‘Living Labs’ have been convened as a metaphoric space within each neighbourhood to bring together a range of different types of knowledge, experience and expertise in order to explore and interrogate just ‘what it is’ that makes individuals able to lead on change and development within deprived and fractured communities.

I have been privileged to be involved in the Glasgow Living Lab centred on Govan - a part of Glasgow with a reputation for poverty, struggle and loss, but now a locality that is a hot-bed of innovation, activism, enterprise and forward thinking. Coming in as an ‘outsider’ to this area I have been consistently surprised by the successes local SUIs have achieved, both in terms of physical regeneration (claiming back neglected buildings for community use) and building a new sense of purposeful community cohesion within the area.

In October 2018 our Lab in Govan hosted the first of a series of ‘Transnational Labs’ organised to bring together delegates from each Local Lab to share learning and collaborate. Our local Govan SUIs blew our visitors away with their passion, commitment and achievements – as illustrated by this blog from one of the Dutch delegation.

Earlier this year I then had the opportunity to spend two days in Vale de Chelas, a neighbourhood in Lisbon, at the next Transnational Lab. Along with Lab members from Amsterdam, Birmingham and Copenhagen I was given the chance to dig into the history of this unique estate, and better understand how it established and maintains a strong community identity through its struggle for recognition and entitlement – and it seems a community story was key!

The generosity of our local hosts in sharing their histories, reflections and experiences, led to me consider how the power of a ‘community story’ can be a tool for creating a sense of community and, in turn, being an impetus for driving change.

My blog exploring this further, alongside other blogs reflecting on how the experience of how visiting this community prompted wider reflection on the role of SUIs in their own cities across Europe, can be found here.

Photos from Lisa Fotios on Pexels