This article engages with recent debates which assert that community participation and empowerment are place-contingent. The particular nature of localities has regularly been taken to account for success or failure in processes of participation and regeneration. In contrast, this article exposes the failings based in the nature of the process of regeneration in the complex intersection of national agendas of community participation, regional objectives of economic growth and local aspirations of social cohesion and improved amenities. These agendas meet in the seemingly mutual pursuit of the ‘active community’. They become manifest in the micro-politics of negotiating and enacting different constructions of community by the different actors ‘empowered’ in the regeneration process: regional development agencies, local government and local civil society. The article is based on ethnographic research in the Kent coalfield. The coalfields as distinct places have commanded a lasting place in the academic and policy literature: romanticized as the epitome of ‘communityness’ but demonized as the site of problem groups. This otherness has outlasted the industry the communities were built on. The analysis here shows that the social organization of regeneration in an arguably ‘different’ place is less driven by local specificities than by a failure to make visible conflicting constructions of community; therefore both the pathologizing of disadvantaged social groups and calls for more ‘community’ in policy delivery rather than policy reform are called into question.