participation

Neighbourhood Planning: in my own time

Jill has been having a think:

I’ve been doing some reflecting recently, as I’ve been involved in a neighbourhood planning group for about a year now, and I’ve come to some conclusions for myself that I want to share…

The area we cover is too large (10k people) with little sense of shared community, identity or networks. This is one reason why it has not been possible to get people involved from across the whole area- it isn’t meaningful to people, it isn’t local enough, we are not connected across our differences/boundaries. Community based groups have to be meaningful to people and build on existing networks and shared interests/identity – this is why we only have people from 2 areas. Keeping this wide focus makes the group structurally weak and creates a negative  feeling …(of failure at some level?)…which is insidious and affects the culture of the group

I don’t think that it is possible to make the group inclusive to all areas – even with a full time community development worker it would be hard and it would be through connecting people with similar interests and identities, not through geography. It won’t happen organically…

In order for neighbourhood planning to be worth doing there has to be a commitment from the local state (local authorities, fire, police, health, education etc) to create a shared route to influence. At present we have not got this. In fact, someone attended one of our meetings earlier this year to tell us that the council would definitely not support a formal neighbourhood development plan to emerge from our neighbourhood planning work. She told us that we would have to make the business case and persuade them. Not exactly fertile ground…

At present, we have little understanding of how we can shape the agenda once we have a neighbourhood plan. We have to choose whether to accept these boundaries laid down by the council or take a more challenging position and start a lobbying/advocacy process with them.

So on both fronts – community and council – it feel that there is not much support or commitment. This feels difficult to progress – very hard work for a very small group of people to take on. The group over the last year has operated very minimally and it feels like there isn’t a great deal of energy around, so do we have the energy to turn this around as it stands? I have limited time/energy outside work and family life for volunteering /activism and I want to use it for the greatest effect and there’s a lot to do out there at the moment.

I do think there is something positive to take from this – square up to these challenges, rather than plod on, and consider what to do to become productive and positive. For me – for a start,  it would be to:
reduce the geographical area we work with and focus on membership as part of our NP work
contact and call a meeting for the council, fire, police, health, education, transport and ask about their practical commitment to neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood influence.

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Community engagement – back on the agenda

We have recently had a few requests for ‘community engagement training’ which is music to our ears. We have never ceased to believe that ‘good’ community engagement takes skill and understanding so it is great to see this valued. We are now developing a two-day course which takes people through the different stages of planning, engaging and reviewing community engagement with a comprehensive resource pack to help people to put it all into practice. At the moment we are talking to people in the housing sector and local authorities and we believe that this will be useful for many others with just a little tweaking.

And this is not a million miles away from some work we have been doing in Dudley Borough.
More consultancy than training, this project ostensibly started out by looking at collaboration between the voluntary sector and the local authority in the name of efficiency. It became known as the MASH project (Managing Assets and Service Holistically), with a particular focus on ‘assets’ – viewing all partners as bringing something of value to the party – and making that the starting point. This can be quite a culture shock for some and it has been interesting to watch the [growing number of] people involved tussle with putting ‘assets’ at the forefront. When planning the latest session we were faced with trying to ensure that this wasn’t going to stray into just ‘any old collaboration’ but was distinctive and had its USP embedded. That was the point at which we started to see how the Community Empowerment Dimensions could help to keep it on track – and ensure it all hangs together. Taking that one step further we had a go at re-framing the Community Empowerment Dimensions to say – we (i.e. all the partners involved) collaborate in ways which mean that:
We are Confident
We recognise and increase the skills, knowledge and confidence of others.
We recognise our own skills.
We recognise when we have something to offer – and when we don’t

We are Inclusive
We recognise and value difference
We promote equality of opportunity
We promote good relations between individuals and groups

We are Organised
We encourage shared learning
We bring people together collectively: physically and/or virtually
We encourage and value group working and experience
We communicate effectively

We are Cooperative
We promote the value of long term collective change
We seek creative, complementary approaches
We know what we bring to a collaboration
We build on the assets of others

We are Influential
We know that what we do makes a difference, to individuals, to organisations and communities
We have a clear focus on broader outcomes and a plan to achieve these

These are not the be and end all, but a starting point from which people can build their own interpretations – and then check how they will put this in to practice. Voila, a work plan! It sounds easy but if that was the case everyone would be doing it. We all need to be prepared to put time and focus in

 

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