Dudley is one of seven areas selected to be involved in research as part of national project funded by the government called Inspiring Democracy.
The project focuses on building relationships between citizens, community based organisations and elected members working together to influence local political agendas. In each of the seven areas across England a different look will be taken at aspects of councillor and community organisation/s relationships and objectives.
A focus group for interested members of community groups and organisations in Dudley Borough will be held on the evening of 7 March 2012, venue tba. The focus group will be run by Sue Gorbing from community development specialists changes who have been contracted to deliver this project. Invitations to the focus group will be circulated to community groups over the coming days.
The Inspiring Democracy project will lead to a resource being produced to enable Elected Members and community organisations to think about and enact their roles in a more constructive way. Everyone taking part in the research will be invited to an event on 25 April (likely to be in Birmingham) and have an opportunity to feed back on the draft guidance and input to the final write-up.
The other research areas are: Wolverhampton, Solihull, Shropshire, Preston, Keighley (Bradford) and Wiltshire.
It’s often useful to hear about (and get involved in) things going on in other areas. Isabel Livingstone from South West Forum has provided an excellent write up from an event in the South West: Making Ourselves Heard.
I really like the feedback from discussions about tips for voluntary organisations on influencing the public sector. This one relates to our work in Dudley with Urban Forum on Community Rights:
How do you influence without ‘agressing’? Eg right to challenge is very strong action to take and could cause conflict.
Also included in Isabel’s write up is the following food for thought about the Localism Act:
John Skrine from Creating Excellence gave us a critique of the Localism Act, which in his view holds more threats than opportunities. Read more in his excellent blog post, The Localism Act – Santa or Scrooge. A key point that stood out for me was the example John gave of Exeter Community Centre, which is currently being refurbished after a long process of transferring it to community ownership and management, with the help of grants and a loan from Community Builders. John cautioned that if this had happened after the Localism Act came into force, the community would have had to bid competitively against the private sector for the community centre, and it’s likely that it would have been turned into expensive flats instead.
Time for a round up, as I haven’t managed to post here lately – which is all about to change as we launch in to lots of exciting activity. Here’s what the Our Society Planning Group have been working on:
Activity to test change and develop evidence
We’re keen to explore the real experiences of people involved in activity which relates to ideas in the government’s Localism Act. This includes groups which are moving towards taking over buildings, such as the Lye & Wollescote Cemetery Chapels project, and groups and people who are filling in gaps as public services are cut. An example would be Sarah Freeman, recognised at Dudley’s Volunteer Awards this year for providing a meals on wheels service in the area where she lives.
Working with senior decision-makers
The Dudley Community Partnership (DCP) Board meeting in September was cancelled, though we were able to run discussion sessions with members of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Partnership that month. Feedback from this and the DCP Board meeting in November will be posted to this site soon.
Visit from Cabinet Office
Neil Smith from the Office for Civil Society attended one of Dudley’s Our Society Planning Group meetings and shared information on the government’s Community Organiser programme and the Communities First programme, both of which are running in Dudley Borough (more information here).
Voluntary Sector Network event
Dudley’s Voluntary Sector network hosted an event in July which we contributed to and learned from. People at the event considered the Localism Bill, Asset Transfer and Community Rights. There are videos, photos, blog posts, tweet archives, useful links, and even a graphic recording of the event all at www.vsnjuly2011.posterous.com.
Celebrating community activity
Our approach to Our Society in Dudley Borough seeks to celebrate independent community action, so look out for inspiring stories which Dudley CVS’s Melissa Guest will be posting here over the coming months. Many local volunteers were recognised at Dudley’s annual Volunteer Awards in October.
Developing Dudley Council’s approach
Dudley Council now have a cross-department Our Society group considering the issues facing them as a local authority and how to respond to them within an Our Society approach.
Barriers to our approach
We’re starting to keep a record of barriers that we come across which prevent ideas under the Our Society banner moving forward, or moving forward in a consistent way. These include an absence or depletion of skills which we think are needed, to inconsistent arrangements in relation to, for example, leasing community buildings.
Being open and transparent, and involving YOU!
We hope that the videos and feedback we’ve posted here to date help to share what is happening in our meetings and meetings of Dudley Community Partnership’s Board. We’ve also uploaded Our Society Steering Group papers and links to event feedback and videos. We’ll be posting more regularly now as momentum gains. Later this week we’ll be sharing progress updates on our Community Rights Made Real project with Urban Forum. We invite anyone who is interested to add comments and get discussions going on this site.
We’ve set up a twitter account: @oursocdudley and we plan to circulate regular e-newsletters to stakeholders and subscribers. We may also set up a Facebook page if there is interest. We are planning a large face-to-face event in the Spring which will bring together a lot of what we have been working on and open it all out for a wider discussion and agreement on what steps we should take next in Dudley.
Part of this will involve developing a guide for Our Society, and will be doing this over the coming months in a collaborative way, through the Our Society national online network. It’s free and easy to join, we would love people from Dudley to be involved in the writing process, so please join the site and we’ll update you when the group gets going. Please do leave a comment or get in touch if you’d like to know more or get stuck with any of our online networking places.