I went to a meeting held at the City Council a few weeks ago on the subject of community involvement and participation. There were two things that struck me about that meeting. Firstly the good will that existed in the room from a number of people many of them community representatives who were keen to explore new ideas. There was also some negativity expressed most notably from a former City Councillor who seemed to be rather like a black hole as she attempted to suck any energy and involvement out of the atmosphere. Fortunately she failed but it has lead me to think of some cheap ways in which we can build on the skills and interests of the local people of the area. I am a member of the Global Ideas Network. I have submitted a few in my time and a trawl through some of them lead me to think on how many of these inexpensive ideas could be implemented to improve the position of people of the area.
1 Participative Budget Making.
In the late 80s the city of Porto Alego came up with a solution to a problem that besets many local authorities the issue of accountability in a community of many poor people. The solution they arrived at was the participative budget. Since then people of the city have decided how the budget for community development and public works should be allocated. Local groups within each of the neighbourhood propose projects and local people as well as third sector organisations that are locally elected decide which projects can go ahead. In some cases the community delegates also oversee the implementation of the projects. This avoids corruption as well as giving people a massive say in the process.
Church Action on Poverty has a project running now
2 Young people involvement in community projects.
There has been a growing interest in this as young people take more of a direct involvement in projects from deciding on resources to seeing projects through to their completion. What the young people should do is entirely up to them and could include intergenerational projects to renovating wasteland.
As an aside I feel that young people should be more involved in major community investments because they will be around a great deal longer than the planners and the Councillors who make the final decision on the plans.
3 Community Participation Schemes
There are many examples where a significant improvement to the local environment can be made by tidying up the land, planting trees and removing graffiti. How about empowering community groups to improve the local area. They will certainly know the areas that need improving and with the help of the local authority in terms of plant and materials they can be encouraged to help to tidy up the local communities and perhaps build some incentive into such a proposal.
4 Developing Neighbourhood Communities
Setting up of a neighbourhood energy renewal company based around the five towns. Such organisations could run an energy efficiency and generation scheme. I suggested this idea a little more formally to the city council a month ago that there should be a look at the way in which Green Jobs could be developed along the lines of a community model
Potteries Power, as I called it, would aim to provide local solutions to fuel poverty and climate change, including energy audits, support and advice as well. It would enable increased uptake of the various schemes currently on offer such as cavity and loft insulation, draught proofing, new double glazing, heating controls and replacement boiler systems and PV systems.
5 Establishing a pilot LETS scheme in the area.
As someone who has lived and worked in my hometown for most of my fifty odd years I have always felt that the social policy professionals have always looked at the people of Stoke through the wrong prism. They have always spoken of the “needs” or “wants” of the area, but it seems that the resources that exist in the City are overlooked. What about the skills and experiences that exist in the communities of Stoke on Trent? In the City will be people who have manual skills, will speak different languages and run allotments, etc. All that is needed is a mechanism to unlock this potential and in a time of a want of money how can these abilities be used to the benefit of all.
One idea that is steadily gaining ground is the introduction of Local Exchange Schemes called Local Exchange Trading Schemes. These are local, non-profit exchange networks in which goods and services can be traded without the need for printed currency. LETS can help revitalise communities by allowing a wider cross-section of localities””individuals, small businesses, local services and voluntary groups””to save money and resources in co-operation with others and extend their purchasing power. Other benefits may include social contact, health care, and tuition and training, support for local enterprise and new businesses. One goal of this approach is to stimulate the economies of economically depressed towns that have goods and services, but little official currency: the LETS scheme does not require outside sources of income as stimulus.
6 Developing Micro Credit/ Credit Union support to New Businesses
Something that I see sitting alongside a LETS scheme locally is the creation of a micro credit scheme operating in the area
Microcredit is a program extending small loans, and other financial services such as savings, to very poor people for self-employment projects that generate income, allowing them to care for themselves and their families.
In many developing countries, the self-employed comprise more than 50 percent of the labour force. Access to small amounts of credit – with reasonable interest rates instead of the exorbitant costs often charged by traditional moneylenders – allows poor people to move from initial, perhaps tiny, income-generating activities to small microenterprises. In most cases, microcredit programs offer a combination of services and resources to their clients including savings facilities, training, networking, and peer support.
In this way, microcredit allows families to work to end their own poverty – with dignity. Microcredit programs around the world, using a variety of models, have shown that poor people achieve strong repayment records – often higher than those of conventional borrowers. I have heard as high as 96%. Repayment rates are high because, through a system of peer support and pressure used in many microcredit models, borrowers are responsible for each other’s success and ensure that every member of their group is able to pay back their loans.
7 Use of derelict land
An opportunity exists for making use of the derelict land that exists in the area.
In many ways there is a noble tradition in stoke of land reclamation of which areas such as Haley Forest Park is an excellent example. But what about the many brown field sites in the City that could be bought back into profitable use by for example the growth of biomass crops without putting pressure on existing agricultural land. I did see an example of using brownfield sites in this way operating in Denmark- unfortunately I don’t read Danish but I got the idea and of course there are American examples who are looking at ways in which industrial cities like Detroit and Flint can be re born
As an extract from an American article below indicates
“The urban agricultural movement has grown nation-wide in recent years, as recession-fuelled worries prompted people to raise fruits and vegetables to feed their families and perhaps sell at local farmers’ markets”.
Large gardens and small farms — usually 10 acres or less — have cropped up in thriving cities such as Berkeley, where land is tough to come by, and struggling Rust Belt communities such as Flint, Mich., which hopes to encourage green space development and residents to eat locally grown foods.
In Detroit, hundreds of backyard gardens and scores of community gardens have blossomed and helped feed students in at least 40 schools and hundreds of families.
It is the size and scope of Hantz Farms that makes the project unique. Although company officials declined to pinpoint how many acres they might use, they have been quoted as saying that they plan to farm up to 5,000 acres within the Motor City’s limits in the coming years, raising organic lettuces, trees for biofuel and a variety of other things.
The project was launched two years ago by Michigan native and financier John Hantz, who has invested an initial $30 million of his own money toward purchasing equipment and land.
8 Registry of Good Deeds
All too often negative comments tend to dominate the media and local reporting about the area. Good deeds are not known or easily known. The bad news is more widely known about areas, but I know most of the communities of the City have regular examples of people carrying out good and kind deeds for other members of the community. I think that there ought to be recognition of the much good that is done in the city and along with it the good citizens who are involved in the act.
9 Tackling isolation amongst the old.
Some years ago I worked for a project based at Port Vale Football Club. I used to speak to a number of supporters and I thought that the social isolation of older men could be tackled by a befriending project around a shared interest in sport.
Many services did not run over the weekend but linking activities around sport, which does occur over the weekend, I thought worthy of further investigation.
I also came in contact with a project that runs in China where people are employed to visit elderly people for an hourly fee paid by the absent children. It’s been described as a service that works for everyone. The people doing the visiting get a little extra income and the old people have someone to talk to; the children are relieved from the pressure to be constantly visiting or in touch with the distant relative.
10 The Litter Movement- a litter free community
Last April Pits and Pots carried an article on a clean up day for the City where over 500 volunteers were involved in cleaning the streets. As one contributor said that it needs to be a matter that needs to be addressed on a daily basis.
A Finnish based movement which has gained international recognition seeks to address this problem
Is there any sense in wasting our tax money on cleaning up litter tossed on the ground by people? At the same time governments are cutting down funding for the care of children, the sick, and elderly people.
“A piece of litter, thoughtlessly thrown away, looks ugly in the environment and endangers the safety of animals.
It is easy to judge people who litter but does it make a difference? The members of this movement have chosen a different approach.
We pick up at least one piece of litter every day and invite at least one person to join the movement.
The less litter there is on the ground, the less people will litter. Litter Movement has made many people who used to litter, question and change their ways.
There are members on all continents around the world. The southernmost members live in Argentina and Australia, the northernmost members in Lapland.
As a member of the Litter Movement you don’t have to fill in forms or pay membership fees. All you need to do is to pick up a piece of litter every day and put it in a rubbish bin. Also invite at least one person to join the Litter Movement. Being a member is foremost a personal commitment”.