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Sallyann Ball Community Champion

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Connecting Communities Community Leadership

Communities Secretary John Denham outlined a £12m plan to reinvigorate and connect with communities that are feeling the pressure from recession most acutely and ensure they are well placed to share fully in future prosperity and emerge stronger and more cohesive.

 

Connecting Communities is designed to support those traditional working class areas of the country that have been worst hit by the economic recession and ensure that residents there are getting a bigger say on local issues and are plugged into the benefits of government investment. More than 161 areas across every region of England are now taking part in the £12m drive.

 

The communities being targeted are those where some people may feel that they work hard, play by the rules but that somehow they are not repaid and are not being listened to. Each area faces different issues but the challenges can be broadly characterised as involving high levels of unemployment; low levels of educational achievement; high levels of social housing, high levels of anti-social behaviour and crime, and low levels of community cohesion.

 

They are now drawing up individual plans addressing specific local challenges with practical actions to give people a bigger say in local issues and addressing local concerns. This includes training for community champions so they have the skills to represent local people as well as training for councillors that may lack the experience and skills to take on difficult issues.

 

John Denham has made it clear that the Government is committed to tackling inequality wherever it exists, that they are on people's side and will tackle disadvantage even handedly and wherever it exists. No favours. No privileges. No special interest groups. Just fairness. It is this commitment that is at the heart of the Government's Connecting Communities programme.

 

This training gives information and the power to address local issues themselves, with public services and communities working together to tackle problems which vary from neighbourhood to community.

“At the heart of this new drive is a willingness to encourage local people to speak out about their concerns, even if this raises difficult and uncomfortable issues. In turn, government - national and local - needs to be able to set out how it is responding, and to discuss frankly where things are working and where they could be improved. “

John Denham, Secretary of State

14 October 2009

 

Leadership - training will be provided for leaders, front-line staff and community activists so they have the skills to address local challenges and concerns.

 

Giving people a voice - local people will be given the chance to express their worries and know that someone will listen and act on their behalf. As well as increasing the visibility of more formal leaders, individuals will be encouraged to act as community champions to have a bigger say in local issues.

 

Increased opportunities - local authorities will raise awareness of the opportunities, investment and services already available in their areas.

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10 Handy Hints for Effective Community Engagement

1. Built in, not bolted on

Effective community engagement means thinking about it at the outset. Involving people at every stage of the process can greatly improve the quality and the sense of ownership with what's happening.

2. Kill apathy as a concept

Despite a widespread belief that people aren't interested, the reality is that they do care about the issues that affect them. Start where people are at, not where you want them to be.

3. Be clear about the constraints

Don't promise the world if you can't deliver it! It's better to offer something small that you can deliver than to offer something big that you canʼt. Try to be clear where the boundaries are, who makes the final decisions and what resources are available.

4. It's a marathon not a sprint

Delivering change and regenerating communities takes a long time. Be prepared for the long haul; everyone gets disheartened if things take forever to happen, but try be realistic about how long things take too. Celebrate small achievements

5. Communication x10

Show what has been achieved – it's not just about doing, it's also about letting people know what is being done. Make sure you let people know what is going on – information is always the first stage!

Two-way dialogue is critical to any change process.

6. Have a champion The most successful strategies have someone – or often lots of people at different levels – pushing them forward who really believe in

the cause. Find all the allies and partners you can

7. Make it meaningful Remember that any plans you make should lead to action. Everyone gets bored of participating when nothing actually happens. As people

see things happening, confidence in the process will follow and soon there'll be no holding them back!

8. Assess your goals at every stage

Keep asking yourself – is what we are trying to do realistic? Targets should be clear achievable and have milestones along the way. But don't be afraid to change direction as you go along if that makes more sense.

9. Be prepared to be unprepared

If you think you know exactly what's going to happen, it's probably not engagement. Don't try to stifle or control the process too much. Be flexible and prepared to respond to what's happening around you.

10. Have fun!

Anything new can be scary but remember to have fun! Fun is not the F-word and if you want people to get involved it's got to appeal. After all having fun makes us happy and well being is important to us all.

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Sallyann Ball created this on 19 January 2010.
This was last edited on 19 April 2013.
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