‘Come and help shape the future of your community’
I didn’t need to be asked twice. On a balmy, sunny evening I headed up to the Bloomfield Centre in Narberth (June 19th 2013)- wondering if I’d be reporting on the workshop as a journalist or participating as a member of the community. As tends to happen, I ended up doing a bit of both.
Narberth’s ‘Future Forum’ was holding a crucial update to the Narberth Action Plan. Billed as a ‘an opportunity to review the past, to look at the present and to plan the future’ I was excited about the possibilities especially since becoming more involved in how to better engage people with decision-making because I’ve been involved in developing and promoting a new digital tool that aims to enhance exactly this sort of process.
So much of the conversation now takes place online. But this can never replace face to face human interaction over a sandwich and a cup of tea. As more of our work and private life takes place online, what a blessed opportunity to meet real people in the heart of my community and talk turkey.
I’ve been living and working in the Narberth hub for more than a decade. My children are also deeply rooted in the community. I feel it’s important to participate as much as I can in protecting what makes it special as well as seeking out a sustainable future for us all – especially when I look at my children.
The PLANED team ran the event with great efficiency and expertise. All aspects of the conversations and ideas were logged onto flip chart paper for documentation after the meeting. And over some delicious nibbles, several tables of local residents and representatives of local organisations debated their ideas.
As part of the discussion, we were encouraged to read some statements on yellow cards (which dealt with lots of aspects of life, from recycling to climate change to public transport, to health and well-being; energy and food production). The idea was to choose a couple of statements that one felt strongly about and have a discussion about it.
One card was about apathy – the way in which the public fails to get involved. That card struck a chord amongst the people on my table. ‘Look there’s less than 20 of us here tonight – and we are supposed to represent the views of about 2,000 people who live in Narberth along with all the other people in the area who have an interest in the town. How’s that for apathy?’
‘Is it apathy though?’ another participant asked. ‘When the council asked people to contribute to sustainability by recycling their refuse, we were all given boxes for glass and containers for food waste, and what did we all do? We all went along with it. I don’t think people are suffering from apathy, I think it is more about how the system works. People need to feel empowered in order to get involved.’
Why have an action plan?
The action plan document that PLANED produces as a result of these sort of events across Pembrokeshire aims to present a ‘comprehensive picture of the community’s current needs and the aspirations of local people for the future’. PLANED is then able to use the document as crucial evidence of the community’s participation in the decision-making when applying for funding applications for projects. The organisation has brought millions of pounds into the local economy through this methodology and PLANED is often the first port of call for local people wanting to get a project off the ground.
A number of things have been achieved as a result of the previous Narberth Action Plan such as:
- Play area improvements
- Support for Bloomfield’s recreation facility
- West Wales Wool Show
- Relaunch of the Childrens’ Festival
Who should be involved?
The small turnout was of concern to the PLANED team. The meeting was open to people of all ages that live or work within the community. PLANED had first helped facilitate a workshop in 2005 to develop an action plan for Narberth which identified what changes were needed to improve the quality of life in the area; they want to build on that and to do so they are seeking a mandate and some authentic community engagement in the process.
‘It is important that organisations, businesses and individuals in the town are involved in developing a new action plan so that it is a truly representative document’ PLANED’s publicity says. ‘It is essential that everyone comes along to have their say on the kind of future they would like to see for their community’.
Online blogs and local websites attract thousands of hits and interactions each month in Pembrokeshire. If we can replicate that sort of participation in the planning of a more sustainable future for Narberth I am convinced our children will thank us for it.