Case study added to site: June 2016
Benefits and impacts
What was the Problem/Issue?
In East Lothian we have six Area Partnerships delivering on local community planning and developing approaches to community engagement. North Berwick Coastal Area Partnership is viewed as an affluent area due to the percentage of high income earners, and so the area is not usually prioritised for community or external funding. We identified that those who experience disadvantage are relatively worse off living in the area due to the high cost of housing, transport and local facilities. We also knew that the area has higher levels of people with disabilities and a large older population. We wanted to engage with all sections of the community, especially those who are most marginalised, around the issues important to them.
There had been a recent campaign within the community against council proposals to extend a car park onto the beach. This had provoked community interest and attracted people onto one of the Area Partnership Sub Groups, ‘On the Move’ which aims to make North Berwick Coast an easier place to get around promoting safer routes to school, walking and cycling path networks. North Berwick High Street has narrow pavements and is a busy high street in the summer months with a high demand for car parking. The community was concerned about safety on this street and wanted to make it more pedestrian friendly.
Theme: Community Planning and Empowerment
What did we as a CPP do?
North Berwick Coastal Area Partnership received matched funding from the Scottish Government, and £30,000 was invested in total. A consultancy firm were commissioned to carry out a Charrette to find out the wider community’s views on the issue. As a result of the Charrette, it was decided that the east end of the High Street would benefit from wider pavements or be pedestrianised during certain times of the year.
The consultation resulted in a consensus around the decision to make the street more pedestrian friendly. The community and Council officials from transport, economic development and planning were all been involved in the process.
What helped us to improve community participation?
We identified the most marginalised groups and engaged them in the Charrette, e.g. day centre users, young people who attend the local youth centre, residents in sheltered accommodation, disability groups and individuals with mobility issues.
In order to engage a wider audience who didn’t attend community groups, we carried out a week-long consultation from an empty shop on the High Street and gathered views from people. We also piggy-backed on other community events during the busiest time period to gather views. The variety of engagement methods meant we felt we captured a range of perspectives, in particular the targeted engagement with the most marginalised members of the community.
What were the barriers to improving community participation?
The challenge in this example, was for us to move forward with actions following the community consultation. Since the project was in an ‘affluent’ area, we knew it would be challenging attracting external funding for capital projects. A comprehensive report had been produced from the process, however it has proved difficult to get projects off the ground due to restrictions on council budgets, staff capacity to take the work forward, and current priorities. Throughout the consultation and since the report was launched, we found that it was difficult to manage expectations and it placed Area Partnership members and staff in a difficult situation at times.
A key lesson for us was about managing expectations when communicating with the community. We found that there is a need to be clear and honest from the outset about the constraints on Council spending. In particular the Charrette process can raise expectations, when in this case it was subsequently difficult to attract capital funding for the projects in an affluent area.
We learned that communication needed to be in different formats and that this takes time to get right e.g. people completed an online survey as well as having paper copies available in community buildings, going out to meet people and not expecting everyone to attend meetings. Local knowledge and contacts were key in reaching people who would benefit the most.
We learned that it can be difficult to keep people motivated throughout the process of community engagement if they don’t see actions being carried forward within realistic timescales. While acknowledging that a meaningful engagement process takes time, we also learned that regular communication, and evidence of actions can make a difference to maintaining engagement with the community.
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Case study added to site: June 2016