There are now 13 individual regeneration areas (two of the eight regeneration areas were quite big and wide spread and the communities wanted them split into smaller localities), all with steering groups that are supported by a regeneration officer (there are five regeneration officers covering the 13 areas). Key themes and issues have been identified by each local regeneration group. Local actions have emerged which are relevant to local communities but also relate to wider priorities. Plans are at draft stage and we now want more community involvement at strategic level. The process is not complete yet, but we feel like we have made a good start in involving communities.
What helped us to improve community participation?
Robust community engagement. Evidence from community engagement was sometimes different from what the statistics were saying so the challenge was to marry them up (a balancing act). We have thought about who we are trying to engage, and how. Previously we had tended to talk to the same people all the time, (which is not really developmental) but have worked hard to change this e.g. in Whitburn we undertook a community engagement exercise with the food bank; the anti-poverty strategy was presented and by making it public it naturally brought new people to the table.
What were the barriers to improving community participation?
Membership includes the full range of CP partners. However, there isn’t consistent membership in each area, for example in some areas GP surgeries have engaged whereas in others not so much.
Participation also varies between groups depending on which organisations are present in each area. Elected members haven’t been involved with the regeneration groups – we are currently looking to change this to include them.
The process around community participation is lengthy and involves evidence gathering; asset mapping with the community to try and identify gaps; highlighting opportunities; raising awareness of the assets available in the areas; and promoting use of them. This doesn’t always fit with strategic planning timescales.
There are key aspects of the community engagement work that we’re learning from. Sometimes when you think you’ve done really well/ reached out to the right people you find out that perhaps you could still do better – need to go to places where people are – shop, bus station, job centre, local pub – get people who are not engaged with this at all and develop methods to find out their needs and aspirations. Don’t ignore groups you already have engaged with - reach out to them and be proactive.
When thinking of the purpose of engagement, consider how you phrase things – what benefit does it bring to people giving up their time? It needs to be a two-way approach. Always keep in mind the purpose - is it to get peoples’ opinions to validate plans we have or is the purpose of the engagement to empower communities?