I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute, as Chair of WCVA, to the One Voice Wales annual conference, attended by Town and Community Councillors from across Wales. The last time I spoke to the One Voice Wales conference was in my role as Commissioner for Sustainable Futures. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act now applies to 53 of the larger town and community councils.
It was the first time the One Voice conference has had a contribution from WCVA, so it was good to put that right as town and community Councillors represent a huge volunteer base of 8000 Councillors devoting £36 million of volunteer time into communities across Wales.
It was an opportunity to set out the basis for a stronger partnership between councils and the third sector combining the democratic perspective of elected representatives and the active participation of the voluntary groups .
There are some good examples of the efforts to build local links such as in Powys and through GAVO, the Gwent CVC, who have been running a programme to support the transfer of assets to the community which has involved councils in Gwent. indeed Emily Forbes who has been Deputy CEO of GAVO takes up post as Clerk with Barry Town Council this week s & I know Emily, like me, believes there is a growing role for the Third Sector to work collaboratively with T &CCs, particularly in increasing community engagement and delivering the goals of the WFG Act.
In short there is opportunity to turn the system on its head and build from the bottom up as opposed to the top down policy models which have been dominant. In simple terms it is putting the focus on community led plans designed to meet local needs.
My experience as Commissioner in coordinating the national conversation on the Wales we Want has left me with the clear view of the feeling of disconnect from decision making, the lack of engagement between the community and the decision-makers - particularly evident in the views of young people. Community leaders who are passionate and ambitious about the success of their communities reported on their successes but also their feelings of frustrations, isolation, and the dangers of burn out due to the challenges of the system.
It was response like this which led to the principle of citizen involvement being key in the new Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.
There are local examples that point the way forward. The Llanelli we Want has developed into an important model, led by the Town Council, with Delyth Rowlands, their excellent Community Development officer working with the Llanelli Community Partnership and connecting the various voluntary sector developments across the town. Such initiatives highlight the potential of a joined-up community-led approach that is based on local needs and priorities, connecting the separate funding streams and independent approaches of different organisations to focus on “pride, place and people.”
This is mirrored by the Place Plan led by Llanelli Rural District Council and the community development work of the“big 6” town and community councils across Carmarthenshire; who are now working closely with the County Council in the Wellbeing Assessments and plans required by the Public Service Boards under the WFG Act. It is the perhaps the beginning of a recognition that area town and community councils have a better sense of what is needed .
Even closer to my home in Pembrokeshire PLANED have of course pioneered this approach with Local Action Plans across the County based on communities being involved in identifying needs and developing solutions.
While the County also hosts Solva Cares as a community council led solution to the massive challenge of social care needs, which is developing a model of care that is ground breaking in the UK ,involving local paid carers supported by community volunteers delivering a range of voluntary services to help older people.
The role of the democratically accountable body is critical in all these models –it is worth highlighting the question raised in the Senedd by Angela Burns AM for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire
“I am becoming increasingly aware of groups that are set up purporting to represent local communities when in fact they’re merely representing a very narrow sector within a local community—a small group of people within a large town. This very often causes resentment and frustration by the wider community who don’t actually want to set up another group but feel that these smaller organisations are steering their towns and their villages in a way that they don’t want to see.. We don’t want to stifle their wonderful spirit, but we do want to make sure that, when they say they represent a village, a town or a group, they truly represent them and not just the narrow self-interest of a very, very small minority.
There has to be this connection between participative and democratic action. It involves best practice in place planning, with citizen involvement – not easy and needs both hard yards and some degree of expertise – in creating locally owned visions, building on local
assets , establishing practical projects and programmes, which leverage the local precept.
In my view this should be the preferred model that should be supported by funders - Big Lottery, Foundations, Business and Government going forward. We need less of the top down national programmes parachuting into local communities on short term contracts and more support for community led projects that can meet local needs for the long term.
This builds on the best practice of local Town and Community Councils where there is
Involvement of local people – possibly led through a Community Association – in setting a long term vision, identifying local needs and priorities for improving community wellbeing
To shape the local place plan, which provides the basis for the investment of the precept and focus for volunteer action
And the platform for funding bids to external bodies such as lottery, foundations, business and other public sector sources
With annual reporting back on progress
The importance of building strong local resilient communities was at the heart of the Wales we Want – where there is greater local energy production and consumption; more local food production, and where more money circulates within the local economy with social businesses playing a key role in meeting local needs - enabling economies to be built on local assets, localising supply chains and supporting local entrepreneurship. Giving the key role to local communities in respect of natural resources and the importance of local green space.
So I hope the opportunity is clear & I believe that One Voice Wales and WCVA have a key role to ensure that we can maximise the benefits for our communities, through:
Putting support for a place based approach at the heart of our strategies
Increasing scale and impact of social action through volunteering – particularly through engaging young people
Building the capacity and skills of those community development coordinators and community leaders working on the front line
Ensuring funding streams are better focussed and linked to local priorities
Post Brexit models Post Community First and are based on best practice of community led development
We know there is not a one size fits all approach but In general, communities succeed when they are in control, as this sense of ownership increases participation, improves prioritisation of local problems, creates community spirit and builds trust and a belief in the delivery vehicle for community change.
I would be keen to hear views on your experiences, your ideas as to how we can meet these challenges