The first area that Speak Up’s been focussing on has been the St Matthew’s ward in East Preston. We’ve found a warm welcome – not least from a new organisation called “FOFS” (Friends of Fishwick and St Matthew’s), which has very recently been set up by a group of volunteers following the city council’s decision to scale back the Neighbourhood Management scheme locally.
We were glad to be invited to the inaugural meeting of FOFS, and even more excited when we learnt about plans for the St Matthew’s Fun Day, organised by the vicar at the local parish church. We’d been to a similar event last year, when it was a relatively small affair, but aspirations for 2011 were sounding huge. We leapt straight in to offer help where we could.
At the same time, a couple of months of conversations with the city council’s community engagement team bore fruit, and we were pleased to be able to facilitate a session – tacked on to one of our community journalism training events – to introduce local people to the soon-to-be-completed Inner East Preston Action Plan (IEP-AP). This plan identifies ten different areas within St Matthew’s and the neighbouring Fishwick ward where the district and county authorities have seen a need for development – it runs to many pages and is a relatively technical planning policy document but, by the end of the session, most people had gained some understanding of what it meant. There were myriad issues in the room, and a desire amongst council officers and residents alike to spread the net further and gather opinion from the sort of people who don’t turn up to IEP-AP consultation meetings!
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the two pieces of the jigsaw fell into place. The Fun Day was a great success – much bigger and better attended than last year, thanks largely to the efforts of the organisers and the local groups attending, and partly – we hope – due to the additional publicity we were able to provide. We were particular fans of the legions of helpful scouts setting out furniture; the home-made cake stall (10p a slice); and our community journalists who spent the day armed with video cameras and audio recorders capturing stories and views from people visiting. We set up stall with a couple of makeshift “trees”, encouraging people to contribute their views to four key questions that had been identified out of the IEP-AP meeting, and gathering more than 50 comments in the process.
Our community journalists in St Matthew’s are continuing to spread their wings – their formal training is complete now, but we’re still there to support them in collecting stories over the summer, and hope that they’ll join us in recruiting a new batch of trainees in the autumn. There’s some calls for printed output (a newsletter-through-your-door as well as the broadcast and on-line outlets that we’d planned to use), so we also need to establish how widespread that need is and whether we can adapt to meet it.
Elsewhere, training is well underway in Ribbleton (the second of the three areas we’re working in), and recruitment is shaping up well in Deepdale. Numbers are still smaller than we’d originally hoped, but those that are engaging are generating some excellent results. For us, simply having some dedicated time to learn about and focus on these three areas is already paying dividends in terms of links with groups we never knew about; better understanding of groups that we’ve not really talked to before; and working with some brilliant individuals who are passionate and engaging about the place that they live.
Coming soon: the public launch of our new community news portal and, we hope, a sneak peek at another project with astonishingly exciting potential and some brilliant synergies with what we’re doing.