Localism. It’s the buzz word in central Government right now with campaigns to encourage more people to volunteer to assist in their local communities – whether in having a greater say over planning matters, or taking over a service threatened with closure, to playing a part in David Cameron’s Big Society.
But essentially it comes down to being a good, even nosy, neighbour. And that’s the formidable force for good one leading recruiter of volunteers hopes to harness.
Emma-Jo Duffy is Neighbourhood Action Programme manager for the Council for Voluntary Services Blackpool Wyre and Fylde, based at Abingdon Street. She is out to recruit, train and support a network of 150 neighbourhood organisers across Blackpool over the coming weeks.
Each will look after around 400 houses, or 1,000 people, on each patch – but Emma-Jo is convinced Blackpool has what it takes to deliver the goods. She adds: “These volunteers will be trained to listen to their neighbours and collect ‘stories’ about the people, organisations, shops, open spaces in their neighbourhoods, identify what is good and what can be built upon, what should be changed and who needs to action it.
“The organiser will provide a true representation of what that neighbourhood is all about, and what it would like to see happen – and an annual plan.
“Neighbourhood Action is gaining momentum, and is being well-received by many voluntary groups and organisations, who we are now working closely with us to spread the programme out across the town.
“We have been successful in receiving adult and community learning funding to train a further 60 organisers and are now organising training, which will be delivered by Workers Educational Association (WEA).”
Indeed Elaine Bennet, learning manager for Lancashire WEA, says communities pulling together can almost move mountains.
She says: “In one area, locals have bought a valley in Wales and are re-foresting it. That’s the power of pulling together.”
One would-be neighbourhood organiser, Leah Emerson, already volunteers with several town centre projects and admits: “I care enough to want to make a difference to this town. It’s a tall order, but it will work if more come forward and support it. Who better to know the needs of a neighbourhood than the people who live within it?”
Emma-Jo adds: “The plan can be as simple as a clean-up day every month, hanging basket day, big lunch or the setting up of a youth club in the local church.
“The CVS could help and support neighbours with governance and funding advice, policies and procedures.
“In turn, the neighbours could approach the local authority and point out that they are saving the council cash in providing services or facilities, and why shouldn’t that money go to benefit the neighbourhood?
“This leads to bigger actions, as communities gain confidence and see improvements being made. It’s all about raising civic awareness and sense of responsibility.”
The localism bill, now law, offers flexibility for local government, new rights and powers for communities and individuals, reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective, and a bigger say in local policy-making.
Emma-Jo concludes: “I believe neighbourhoods already hold the assets needed for improvement. Communities have what it takes to move away from being labelled most deprived or unhealthy and the like.
“If people are told they are deprived, with government funding ploughed in to sort it, communities will sit back and wait for the next handout.
“If communities are promoted for the changes they have made themselves, successes and achievements in improving their areas, they will respond with more of the same. It’s about moving away from the ugly contest, and getting through to the finals of the beauty contest instead!”
n For more, contact Emma-Jo Duffy on email@example.com or at the CVS office on (01253) 624505.