Published on March 3rd, 2016 | by John OMeara1
TOUCHING THE ELEPHANT
A group of people stand in the dark feeling different parts of an elephant but their individual comments fail to capture the whole. Birmingham Partners (a collaboration between the City Council, Birmingham University and others, see http://www.birminghampartners.com/) convened a meeting at Nishkam Centre on 2nd March to see whether there were local issues which could be addressed by enabling the right connections to take place, or by drawing on lessons from elsewhere. Those present again found themselves feeling their way in that ‘darkness’ which results from reduced Council activity and due process on the one hand and incomplete local knowledge, representation and governance on the other – each of us able to talk about the bit of the elephant our hand was on but not about a functioning whole.
But there were plenty of good things, good ideas and some tangible things to pursue – enough to keep us groping a while longer:
- can we replicate the Handsworth Helping Hands approach to waste and environmental improvement in other areas and get the Council systematically supporting this? Is waste, and the quality of our surroundings, one of those key issues capable of uniting all sections of the community behind a cause?
- can the idea for a cafe in Handsworth Wood get off the ground and incorporate the ideas aired here for imaginative mother and toddler provision – why should you have to go to Moseley or Harborne for that? But are there things to be learned from Moseley’s Ort Cafe? (afterthought: could the development plans for St. Mary’s Church have a part to play in this?)
- can the ‘Big City Plan’ finally address the dereliction at the city end of Soho Road?
- ‘Beat the Street’ already have 1,200 people involved including 7 schools
- the very local social media/blogs remain committed to both providing information and celebrating the day to day positives of Handsworth life, and local radio (in the person of Charmaine Burton of New Style Radio) are on a quest for what turns those positives into a sustained vibrancy that changes how we live
- can Birmingham Partners initiatives link well to the methodical programme of improvement being pursued by Citizens UK?
- would local schools benefit from engagement with ‘Young Enterprise’ in the way that King Edward’s Handsworth have done? (see http://www.young-enterprise.org.uk/about-us/young-enterprise-by-region/west-midlands/)
Jacqui Kennedy, Head of Place at the Council, spoke about the Council’s determination to become a better partner to groups trying to make a difference in local communities (following criticisms in the Kerslake Review of their failings in this area). She played down the role of cash in this but played up the open-mindedness about how to achieve things through novel combinations of existing Council resource and local initiative, together with a willingness to help people navigate through obstructive Council systems. As a sign of her commitment she provided her e-mail address and invited any contact about local initiatives needing Council input or coming up against barriers in the Council – with a promise to respond to every message. Her e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org As Head of Place her brief covers: Housing, Highways, Sports, Parks and Environment, Waste Management, Community Services and Community Safety.
Birmingham Partners will send us a summary and list of attenders and we’ll publish these. That will be the time to decide on the best way forward for any or all of the ideas discussed.