Hello, I'm Andrea Vincent, MBE, Clerk for Wolverton and Greenleys Town Council. I recently had the privilege of presenting a webinar on Scribe Academy™ titled "Hard to Reach Communities," where I shared our journey and strategies for effectively connecting with diverse groups within our Town Parish Area.. This blog extends that session, aiming to provide valuable insights and practical advice for communities facing similar challenges.
Wolverton and Greenleys, in its essence, is a tapestry of varied demographics, each with its unique needs and aspirations. When I stepped into my role, it became evident that to truly serve our community, we needed to step beyond the traditional boundaries of council operations. We had to innovate, listen, and most importantly, engage with those who often felt unheard. This blog is a chronicle of our endeavours to do just that – reaching the hard-to-reach, understanding their perspectives, and incorporating their voices into the very fabric of our local governance.
Identifying Community Needs
As I embarked on my journey with Wolverton and Greenleys Town Council, it quickly dawned upon me that to effect real change, we first needed to deeply understand the very people we serve
Listening to the Community Voice:
Our first step was to launch a comprehensive survey, delivered to every household in our Parish. The aim was simple yet profound – to hear directly from our residents. We asked open-ended questions about what they cherished in their community, areas they felt needed improvement, and their aspirations for the future. The feedback was eye-opening, highlighting a crucial gap in our youth services. It was a wake-up call; we were missing out on engaging with an energetic, vibrant part of our community – our youth.
A Youth-Centric Approach:
The survey results showed a clear demand for better youth provision. It resonated with me personally, as I believe the energy and ideas of the younger generation are vital to the vibrancy of any community. However, this brought us face-to-face with a challenge. Most of our council, myself included, were far removed from our youth days. We needed a fresh perspective, a new lens to see what the young minds of our Parish yearned for.
The Challenge of Engagement:
However, engaging with the youth wasn't just about providing services; it was about creating spaces where they felt heard, valued, and empowered. This realisation steered us towards setting up structures and initiatives that were not just for the youth but, more importantly, led by them.
In Wolverton and Greenleys, identifying community needs was not just a process; it was a journey of learning and unlearning. It was about stepping out of our comfort zones and embracing new ways of thinking.
Establishing the Community Youth Council (CYC)
In response to the clear message from our community survey, we took a decisive step – the formation of the Community Youth Council (CYC). This wasn't just another council initiative; it was a bold move towards genuine youth empowerment in Wolverton and Greenleys.
A Platform for the Young Voices:
The CYC was established as a forum where the youth could not only voice their opinions but also actively participate in decision-making. We welcomed ten enthusiastic young members to the council, a testament to the untapped eagerness among our youth to contribute to their community. Their bi-monthly meetings in our council chambers quickly became a hub of vibrant ideas and action plans.
It was imperative for us that the CYC was youth-led. Our role as adults and council members was to provide support and guidance, not to direct or control. This approach allowed the CYC members to take ownership of their projects, instilling a sense of responsibility and pride in their work.
The dynamism of the CYC was evident in the array of projects they undertook. From organising community events to participating in local decision-making, these young individuals showed a remarkable ability to understand and address community issues. Their enthusiasm and fresh perspectives brought a new energy to our council's work, bridging the gap between generations.
Establishing the CYC was a learning curve for us at the council as much as it was an empowering experience for the youth. It underscored the importance of not just listening to but actively involving young people in shaping the community they are a part of. The CYC stands as a shining example of how youth engagement can bring about positive change and a deeper sense of community belonging.
Key Projects and Impact
The Community Youth Council (CYC) quickly became a catalyst for impactful projects, directly addressing the needs and interests of our younger residents. Here are a few highlights that demonstrate the significant impact of these initiatives:
One of our flagship projects was the creation of 'The Lounge,' a space conceptualised and named by the CYC. Far from being a traditional youth club, The Lounge served as a dynamic hub for young people to socialise, engage in creative activities, and simply have a space to call their own. Open every Thursday evening, it's a testament to our commitment to providing safe and supportive environments for our youth. This will expand on January 24 to the other part of the parish on Wednesdays.
The Lunch Club
While our focus was significantly on youth, we didn't overlook other community segments. The Lunch Club was initiated as a warm, welcoming space for adults and families, particularly during the colder months. It offered not just a meal but a place for people to connect, share stories, and access support if needed. We are committed to provide this year round and replicate in other parts of the parish.
More Engaging Community Events
The CYC's creativity shone through in their organisation of community events. From festive treasure hunts involving local businesses to open-air cinema nights, these events not only provided entertainment but also strengthened community bonds. Importantly, these activities were inclusive, ensuring that all age groups in our community could participate and enjoy.
These initiatives, among others, highlighted the importance of inclusive spaces and activities in fostering a sense of belonging and community spirit. The success of these projects is a reflection of our community's collective effort and the CYC's dedication to making a tangible difference in Wolverton and Greenleys.
Funding and Sustainability
An essential aspect of bringing our community projects to life has been securing funding and ensuring their sustainability. Here's how we navigated this challenge:
Diverse Funding Sources
We tapped into various sources, from local council grants to small charities and even larger trusts. This diversified approach helped us gather the necessary resources without over-relying on a single source.
Local Business Partnerships
Collaboration with local businesses played a crucial role. Businesses contributed either through financial support or in-kind services. For instance, a local retailer generously provided equipment for our gymnastics program, showcasing the power of community collaboration.
The community itself stepped up with fundraising efforts. Whether it was through local events or individual contributions, the sense of ownership and responsibility towards these initiatives was palpable.
Securing funding and ensuring the sustainability of our projects has been a testament to the power of community collaboration and resourcefulness. By combining council resources, local business support, and community fundraising, we have been able to sustain these valuable initiatives and plan for future ones.
Reflecting on our journey with the Community Youth Council and various community projects, several key lessons stand out:
The Power of Youth Engagement
Involving young people not just as participants but as leaders in community projects is transformative. Their fresh perspectives and enthusiasm can drive meaningful change and inspire others.
The Importance of Listening
True community engagement begins with listening. Understanding the diverse needs and aspirations of all community members, especially those who are often overlooked, is crucial for effective and inclusive governance.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Adapting to community feedback and being flexible in our approach has been essential. It allowed us to tailor our projects to meet the actual needs of our residents, rather than assuming what they might be.
The journey of Wolverton and Greenleys in reaching hard-to-reach communities has been both challenging and incredibly rewarding. From establishing the CYC to launching various community-centric projects, we've seen firsthand how small steps can lead to significant impacts. As we move forward, we remain committed to this path of inclusive and responsive community engagement, always ready to learn, adapt, and grow alongside our vibrant community.
Thank you, Andrea
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