Catch The Bus

A few of us thought it was about time we started shouting about a free resource available to the community of Yateley on Thursday mornings, delivered by Stagecoach.

sainsburys_bus_promotion

See you on the bus on Thursday morning!

Save

Advertisements

Stepping-up

I’ve just come to the end of 18 months volunteering with Citizens Advice Hart.  When I was first retired off from work with my neurological condition, I at least wanted to ensure I was still contributing my recent PR experience (and dare I say it, professional skills) to a community cause.

This Citizens Advice Bureau dates back further than the Yateley portacabin - but demonstrates its vital role over the years.

This Citizens Advice Bureau dates back further than the Yateley portacabin of the 1980s – but demonstrates its vital role over the years – more here.

Citizens Advice has always been important to me since they helped my own family in the mid 1980s, when they were based in a ‘portacabin‘ behind the Royal Oak pub in Yateley.  Since then, their recipe of free, confidential, impartial and independent advice, combined with campaigning on those issues which have presented themselves to those organisation with regularity has become more important.  With a widening gap between rich and poor, and Government relying more on austerity as a strategy, Citizens Advice has as good as become the last stop-gap for those at the sharp end looking for help and support.

I know most people have ever increasing workloads and time-pressures in their working lives, but the contribution I have been able to make in the last 18 months has underlined just how much we can all make if we were able to volunteer just a small amount of time to local charities, community organisations or campaigns.

Dealing with life's transitions - like having a baby. Photo taken at Ewshot Recreation Ground.

Dealing with life’s transitions – like having a baby. Photo taken on steps of the slide at Ewshot Recreation Ground.

I was excited to be able to bring my 18 months to a close by producing a postcard-led volunteer recruitment campaign, “Change a Life – One Step at a Time”.  It featured scenes which utilised Slinkachu-style street art, which I photographed in locations throughout our largely rural area, to help bring a district to life which many of our residents were unaware of.

Dealing with life's transitions - like bereavement. Photo taken on the steps of Odiham War Memorial.

Dealing with life’s transitions – like bereavement. Photo taken on the steps of Odiham War Memorial.

The scenes each illustrated a different ‘life transition’ which the charity is likely to help local people, so that potential volunteers can get an insight into the kind of work they could help with.  Previously the charity had found it difficult to get permission to share examples of case studies, and this overcame that problem.

The local newspaper – the ‘Fleet and Yateley News & Mail‘ were so impressed, they gave us a full page feature on the initiative.

Citizens Advice Hart's "Change a Life - One Step at a Time" campaign in the "Fleet and Yateley News & Mail"

Citizens Advice Hart’s “Change a Life – One Step at a Time” campaign in the “Fleet and Yateley News & Mail”

The full campaign was explained in this blog post.

It had social media extensions on Instagram and Pinterest, and the postcards are designed to be used regularly as banners on Twitter and Facebook.

It has been a real thrill to work with staff and fellow volunteers to help spread the word on the local Citizens Advice.  When I first began, I helped show how media relations works, and how the potential of a story can be properly unlocked.  They ended up on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, in the pages of the Spectator magazine and in the local media too.  As well as helping them embrace social media, I then worked with the trustees on pulling together a full communications strategy.

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-19-31-54screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-19-32-21

The biggest thrill was embracing some of the best practice from of the best agencies I have had the privilege of engaging with over time to run a session with the team of 30 or so volunteers to help unlock the true nature of the charity’s communication problem – and how to overcome it.  We were able to see how some solutions directly led to changes in service delivery – and changes in how we thought about how the service might work in the future.  It also helped volunteers and staff see how PR is about much more than press releases, but can actually help the organisation keep a focus on improving relationships with people.  And it helped put them in the driving seat of the analysis stage of compiling a communications strategy.

After 18 months, I had to remember that I was retired off for a reason, and will be concentrating on that for a bit.  But in the meantime, I just wanted to pen a post recommending that as many people as possible – whether they are PRs, marketers, lawyers, accountants – whatever, volunteer their time with a local charity, community organisation or campaign for change that is dear to them.  Some ‘CPD‘ schemes include volunteering as part of their structures – but it’s just a great thing in it’s own right!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Fun Palaces come to Yateley

Saturday 1st October 2016 sees the Fun Palaces weekend – ‘an ongoing campaign for culture at the heart of community, with an annual weekend of arts and science events created by, for and with local people.’

funpalace

This year, my home village of Yateley’s library will be hosting a Fun Palace event – and I will be sharing the delights of ‘Slinkachu’ style street art photography with those who come along.  We’ll be encouraging people to use my figures, and try their hand at it amongst the books and shelves of Yateley Library, to see what they can come up with.

Here’s a few ideas with books I had lying around the house, to demonstrate the kinds of things you can do amongst the shelves on the day.

20160921_133614-1

20160921_134335

20160921_142137-1

If you’ve never seen much about ‘Slinkachu’, this is a useful link to read more.  And you can also see how I’ve helped the local Citizens Advice Hart make use of this approach to photography in their campaigning on their blog.  They will be launching a new volunteer recruitment campaign using ‘Slinkachu’ photography in the coming weeks.

I love the central manifesto of the Fun Palaces movement:- “We believe in the genius in everyone, in everyone an artist and everyone a scientist, and that creativity in community can change the world for the better.  We believe we can do this together, locally, with radical fun – and that anyone, anywhere, can make a fun palace.”

The common good!

The event is from 10.00am-4.00pm on Saturday 1st October at Yateley Library on School Lane, and my Slinkachu stuff will be running from 12.00noon-4.00pm.

Boundaries

The Local Government Boundary Review have just published their final recommendations for Hampshire County Council.  I took part in the consultation process at the end of last year.

I wasn’t expecting my comments to be acted upon, but I at least expected them to be acknowledged in the consultation report.  They were not.

LGBCE_logo_1200x1200

Only four submissions were apparently received about the ward I made a submission about, so it is pretty easy to track whether my views were noted, let alone acted upon.  I felt the proposals were wrong, and did not meet statutory criteria – little room for confusion there.  I have copied my full response at the end of this post so you can see what I mean.  They refer to the Hart District area of Hampshire.

However, in the report, it says, “We received four submissions relating to this division. Two of the submissions commented on the parish warding arrangements for Yateley. We have considered the evidence and provided for revised parish electoral arrangements for Yateley at page 47 of this report. The remaining submissions commented on the division name. It was argued that Blackwater be included in the name as it would better reflect the communities which make up the division. We are persuaded by the evidence received; however, we consider a division name consisting of Fleet North, Yateley East & Blackwater to be too long. As Blackwater and Yateley make up a significant part of the division, we have re-named the division Yateley East & Blackwater which we consider better reflects communities represented in this division. Subject to this change of division name, we confirm our recommended division as part of our final recommendations.”

No mention that I objected to putting together half of Yateley with part of Fleet which are NOT natural communities, with zero public transport links.  For this, and reasons to do with lack of recognisable community groups and interests across the proposed division, I did NOT feel it met the statutory criteria.

Yateley's Dog & Partridge, near the boundary of two divisions under these proposals, rather than at the heart of one, as under mine.

Yateley’s Dog & Partridge, near the boundary of two divisions under these proposals, rather than at the heart of one, as under mine.

Indeed, additionally, on the proposal for ‘Hartley Wintney and Yateley West‘ division, the report states, “We received support for our draft recommendations relating to Hartley Wintney & Yateley West division,” despite my submission having said that I did not think they met the statutory criteria either for similar reasons.

By deciding to ‘change the name’ of the Yateley East division which had I made a submission about, to take out reference to Fleet, but not to take out the actually area it refers to kind of demonstrates the point I am making, without doing anything about it.

This has totally removed what little faith I had left in public consultation processes.  There has to be a better way if it even turns off political geeks like me from taking part.  Apologies for being such a bore, but I had to get it off my chest.  I don’t really mind that my argument didn’t win the day – I object to the fact that it was ignored completely despite being eminently valid.

My original submission in full, so you can see what I am talking about:

“I wish to comment about the proposed divisions in Hart, specifically, ‘Fleet North & Yateley East‘, but also ‘Hartley Wintney & Yateley West‘ which I do not believe reflect the statutory criteria.  On the summary report pages, the test of ‘Community Identity’ suggests that there should be good transport links across the division, and highlights public transport.  There is NO public transport between Fleet and Yateley, or between Hartley Wintney and Yateley – something I acutely feel as a disabled person.  It asks whether there are recognisable interests, and community groups across the divisions – but as the names suggest, both these divisions ‘bolt’ together natural communities which have been split apart – namely Yateley, and Fleet.  Surely it makes sense to build an electoral division around Yateley as ONE community (which includes Blackwater and Hawley, and possibly Eversley); and an electoral division around Fleet as ONE community – each with very different interests, boundaries, and community groups.  Hartley Wintney more naturally looks west, towards Odiham, and Hook.”

Lost-interest-boring

“To group together ‘Yateley East‘ with ‘Fleet North‘ makes absolutely no sense at all.  I was born in the area, lived here until I was 18, and have just returned a year ago at the age of 44 years.  My mother has lived in Yateley all her life, as has her mother.  When I consulted with my immediate neighbours about the proposition, they were totally bemused.  Fleet and Yateley are the two largest towns in Hart District, approx. five miles apart.  Why would you split each of them, and then create a new division which mixes part of one, with part of another, particularly when they share no public transport link?  Even if you do not accept this argument, then at the very least, the proposed name of the division is inappropriate.  It includes Blackwater and Hawley – places in their own right which share some focus with Yateley, but absolutely none at all with Fleet. ” 

shutterstock_85936765-bored

“My proposal, which I have not tested, would be for a division for the whole of Yateley (which would include Blackwater and Hawley, and possibly Eversley); one for Fleet Town (which could include parts of Fleet North from the previous proposal, including Elvetham Heath – and if any levelling up is needed, this could be done with the division of Church Crookham & Ewshot, which is a more natural fit, and low on numbers).  Similarly, Hartley Wintney would be a more natural fit for the division of Odiham and Hook, which could be renamed accordingly.  This would increase its numbers which are currently a little low.  I believe such a proposal would make a more natural community fit for Fleet and for Yateley (as well as surrounding population centres) reflecting community interests and identities, and could be a more equitable spread of population, thus providing good electoral quality. Crucially, in the case of Yateley and Fleet, it would be based on strong, easily identifiable boundaries, and help deliver strong, effective and convenient local government.  At the moment, local people often struggle to know who their local county councillor is because they do not know which side of an arbitrary boundary they fall on within Yateley or Fleet – this is patently absurd, particularly when it is written into the statutory criteria for your own consultation.”

Thank you for bearing with me!

Thank you for bearing with me!

Bad review for Hampshire’s library decision

Today (18th April) was decision day by Hampshire County Council about the future of its libraries.  A draft strategy had been prepared following one of the largest ever public consultations by the county.

Future of Hampshire's libraries

Future of Hampshire’s libraries

One of the main aspects of the plan was to put the county’s libraries into four ‘tiers’, reflecting their size and importance.  The top two tiers were essentially guaranteed their future, and have the best existing opening hours.

Comparison of Hampshire's library 'tiers'

Comparison of Hampshire’s library ‘tiers’

Like other responses to the consultation, I pointed out that, based on usage data provided my local library in Yateley had been placed in the wrong tier – ‘Tier 3’ rather than ‘Tier 2’.  This meant that, if confirmed, in a year’s time, the library could close, or be handed over to volunteers to run.

Data comparison for Hampshire's libraries

Data comparison for Hampshire’s libraries

Despite a water-tight case, we were ignored in the council’s draft response to the consultation, issued in March, so I took to the local media, and I know others to lobbying.  You can read more of my arguments below.

My letter, published in the Fleet & Yateley News and Mail

My letter, published in the Fleet & Yateley News and Mail

There is no question that we are right, and in the council’s announcement today, they have had to insert a paragraph, finally dealing with the issue.  However, that’s as good as it gets!

Hampshire responds

Hampshire responds

Despite the catchment area and usage figures unquestionably making Yateley a ‘Tier 2’ library, and the council recognising its ‘school library’ status as ‘unique’, it has remained a ‘Tier 3’ library in the decision – which means Yateley Library’s status in the medium term remains uncertain.  The points made about lack of family activities and adult learning opportunities are not something I recognised – and might be something that could be rectified were it open on Wednesdays, and after 5pm on other days.  Absurd!

I feel really let down by the quality of local democratic decision-making.  This is unquestionably a bad decision.  Do Conservative-run Hampshire County Council ignore the town of Yateley because it has had the temerity to return Liberal Democrats as county councillors?

I read more carefully, and discovered that between the original draft of the strategy document, and this final version, a ‘new’ paragraph had been ‘retro-fitted’ to explain how each library’s tier status had been decided (see below), so that Yateley conveniently sits just below the catchment area figure of up to 25,000 to justify ‘Tier 3’ status (Yateley is said to have a catchment of 24,803, although whether this includes new developments, or Eversley is unclear).  No one is convinced – this was never in the original documentation.

'Retro-fitted' explanation paragraph!

‘Retro-fitted’ explanation paragraph!

I owe so much to Yateley Library.  We had no books in my house as a child.  I spent hours in the place, and it stood me in good stead, helping me to get to University at Sussex, and then a career in public relations, including at BBC Radio 1, in parliament, and the civil service.  A second career as a lecturer meant that I have seen again the importance of young students coming to university not only with a love of books, but with an ability to navigate a library.  Yateley’s ‘Tier 3’ status already restricts the number of days it opens, its opening hours – and now leaves a question mark over its longer term future.

Today I have no alternative but to leave a ‘bad review’ for Hampshire County Council’s decision, but a big ‘thank you’ to everyone connected with Yateley Library!  The huge response to the consultation underlined the importance of this issue to local people.  I am grateful to the council for at least taking notice of the point we were raising, but feel deep disappointment at their inability to see it as anything other than nimby-ism, and as such, even having to retro-fit the paragraph in red above, so their plans make sense.  Very poor form.

A landmark decision – local news

Absurdity seems to rule the roost as far as public policy and bureaucracy goes, but when the latest planning application in my local village was submitted, it really seemed to have hoisted the flag to full mast.

The old post office building has been a landmark feature of Yateley village in North East Hampshire from around the early 1930s, replacing previous structures dating back long before.  The recent planning application to Hart District Council seeks to demolish the building, and the neighbouring old postmaster’s bungalow, and replace them with two ‘retail units’, two x three bedroom flats, and three x three bedroom houses.

The old post office is so much a feature of the village, that it has been featured solely, or prominently on a number of Francis Frith postcards.  I’ve featured a number of them on my Pinterest site, with links below:-

This postcard features the old post office stores in all its glory from c. 1950.

This postcard shows off just how much the unique wooden structure is a recognisable part of ‘Church End Green’ in Yateley – supposedly a conservation area.

It is one of the buildings that I most associate with my childhood growing up in the village over 40 years ago.  My Mum says the same, having lived in Yateley all her life of 63 years, and it would have been a feature of my Mum’s Mum’s childhood around 80 years ago (see photo below).

This postcard, from 1965 demonstrates just how much of a Yateley landmark the old post office is.  When ‘Greetings from Yateley‘ are sent, the old post office is one of the buildings chosen to represent the village.

And this is the full image of that highlighted in the postcard above.

This postcard demonstrates the extent to which the old post office dominates the view as you enter ‘Church End Green’ as you head towards Eversely.

And this postcard highlights an issue not strictly considered in the planning application – the extent to which the streetscape will be effected looking back from the area of green in front of Forge Court.  The benches by the Town Council notice board provide a different angle on the old post office, including the church tower peaking out behind it.  If the old post office were to be demolished, and replaced by two, two storey buildings, that view of the church tower would be obscured, and the green backdrop of trees to the village would  be removed.

This is a photo of a similar angle to that postcard above, taken in the last few years.

It has taken a bit of time for some noise to start to roll, mainly via the local newspaper (see here), the community page on Facebook, and word-of-mouth – thank you to those who have taken the time rally to the cause.  For many, it is the stories of the local post office’s links to ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ through author Flora Thompson, who served in the post office in Yateley around 1901.

My Mum's Mum (left) outside the nissen hut she lived in on the common immediately after WWII, demonstrating that pressure for new housing is not new, and something we have to deal with sensitively.

My Mum’s Mum (left) outside the Nissen hut she lived in on the common immediately after WWII, demonstrating that pressure for new housing is not new, and something we have to deal with sensitively.

Of course, it is a national priority that we need more housing – but there are plenty of brownfield locations and places where we can ‘fill in’ – and more effort needs to be put into using the planning system imaginatively to revive areas in more need of regeneration – for example, One Stop, Barclays, and the garage in Village Way are all identified in the most recent plan as locations in need of redevelopment, and all of the shop frontage along Reading Road/The Parade  could be used much more creatively to not only spruce up the shopping frontage, but create low-level housing, as is currently the norm in London.

If you live in Yateley, I urge you to reflect on the issues raised, and if you value your heritage, please take part in the planning consultation (sign a petition by all means, but if you object, you MUST take part in the formal consultation for your view to be counted).  Do not be complacent, or we will lose a local landmark.  You can take part in the consultation and see all of the supporting documents by clicking here and searching for planning reference 15/01828/FUL

It is a shame that such public consultations are not more user-friendly, or visible to the general public.

You can see the objection which I submitted, in full,  by clicking here.  For me, the proposal breaches all planning guidelines and policies.  Essentially;

1) the most recent planning document about this area (a conservation area) identified the buildings as ‘positive buildings’ (‘good examples of relatively unaltered historic buildings’), and under planning legislation, the council has a duty to protect/preserve its character and appearance, and reinforce local distinctiveness.

2) the proposal doesn’t factor in how much of a problem ‘on pavement’ parking already is in the immediate vicinity, and in front of the church, particularly impacting on the elderly and the disabled.  Adding extra retail, and residential development to the area, including a drive-through arch can only impact negatively in this village/conservation setting to the bizarre traffic situation.

If any of this wasn’t reminder enough, it demonstrates the real importance of politics to our everyday lives.

And in case the development does get the green-light, you might want to think about buying some of those Francis Frith images from their website here.

Consulting on consultation

My county council, Hampshire, is currently consulting on “a range of options for managing an anticipated £98 million shortfall in the revenue budget by April 2017, due to on-going reductions in funding from central Government.”

I was looking forward to seeing some innovative examples of engaging with the public, and laying in front of them a major problem that affects us all – after all, a novel solution to the problem may actually reside amongst our collective wisdom.  I was also interested because ‘public consultation’ as a topic has been on the public relations curriculum for some time, and I have long told students it is one of those subjects that industry is woefully bad at, so if they can crack it, not only can they do a lot of good, but there is a career to be made in it.

Hampshire's budget consultation

Hampshire’s budget consultation

My heart sank when I saw what Hampshire had to offer.  To begin with, I wouldn’t have known about it unless an angry person had flagged it up to me in a community Facebook forum.  Secondly, it is a pretty innocuous link on its website – nothing more.

No imaginative thought processes.  No interesting use of video or even Lego to engage the respondent, and encourage them to really think about their area, and their daily lives.  There is a supporting information pack, but it is far too text heavy to engage with a mass audience.  Outside of an election, this could be one of the main ways of reaching out and involving members of the public, so they understanding more about the challenges of public policy, and the local authority understands more about how it needs to meet their needs.

Instead, we have a bog standard survey.  Very long.  Very boring.  Very loaded.

The Lego Town Hall - but no Lego figures in this consultation to encourage participation or creativity.

The Lego Town Hall – but no Lego figures in this consultation to encourage participation or creativity.

It starts off by asking me to name the five most important services I think it should continue to deliver.  No chance for me to rank them all in order of importance – I could only pick five.  Inevitably, the same five to eight will get selected by respondents, giving the council a mandate to chop other services, even if we all want the council to continue delivering them.

Pick just five council services which are important to you.

Pick just five council services which are important to you.

It also asks which services our household have used in the last 12 months.  But what asking that question about our lifetime?  Doesn’t our use of services have a changing pattern over our lifetime – some get used at different times?  And why restrict it to our household?  Shouldn’t it also refer to our families, which may be extended?

Which services have you used in the last 12 months?

Which services have you used in the last 12 months?

The survey does usefully lay out the options about options for efficiencies in council spending, use of reserves, and a variety of options for increases in the level of council tax.  However, once these questions are posed, the overwhelming bulk of the survey is then about priorities for cuts and efficiencies in council spending – making the assumption that this is the priority of the electorate.  It also fails to give the respondents the option to write-in their own suggestions at this stage in specific areas.  Respondents have to to rank each suggestion from the Council in each area of council services – implying that we agree with ALL of them, even though we may passionately disagree with one or all of them.

You have to rank ALL options on adult services - indicating your approval of all of them to some extent. And where did the options come from? And why can't we suggest others?

You have to rank ALL options on adult services – indicating your approval of all of them to some extent. And where did the options come from? And why can’t we suggest others?

You have to rank ALL options on childrens services - indicating your approval of all of them to some extent. And where did the options come from? And why can't we suggest others?

You have to rank ALL options on childrens services – indicating your approval of all of them to some extent. And where did the options come from? And why can’t we suggest others?

I feel sorry for the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens here - because basically you have to vote to commercialise it, or the voluntary sector will get it!! What a loaded choice - who decided to pick on this option, and no others?

I feel sorry for the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens here – because basically you have to vote to commercialise it, or the voluntary sector will get it!! What a loaded choice – who decided to pick on this option, and no others?

Again, who got to pick the options from which we HAVE to pick, from which the council will then claim to have a mandate?

Again, who got to pick the options from which we HAVE to pick, from which the council will then claim to have a mandate?

So, having taught public consultation at undergraduate level for the last nine or so years, I would quite clearly have been using this as an example of a flawed consultation, if I was still looking for case studies in my teaching.  There are plenty of published guidelines for what makes for effective consultation, and plenty of common-sense about transparency, conversation, participation and engagement.  Instead, having just retired through ill-health due to my neurological condition, I am just another punter, whose local authority is going through the motions of preparing the ground for yet more cuts in public spending, which in the last year hit me in the shape of cuts to local bus services.  I wasn’t prepared for how shocking the level of public transport provision had become in rural areas compared to what it was when I was a child – and what it was from where I had been living in London until last year.  The council say less people are using it, but when you cut it to such woeful levels, it is no surprise that such few people use it.  And now it is going to happen all over again with another area of council services.  Or will it?

Of course the council will say that it has left ‘open boxes’ at the end, but at the end of this long survey, any respondent will have been beaten into submission, and their responses pre-framed.  What a missed opportunity for genuine engagement – and another opportunity for public relations to get a bad reputation.  There could have been much better use of supporting video and audio.  Much better use of supporting community events, and face-to-face meetings.  Much better use of social media.

If you do live in Hampshire, it is too important to let yourself be sent to sleep by the whole thing.  Responses will be accepted until midnight on the 6th July, and as well as taking part online on the council website, paper copies are available at local libraries.  Do take part (and I hope you encourage the council to go for options that will allow them to resist austerity, and invest in the common good).