This programme started in 2008 and consists in a forum during which the Council talks to the residents, community organisations, police and businesses in order to create a sense of ownership and improve areas and neighborhoods (the 18 wards). The local planning groups organise the meetings, deciding time and venue. Meetings are usually held in community centres, for example in sports grounds. Attendance is rising and the forum need a team of 8 municipal officers to service them.
This service has given great results and eight years later, the community is much more active in the integration process and in offering assistance to newcomers. Furthermore, community leaders and activists aim to engage people of underrepresented backgrounds in the social life and in the decision making process.
Each assembly has a budget of 15000£ to spend on projects which benefit the area. The assemblies are chaired by a councillor and they come up with a set of issues such as facilities for older people, programmes for younger people etc. and anyone can apply for the money as long as their initiative meets objectives and priorities.
There are different approaches to the budget: from small initiatives to strategic commissioning. It is the Community’s job to include events is the area with biggest spending. It has been observed that this is the best way of bringing the community together and celebrating diversity and shared values.
A few examples of successful actions include:
- Evening parents’ forum is linked to the assembly and it reaches out disadvantaged and isolated parents. In the forum, people meet and talk about their concerns which are then brought to the local assembly.
- Online engagement – an online platform, similar to an online forum, has been established. People log-in with their post code and talk to their neighbors, people living in the same street or area, and local area managers and councilors respond.
- Festivals are used to reach out minorities and those communities that are usually the hardest to reach. Organisers have tents to host people and they often use the word of mouth to spread the initiative, going around polling people.
- Community consultations are meetings where organisers talk about waste, recycling, or about which services should be cut.
- Local assemblies and other tools are a fabulous way of creating supportive communities for people who would have been on their own in the past, struggling with issues such as urban planning or services.