by Pippa Goldfinger
When I first moved to Frome it struck me as a lively and friendly place with a good mixture of people. There were echoes of London in the 1970s with a strong community vibe and good neighbourliness.
I noticed that people were active and involved with clubs and associations, organising events and activities with limited resources and unlimited energy. Many people have told me that they feel more confident to try things out in Frome because of its supportive community.
A lively place, be it a market town like Frome (population 28,000) or a global city like London, deserves representation and governance that reflects that energy and diversity.
The people who live in a place have a right to determine how it works. The structures of local government should allow them to become involved and harness their experience, passion and expertise. Local talent is beneficial for local government and using it empowers those involved. Shutting people out causes frustration and is simply a wasted resource.
The more people become involved, the more they have to challenge their own perspective and realise that conflicting and complex views and wants need to be accommodated and understood. It’s not easy to hold intolerant beliefs once you are face-to-face with people holding opposing views (you may need a good chairperson to facilitate this!).
In the case of Frome we have found (through trial & error!) that presenting people with decisions that have already been made for them causes a lot of dissatisfaction, while a more careful consultation where views are harvested, analysed & interpreted then fed back to the public through a selection of clear proposals proves popular. Everyone has had the chance to understand the process so that even if their particular view is not the final outcome they will understand why that was.
Frome Town Council would never suggest that it has the monopoly on good ideas and a useful role can be that of catalyst using the expertise and experience of different groups and individuals to create something that is more than the sum of its parts.
For the past 6 months Frome Town Council have used themed citizens’ panels to bring forward ideas from members of the community, councillors and business people. This gives members of the public an equal footing with councillors and puts them in the position of finding solutions to problems as well as identifying them.
Reports from the panels were discussed and ratified at council and fed into strategy, work plans and budgets.
Some things remain beyond our control (we are after all only a Parish Council) but we can act as a campaigning council highlighting areas of concern and working with our district & county councillors and MP, whatever their political hue. This approach keeps people focussed on what is of benefit to the town rather than to their political party.
Pippa Goldfinger is an Independents for Frome Town Councillor. She's an engineer and is passionate about the built environment - architecture, infrastructure - and keen that it is as beautiful and accessible as possible. Pippa tweets @PippaGoldfinger