One of the things about being retired is I no longer have to attend meetings, confining my activities to what I want to do, and when I do it is because I want to or have a good reason for attending.
Last week I was gently persuaded to attend an event which for want of a better word was about the Council and voluntary sector working together collaboratively, sharing ideas how we can best do so in the future and encouraging best practice and partnership working. But the carrot that got me attending was I was able to run a short session based on the work I am involved in with Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN). Here is my SHAN presentation, copies of which were given out at the end. During the session it was me chatting informally and engaging in dialogue with folk who came, about SHAN and homelessness. My ‘bit’ fitted into “Southend 2050, Test, Learn, Collaborate 29 January 2020: Show & Tell”.
There was a lot about the event that took place that I am not able to comment on as I wasn’t there to check things out, there being a lot going on, but there did seem to be a lot of energy and engagement and a real sense of positivity among delegates. I did leave quite heartened, and not just because the session I was leading seemed to have gone ok. When I started my more than part time career as a community activist around the turn of the millennium, with what was a fairly ambitious collaborative project, called Growing Together, that involved the Council and a fledgling organization named Trust Links, in mental health and gardening, it began a series of interactions with the Council that continues to this day.
I got the impression at the time that what we were doing was breaking the mold, which saw the Council doing their thing as they were obliged to do by law and the VCS (bless them) doing theirs and if the two were to work together it was the Council that called the shots. In the years following, I have seen a change in approach, with a move toward genuine partnership working, partly brought about by austerity cuts which meant the Council couldn’t do all they wanted and to get things done that benefitted the town’s residents they needed to go out to other entities, e.g. the VCS, to do so. While the Council can be criticized (and I have done more than my fair share) they have also done a lot right and notably in recent years when Council staff have been shed because of LA funding cuts.
The event I attended was good evidence that this was happening. There were many positives I got from the day besides the chance to meet up with old friends, which often happens on occasions such as these. There was a lot of people there I did not know, most a fair bit younger than me, both Council and VCS. I was impressed by the enthusiasm, helpfulness and awareness of the Council folk I met that went beyond mere show, wanting I felt to genuinely serve the town’s residents. Of the other two break out sessions I attended, one was to do with a project to help the victims of Domestic Violence (a bigger issue than often realized) and another to do with welcoming new immigrants to the UK and helping them to adjust to life in the town. I went away from the event pleased I was able to attend this well attended event and feeling optimistic about the future.