‘CHANGE’ has been a fashionable political buzzword since Barack Obama used it as a key theme in his drive to become US President in 2008.
Four years on though – and after all the initial fuss about how his campaign changed the rules by motivating thousands of previously-apathetic people and fundraisers – the word is now treated with cynicism by some, and seen as a bit of electioneering rhetoric and fluff. I think that is totally wrong.
Today we now live in a hyper-local environment – one where people are increasingly connected 24/7 via Social Media and other technologies, and are constantly sharing new ideas and knowledge.
That means now, more than ever, that any one person can spark something which makes a great difference to where they live.
That is a key part of the Co-operative Council agenda in Oldham.
Our vision for a Co-operative Borough is all about citizens, partners and staff working together to improve the place. We want all members of the community to play an active part in that.
This means everybody ‘doing their bit’ and that’s why, for example, we’re striving to make involvement in local activity and decision-making simpler by devolving power and resources to neighbourhood levels.
It’s also why we’ve started an employee volunteering scheme where every Council worker is encouraged to give time to local groups and projects.
Positive change won’t come in your local community, however, if we all sit around waiting for another person to highlight an issue or get something off the ground. That way, we only allow negative change to occur and we suffer in silence.
The concept of how to encourage and empower people to become ‘ChangeMakers’ was the subject of our inaugural 20:20 lecture at the Regional Science Centre Oldham last week.
Matthew Taylor was our keynote speaker and is a hugely powerful advocate.
As former chief adviser on political strategy to Tony Blair during his time at Downing Street, he was associated with several key initiatives designed to engage the public with the political process.
He’s now Chief Executive of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) who recently published a research paper – ‘ChangeMakers’ – which takes a new approach to identifying and mobilising people in their neighbourhoods.
As Matthew explained, it is individuals who can drive change in their local areas and equally it is up to Oldham Council and the public sector to find out who those people are, connect with them – and connect them with each other – and deliver results.
More often than not people who make change happen aren’t your self appointed ‘community leaders’ types: they are those ordinary residents joining in with activities or work that gets their hands dirty where they live.
These can simply just be people involved in a local knitting circle, for example, or dog walking clubs. All kinds of folk with very different interests and backgrounds, but who are prepared to get together to improve things and to deliver ideas and projects that make their areas a better place.
There was good turnout at this event with around 80 members of the public there: and it made for a very thought-provoking debate.
I am determined that Oldham Council starts connecting better with our potential ChangeMakers and it’s clear that for this to work our elected Ward Members need to step up.
They have to be leaders in their areas, respected locally, active and accessible – but also acting as enablers who help people make a difference.
Whilst part of their role as elected councillors is to show leadership, it is equally vital that they encourage others to take a lead, and that they help to connect like-minded people together to enable change to happen.
We heard a compelling case study from the audience at this event.
Stoneleigh Park used to be derelict piece of waste ground in Derker until a group of local people got together.
They formed the Friends of Stoneleigh Park community group and successfully lobbied Oldham Council to turn it into a park.
This diverse group, which includes young people, have done some fantastic work to encourage the park to become a real community asset that is now used for a range of events.
They fundraised across all sectors for their work and the Council did its bit by enabling them to take over a hut in the park to run youth clubs and other activities that have had a real impact on cutting anti-social behaviour.
The transformation was so effective that the park eventually became the first in Oldham to be awarded Green Flag status.
This was inspiring first-person stuff. Their example gave a real focus to all present that they can make a huge difference where they live.
The message is that if people take control of their destinies – to paraphrase Barack Obama – then change doesn’t come from Oldham Council – change will come to Oldham Council.
If you want read more about ‘ChangeMakers’ then I would encourage you to download the report from:
Further 20:20 events are planned for the future – all designed to further spark this debate – and I will be post more details on this blog when these are finalised.
Thanks for listening,