Fun and active consultation
Zoë Watson, chair of Canvey Island Big Local describes their approach to consulting with people locally and getting the community together.
Canvey Island’s Big Local area centres on the two wards of Winter Gardens and Canvey Island Central. Canvey Island is separated from the South Essex mainland by a network of creeks and is predominantly made up of social housing. The area is densely populated with around 7,500 people.
Essex Boys and Girls Clubs is our locally trusted organisation, running a series of community engagement activities to raise awareness with residents about Big Local. As a steering group we are keen for more people to get involved.
In our experience, resident involvement has got to be fun and engaging. We are now in our third year of Big Local and are close to submitting our plan.
We are finding it hard to get people involved and play a bit of a volunteering role. So what more can we do? As a steering group, we wanted to learn from what we had done in the past and why it didn’t go well. For example, when we held our annual general meeting (AGM), we put the word out and put on a nice buffet. But only five people came, it was awful and we wanted to crawl away!
We regrouped and came up with a different approach based on a free fitness fun day. In the area there are no facilities around, not even a playground. Because previous formal events hadn’t worked, we wanted an event that would attract people of all ages and encompass some of the themes which are important to us, like health and wellbeing, and helping people to get active. We wanted to appeal to the local clubs to encourage them to take part and to share what they do. We also wanted to market ourselves. We are a small group and hoped if we could attract others it could spread the workload.
We learnt from our previous marketing and promotional attempts about how to get the word out more effectively. We designed, printed and delivered 7,000 leaflets. Two young people took on the deliveries. We made and put up posters in the area, including the doctors’ surgeries, some shops, churches and the schools. We distributed leaflets through the schools by sending them out through children’s school bags. We also contacted the local press.
After our experience at our AGM, we were worried about turnout for our event. But we got it right this time and with everyone signing in, we know we had 250 attendees – and that’s on a small island!
We put on our free fun and fitness day in the May 2014 half term. We offered a whole day of free testers of things going on in the area like free mini health checks. We involved local organisations and clubs which did demonstrations for kick boxing, line dancing, football skills, badminton, fitness sessions and healthy eating. We made sure that everything was free.
There were a number of things that helped the community get involved this time. The event took place in the local junior school, so it was a visible, well known and easy to publicise venue. We knew the caretaker which helped and the head teacher is very community minded and supportive. We made a small donation of £50 to the school. Everyone who came along to help and run stalls did so for free. Lots of people wanted to give us money and we had to keep explaining that it was free, that it was their money!
We got the message out about Big Local through our display stands. While the children were having fun doing free activities we were able to speak to the parents. People endorsed the priorities that had come up from our previous consultations. This included improving the local environment through redeveloping a space which has become closed off and disused except for anti-social behaviour. We are concentrating on redeveloping this space. There is also support for a sensory garden and a community café which could become our big investment. Our conversations on this fun day helped to show us that the projects we had identified were on the right track.
From those who took part in the event and other contacts, we now have a database of local residents for our quarterly newsletter. We also know those who expressed an interest in Big Local and we want to nurture these contacts by sending an occasional email, or providing a quick update to let people know about our achievements.
The whole event provided us with a positive endorsement for Big Local and it is definitely worth repeating, so on Saturday 6 June 2015 we will be doing it all again! This time people and organisations are coming to us and offering to contribute even before we’ve asked them. This is extending our conversation with local agencies such as Change4life which wants to take part and contribute to the health and wellbeing element.
We now feel that we are really getting our name out there and feel positive that we have the support of the community and endorsement for our work with Big Local.