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Who's accountable? Council or community

Shana Roberts describes how she walks the line as a councillor and Big Local partnership chair

September 2018

In her Foreword to Rebalancing the Power, Shana Roberts - parish councilllor and chair of Brookside Big Local - describes how councils and communities can work together.

"At the start of 2018, I was elected to be Chair of the Big Local group for Brookside in Telford. It was an honour to be chosen by the partnership but it had taken time to build trust and demonstrate to members that my motives were all genuine. I was, after all, ‘one of them’, a councillor.

When I first joined Big Local, it was obvious to me that the council lacked understanding about the purpose of Big Local and the residents lacked clarity regarding the responsibilities of either group. This caused much confusion and uncertainty, with many residents unsure of who to approach to get their pot holes fixed, or whether to get on and fix them themselves.

I’ve since discovered that some Big Local partnerships have been reluctant to allow councillors to join them, or even have a rule to exclude them. In Brookside, I was aware of a degree of wariness about my motives, and concern that I would use Big Local to push my own political agendas. However, I was clear from the beginning that I was a resident first and foremost. I walk the same streets, I see the same problems, and I share the same concerns.

I also saw the potential for positive change in my community and how Big Local would allow me to help drive that change. I joined the Parish Council not because of any personal political aspirations, but because I finally realised that I was a member of my community and, in turn, accountable for it.

Within Big Local I found a group of like-minded and passionate people, who were committed to the same goal. Big Local is an amazing opportunity to create robust foundations which can be sustained and maintained by local councils and residents supporting each other. This is the essence of a successful and sustainable partnership - understanding the benefits of long-term strategic goals and their lasting impact on a community.

Balancing power comes by acknowledging that we are all on the same side and we want the same things. It is our responsibility to ensure that no one voice speaks for everyone and no one person sets the agenda.

Big Local is not there to fill gaps in local budgets. Big Local is not a forum for political point scoring. Big Local is about empowering people within the community, to make the right decisions and assess what their community needs based upon their own experiences and the experiences of those around them.

I am not a councillor. I am not a Chair. I am a resident that understands that I, like many others, have the ability to implement great change in my neighbourhood by getting involved and making a difference. This is the true ethos of Big Local – bringing community minded people together and providing them with the opportunity to invest in their home and create a legacy for future generations. Big Local is the promise of a better tomorrow."

Cllr. Shana Roberts, Chair of Brookside Big Local.

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