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Councillors and Big Local

May 2016

When councillors have relevant skills, knowledge and a good understanding and respect for the resident-led nature of Big Local, their involvement can be really helpful.

Councillors are playing a number of different roles depending on their personality, the needs of the area and what skills other people involved in Big Local partnerships have.

63% of partnerships have at least one councillor as a partnership member, many come in their capacity as a resident, where others come as a non-resident member, but from the perspective of representing the local authority in the Big Local area.

The role of the councillor

Some of the roles councillors (both within and outside partnerships) can play as part of Big Local can be represented using the roles identified by Community Development Foundation in their ‘Influences on the development of Big Local,’ report published in 2015:

  • Strategic Thinker – keeping an eye on the bigger picture and ensuring activities relate to desired outcomes.
  • Do-er – making things happen.
  • Catalyst – sparking new ideas and ways of doing things.
  • Connector – bringing together different people and groups across the area.
  • Advisor – providing expert advice and support.
  • Coach – supporting development and motivating others.

Based on conversations with people in Big Local areas, we have found that councillors might play two more roles:

  • Critical friend - asks provocative questions to help people see things from a different perspective; and
  • Fixer – uses their influence to make arrangements for Big Local to overcome obstacles.

However the roles they play will vary from area to area and will be influenced by whether the councillor is a partnership member or supporting the Big Local area whilst representing the local authority.

Councillors seeing Big Local as a partner – Arches Local

‘Big Local money got us a seat at the table, and we are using this to remove obstacles. We talk to everybody from the people who clean the streets, to councillors at cabinet meetings to deliver on our vision for the area.’

Stephen Perez, local resident and Big Local worker, Arches Local.

Resident’s involved in Arches Local have developed good relationships with their local councillors whilst they have developed a reputation for ‘getting things done’. They now have an endorsed plan and are keen to work in partnership with others to deliver it.

Their successful approach to engaging with local councillors has developed as they have moved from being a fledgling group with the potential to affect change, to being a group of people who are now delivering on their plans. Councillors and others now see Arches Local as people they can work with to deliver change.

Arches Local with councillor support are working in partnership with the local council to:

  • Prepare plans to house a local market in a car park that is blighted by antisocial behaviour. The council own the 24 hour free car park that is blighted with people parking there for days on end, a farmers market would provide a space for local people to have stalls and a reason for the council to address the misuse of the car park.
  • Transform an untended area of underused park in to a Pocket Park. Arches Local is working in partnership with Medway Council, Medway Plus, Magpie Growers and Luton Millennium Green to transform an untended area of the park in to a pocket park. The project has brought in £15,000 from DCLG to invest in the park, with Arches Local matching the capital element raising the total to £25,000. The Pocket Park includes a community orchard, a bug ‘hotel’ area, some robust train sleeper type seating and some natural play.
  • Explore asset transfer to develop unused land to build a sports facility. This idea is in its early stages but Arches Local have a vision for a multi sports facility for residents and they are exploring with local councillors if there may be suitable council land that could be used for this.
  • Regenerate the Luton Arches area. Arches Local commissioned landscape architects to help residents create a vision for the area, and are discussing with the council and others how these visions can be delivered. There has already been some positive change, with Medway Council and Network Rail carrying out clean-ups of the land they own in this area.

Luton Arches, sketches of opportunities for improvements.


Councillors being members of Big Local partnerships — Elmton, Creswell and Hodthorpe Big Local

Duncan McGregor is a councillor for his parish, district and county council.

He got involved in Big Local when Big Lottery Fund first contacted Bolsover District Council and other community groups to help identify one of the 150 Big Local areas. He has been involved ever since.

He now sits on the partnership for Elmton, Creswell and Hodthorpe.

Duncan says ‘I sit on the partnership as a resident not a councillor, but I try to use the connections and knowledge I have to the benefit of the area through Big Local.’

Duncan is the chair of the Bolsover District Council planning committee, and uses the knowledge he has developed to support Big Local. The partnership is currently considering how to best use empty buildings in the area going forwards and Duncan’s knowledge is helpful.

Councillor involvement on partnerships has shown itself to be useful to Big Local when co-funding or partnership working is being considered.

Residents and parish councillors on the partnership have worked to bring in additional funding to the area. The parish council applied for external funding to refurbish a playground in the area, but they needed match funding of 10% to attract funding of £40,000. £4,000 was supplied by Big Local and now the area has benefited from £40,000 that they might otherwise have missed out on.

Duncan is clear that his role as a councillor is a privileged position and works with the partnership to manage conflicts of interest as and when they arrive.

‘Big Local is resident-led and working with residents I try to use the skills and knowledge I have to contribute to the create lasting change we are all trying to make. Through my roles as a councillor and a member of the Big Local partnership, transparency is important.’

Councillors achieving more by aligning their community goals with those of Big Local – Whitley Bay

‘We're not wasting energy blaming each other for the past, but we're also challenging and showing the council we want to support the town ourselves.

It's about being real with each other so that, eventually, we'll do something for the town together that we can all tell our kids about and be proud of.’

Sue Miller, Big Local ambassador for Whitley Bay.

When crowds gathered at Whitley Bay station to see the Christmas lights being turned on, it was the result of activity brokered in the community between people involved with Big Local, existing community groups and traders all working in partnership with the local authority and councillors.

On the day the lights were turned on, there was a choir, reindeer to pet, Santa Claus and Christmas stalls including one where residents could make a Christmas wreath to put on their front doors.

The funding came from contributions from Big Local, the council and a group including a local councillor who sold lottery tickets.

Councillors and officers were involved in supporting this activity. They were also willing to allow the emphasis to be on the resident-led nature of the event, recognising that greater community engagement may be achieved if there is a willingness not to badge or 'claim' things that happen in and with the community as ‘council activity’.

Whitley Bay station with Christmas lights.


How to work with councillors

Members of Big Local partnerships have told us that there needs to be a good match between what councillors aim to achieve and ambitions of residents involved in Big Local.

If partnerships and councillors use Big Local to try and achieve different things, it may feel like a tug of war with neither group making the progress they hoped for.

Councillors and local authorities can be used to more prescriptive funding programmes and communicating the ways in which Big Local is different (especially its flexibility, and the role of residents as decision makers) is a key challenge. Equally, some residents may take time to understand that Big Local is not a local government controlled or driven initiative.

Contact your councillors!

Big Local areas will benefit from keeping their local councillors up to date about their Big Local successes as a very minimum - and we’ve got lots of new resources to help, including a new how to guide!

How to guide: Contacting MPs and councillors

Blog: How can residents and public services work together?


Download case study

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