Cllr Sara Conway on Barnet Council’s approach to community participation
Just over a year ago, Barnet Council launched its ‘community participation strategy’, which has reset the relationship residents and community groups have with the council.
As we start 2024, it’s a good time to reflect on the important ways we have begun to transform how we work with the people we serve, and outline our plans going forward.
But what is community participation? We know that residents should be at the heart of what we do and that means as a council connecting with the insights, skills and drive of local communities – going to where people are, listening, learning through doing and being transparent about what we can and can’t change.
Designing solutions for problems that communities face in partnership means we will improve the efficiency of our services and better tackle inequalities.
Listening is not only a pivotal skill but also vital research as we get to grips with the day-to-day problems and the ambitious long-term plans we have to improve living in the borough.
For example, our Barnet Citizens Assembly on Climate Change has worked with residents to come up with recommendations on how to achieve our ambition to become a net zero council by 2030 and net zero borough by 2042.
Likewise, our culture strategy is being co-created with input from 1,500 people with a passion for arts and culture and helped shape our bid to become 2027 London Borough of Culture. Directly involving residents in the policy-making process has helped foster a shared sense of direction.
To reach out to groups that we knew were less visible and potentially harder to reach, we began our ‘Leader Listens’ events. Since its launch, Council Leader Cllr Barry Rawlings has visited various community groups, including adults with learning disabilities, domestic abuse survivors, deaf and hard-of-hearing adults and asylum seekers. In 2024, we will be expanding this programme to include Cabinet members and council directors.
A major highlight of the past year or so has been the events programme funded by the council but developed and delivered by communities.
Tapping into established national initiatives including International Women’s Day, Pride, South Asian Heritage Month, Black History Month, and establishing our own Winter Festivals programme, community organisations and local residents have created shared spaces of connection, learning and celebration.
We’ve also recruited over 1,100 residents to the Barnet Citizens Panel. We have exciting plans in the pipeline, and this diverse group of individuals will be an invaluable source of insights, actively participating in shaping and guiding the development of crucial council services.
Together with a series of regular community engagement sessions throughout the year we will continue to develop more inclusive and collaborative decision making.
Transparency and accountability are essential to how we build trust and partnership. In the past six months, we’ve launched a regular session open to all residents to put their questions live to the Council Leader and Cabinet Members, providing an opportunity for direct engagement and open conversations.
As we look ahead, our commitment to wider and deeper transformation will shape our programme and services in the years ahead – working with local communities to co-create solutions to increase positive impact.
Our approach to community participation reflects our mission to be a council that cares for people, our places and the planet.
Sara Conway is Barnet Council’s cabinet member for community safety & participation.