I have had an interesting few days where the relevance of listening to residents and their concerns have been the main topics of conversation. First to a meeting of the main Voluntary Organisations’ Forum organised and chaired by the Kensington and Chelsea Social Council at Kensington Town Hall. There is no doubt in my mind that the council has been trying very hard to focus on ‘community engagement’ and the tragedy at Grenfell has been a terrible catalyst. But, it’s not easy. One of the interesting questions asked was who is a resident? Just people who live here or those who work, visit and enjoy it as well?
One of the council’s priorities in its new strategy is ‘community involvement’. To quote from the published priorities: “Local people want to be involved in policy development and service users rightly expect to be part of service development. We will engage openly with our residents and service users, seeking to capture all points of view to make better-informed decisions. We will use the talents and skills within our communities to co-design (a popular piece of jargon these days!) and commission better services”.
One of the criticisms levelled was ‘you may have asked questions but how do we know that you have really listened!’ It was suggested that seemingly rapid changes in some senior posts within the council have not helped the process. Communications has always been the key and can it ever be thorough enough and fast enough to communicate needs and then actions well enough?
Of course, the amazing diversity within Kensington itself offers a challenge. It was interesting to read Dave Hill’s piece carried first of all on his site On London and then here on Kensington View. ‘Does London’s Diversity Weaken its social Fabric? Or, is it the Very Stuff it’s Woven From?
I love Kensington’s diversity and I can put it no better than Dave Hill, when he says about London: “For me, it is the changeableness, heterogeneity and unpredictability of the city that daily form and reinforce its character and history, that makes it enthralling, heartening and miraculous; that makes it a place to which I feel I belong. I do not seem to be alone.”
And that is how I feel about Kensington. I have lived here since the late sixties and I never want to leave it. And it has a voluntary sector that is truly amazing. The borough would have been lost without it in recent times and its importance in the future is undeniable. I confess to bias as a Trustee of the Kensington and Chelsea Social Council!
Another meeting I attended was dominated by residents who care very much about their surroundings and the architectural environment. It was the Annual General Meeting of ESSA (Edwardes Square, Scarsdale and Abingdon Association – the conservation organisation). We are so lucky to have organisations like ESSA in the borough. Chaired by the highly respected Anthony Walker – himself an architect – it reported on all the planning developments and proposals covering the area, which incorporates Kensington High Street.
The amount of work that ESSA puts into representing its members’ views to the council, particularly the Planning Department, and developers is impressive. It truly listens and uses real knowledge and expertise in its work. It is community engagement but a very focused kind – and it works.
Obviously listening is essential and there are many different ways to canvas opinions. But whatever size or type of organisation you are, proving you have listened, taken notice of concerns and translated them into actions is vital.
Questions, Answers and Differences