Not Too LateJuly 2009 is lost and gone for ever. On 16th, 17th, 18th of the month we had our first Planning for Real exercises, a crucial part of the Parish Plan process, and by now, we will be collating the very significant information, ideas and opinions which those of you who came to them were able to contribute. Because I’m writing this on the eve of the deadline for this edition of the newsletter, I can only anticipate a very full and enthusiastic response to the invitation to take part which we hope you will all have received. The success of a project which aims to express the aspirations of the community as a whole depends on our reaching as many of you as possible – and, vitally, on your contribution. For all sorts of reasons, you may have missed our meetings. It’s not too late to have your say. In August, we plan to visit, by invitation, established activity groups which have meetings that month, bringing our travelling ‘road show’. We would, of course, not want to monopolise such occasions and would be available, as required and unobtrusively, for consultation and discussion; for example, we shall be at the Evergreen annual coffee morning on 11th August when the more elderly members of the parish who had previously been unable to come would be able to make their views known. If you belong to any other organisation which would welcome such a visit please let one of us know. Equally, if you wish to talk to us as individuals we’d be very pleased to hear from you, especially if you feel you belong to a group which we haven’t identified yet by other means. And we are energetically looking to ways of getting in touch with the young people of the villages, especially those in the secondary school age range. This really is for you, too – don’t hold back.All this is important in that during the month of August we shall be planning a comprehensive questionnaire to be distributed to all those who live in Cradley and Storridge, and what you have told us will form the basis of that. Copies will be delivered to every household in the parish on the weekend of 5th/6th September. In order for the result to be as accurate and representative as we can all possibly make it we’ll collect completed questionnaires5 the following weekend, 12th/13th September. The parish, which comprises Cradley and Storridge, both of which have extensive outlying areas, is big, the largest in Herefordshire, and, good though our local knowledge and legwork are, we may not meet all our objectives. If you don’t hear from us, please don’t feel slighted – give one of us a call and we’ll see you get one. The experts say that we should be satisfied with a 50% response; we’re aiming for much more than that. Please help us to hit the jackpot. This is Our Village Our Future and Our Plan. Let’s all make it a good one.Peter Diamond 018816 880367
So what’s the point?In the middle of any project, it’s always worth standing back for a moment to take stock – where are we now, what have we achieved, and where are we going; that sort of thing. So I did a bit of counting this week. Just over a year on and the Parish Plan has clocked up its 400th customer. That’s to say that about 25% of people in the Parish have attended one or more of our consultation meetings starting with our adventure in school in September when all the children and many of the teachers were involved in a study of ‘Our Village; they conducted interviews, took photographs, prepared statistics and walked round the village, in and out of a number of significant buildings, and prepared an extensive and attractive exhibition full of models and articles which has been enjoyed more than once on different occasions in both Cradley and Storridge. Since then, regular research groups have met to explore a number of hot topics and their work formed the basis of the ‘Planning for Real’ exercises which proved so successful last month. 160 came to those four meetings; they discussed, sometimes argued, pored over maps and stuck flags in locations where they hoped to see improvements or change – excellent sessions. Beyond that, we’ve had meetings with the representatives of over 40 voluntary organisations in the Parish, enjoyed the opportunity to meet and hear the views of a large number of elderly, and other, members of the community at the Evergreens’ coffee morning on 11th August and have plans, in the immediate future, to consult more closely with the young people of the Parish and to visit all those who live in Buryfields and the Leys.The major stage of the consultation is yet to come. Advertised elsewhere in this edition is the Questionnaire which goes out to every household in September. If such exercises produce a return of 50% it is usually thought to be an exceptional result. On the evidence of the quality and the amount of interest already shown in what we’ve been doing, we have every reason to expect a much higher return than that. Please complete it; please return it; please let us know if you haven’t received it or would like further copies. It’s quite a long document and we hope you’ll find it worth doing. As a gentle inducement, and we don’t think you’ll really need one, all completed forms (numbers only, no names) will go into a draw to be made on Wednesday 16thSeptember; the prize, a Singapore supper for two at ‘blue-ginger’ on 27th September generously donated and, no doubt delightfully hosted, as ever, by Sue Lim.So, beyond that .... what’s the point? We quite frequently hear thoughtful and not unreasonable responses arguing that this exercise, and the one before it, are wasted effort because they ask members of the community to address issues that they can do nothing about. Planning is a matter for County approval, the state of the roads is in the gift of the Highways Agency and speed limits are controlled not so much by local wish as by the Police who act only when the number of recorded fatalities in accidents prompts them to do so. To some extent
The Parish Plan: They should ... and we will ...With the last of the completed questionnaires now safely in, we can confirma return close to 60% and that’s a real credit to everyone who took part. The strength, enthusiasm and commitment of the whole community were evident throughout and we were hugely heartened by that.The consequences of such a success are now being played out in a lengthy and time-consuming operation involving collating all the information you supplied – nearly 40 copies at 24 pages a time, many of them not only bristling with ticks but full of ‘free’ comment in the boxes at the end of each section. In recording and assessing all these responses we’re still enjoying the momentum which the operation generated; while we do it, we hope you’ll be patient in waiting for the considered results without losing sight of the energy which you apparently sensed while the questionnaires were being pored over and thoughtfully completed. It will take time; we’ll do it as quickly as we can and the full results will be made available to everybody, certainly by the next edition of the newsletter in December.It’s obviously too early to make any sort of judgement about how you responded. Quite a large team of volunteers have each kindly agreed to process 30 copies and our immediate impressions can only be partial. Nevertheless, I’ll chance an observation of my own. We’ve always been aware that there are two sorts of issues which we’ve asked you to address. There are those in which we are part-players whose contribution can never be more than contributing to and gathering consensus, presenting a snapshot of village opinion – the sorts of things which we’d all like, other things being equal. But they’re not equal and there are other partners involved in the process of decision-making which may be responsible for the Parish of Cradley and Storridge not always having its own way. But we can, and should, express our collective view and promote it vigorously when such things are being debated and in the right places. These are the ‘they should ...’ areas when ‘they’ are perceived to be all-powerful; government, both local and national, is of course, the ultimate arbiter but there is a strong element of ‘we’ in the ‘they’ and the Parish Plan is attempting to identify our view and articulate it. The second issue is much more obviously about those things which we have complete control over. Many of the sections in the questionnaire which we asked you to respond to addressed those concerns which will happen, will get better, will change if we, as a community, take charge of them. Activities and organisations don’t function without leaders and buildings don’t stay open without funding. When we asked you, with some trepidation, to break the anonymity rule if you wanted to volunteer help of any kind and in any capacity, we knew we were taking a risk. We needn’t have worried. I’ve been struck by the number of respondents who have, by name, expressed their willingness to contribute to the life of the villages in a practical way. That’s good for the future of this community. In due course, we’ll be in touch with all those volunteers .That’s the next stage; inviting any of you who have expressed interest - or who will still do so - to take part in the next round of discussions initiated by the responses to the questionnaire. And then on to the Plan; it’s an exciting time; come and join us. You can telephone Sue Ronan (01886 884646) Peter Diamond
You said it; we heard it - The Parish Plan: Another Crucial StageFirst some facts ... 700 copies of the consultation document were delivered; 412 of those were completed and returned. That represents a return of 58.71% In addition, there were written comments amounting, when processed, to 25 sides of A4 sheets, closely-typed; 130 respondents, who chose to waive their right to anonymity volunteered their interest in the project and a willingness to help in a variety of different ways in the future.These are all, of course, very positive results. Adding to those raw statistical data the weight and intelligence of the answers which implied a considerable commitment in all those who took part, the outcome, both in the sense of its process and product, was nothing short of excellent.So, we invited you to have your say and you had it, loud and clear. In doing so, you set us something of a challenge. There is, of course, nothing more irritating than being invited to contribute to such a survey and then to hear no more about it or, worse still, no more frustrating than when decisions seem to have been taken by others which diametrically oppose or seem to ignore concerns which you have energetically expressed.Of course, we all know that there are ‘as many opinions as there are men’; the questionnaire confirmed that. We will never, all of us, achieve what we want and many of the issues involved are too complicated to warrant easy solutions. That we can’t pretend to offer. What we can aim to achieve is as wide a distribution of information as possible; you will want to know what the community said, how widely shared or opposed were particular views and how these ideas may be implemented or disseminated for further discussion in the future. From this evidence and from other sources of information and ideas which emerged in the discussion groups and through ‘Planning for Real’, the Parish Plan, with a series of clear actions will be defined and energetically pursued. One overwhelming message from the questionnaire, reiterated directly in individual comment and implicitly present throughout, was that the complexity of our social organisation requires a more sophisticated system of communication than we have at present. One very simple example ... frequently answers asked for the provision of services of all kinds which are already offered within the parish. Frustrations with, for example, planning procedures or ignorance of the agendas for Parish Council meetings would be easily allayed were more precise and more widespread information available about what we collectively are and what we do.That’s a general point. We’re delighted that the Parish Council is taking a lead in developing its own website, easily accessible and pleasant to use, full of up-to-the-minute information about meetings, both past and to come, details of planning applications and results and all sorts of other useful information about what it is, what it does and who is responsible for what. We didn’t ask questions about the number of parishioners who have access to a computer and those who use one regularly and to suggest that this form of communication will
The Parish Plan – Marking TimeWe’re into the summer, the schools go on holiday next week and July and August are months where the vigorous life of the community takes a break from its usual round of events and meetings – though the August Diary of Events at the end of the last Newsletter remains busy with social opportunities.This comparative lull coincides with the conclusion of a major phase in the development of the Parish Plan and the start of the next, perhaps even more challenging, stage. The draft Review and Action Plan are at the moment being considered by the various, relevant departments of Herefordshire Council. They will read and comment on what we have found and recorded; with our Parish Council they are our partners in implementing what our Plan has recommended and it is important, of course, that we all agree on how we proceed in making it effective. At this stage, the residents of Cradley, too, many of whom have been instrumental in formulating these ideas through the consultation process, are warmly invited to read the draft documents and pass on their comments before we can all accept it as broadly representative of what we would like to do. They are available on www.cradleyandstorridgepp.org.uk and there is a ‘Forum’ page there which allows you to pass on your views directly and even stimulate debate with others who can reply on the same page. There are hard copies which can be consulted at the usual outlets, the Post Office and Stores, the Butcher’s, The Church, the Village Hall and the Surgery; in the first instance, you can respond to these by telephoning Sue Ronan at 01886 884646 or leave a written comment at the Post Office for collection.By the end of July, we plan to distribute to every house in the parish a document which summarises the major findings of the Plan. If you don’t receive yours by the middle of August, please telephone Sue who will be coordinating the distribution.On September 28th, 7.30 p.m. at Cradley Village Hall we will hold an Open, ‘Launch’ meeting. This will have two aims; the first to present the Plan formally to the parish and, with that, to complete the process of consultation which began two years ago – on that occasion, we will look forward to your final, considered comments about the process and what it has thus far achieved; the second will be to explain how we, all of us, Councils and Community, can contribute to the implementation of the Plan and to reconstitute the teams of volunteers who will be essential to our carrying it out successfully.Have a good summer break; please find time to do the reading and the responding; huge thanks for all your contributions so far; we’ll anticipate an equally whole-hearted support for the next exciting stage.
The Parish PlanMid-August and there’s a ‘Back to School’ feel in the air and a touch of autumn in the garden. To date, we have had no promised response from Herefordshire Council to the Draft Plan we completed at the end of last month but we have, nevertheless, produced a summary of the document which has gone to every household in the parish with the latest edition of the ‘Reporter’. If you haven’t received yours, or would like further copies, please telephone Sue Ronan who will be pleased to help (01886 884 646). As I write we are experiencing some technical delays in getting the new website up and running and I hope, by the time you read this, they will be resolved. Have a look at it at www.cradleyandstorridgepp.org.uk – it’s user-friendly and packed full of any sort of information that you are likely to need. In the meantime, I know many of you have been looking at the hard copies available in the villages and passing on your comments – please keep them coming.I mentioned last month that we are holding a Public ‘Launch’ Meeting on Tuesday 28thSeptember in Cradley Village Hall at 7.30 p.m. The objectives will be to (a)present the Plan formally to the parish;(b)seek further comment and recommendations at this final stage of the process of consultation which began nearly two years ago; (c)invite you to join in the processes of implementation which will be crucially important in the months, and years, to come.I think we’ve all found the whole project to be of considerable value in examining the strengths of the community we live in and in identifying the challenges which rural parishes have to negotiate in what promises to be an exciting and changing time ahead. Come and join us as we set out on the next stage, add your voice and, if you can, offer your energies and expertise in helping us move forward. We’ll look forward to seeing you there.Peter Diamond
that is true; these are complex matters involving many different interests and obligations and, anyway, it’s obvious that, in a pluralist society, we can’t all have what we all want all the time. That apart, I would argue that already we can see the benefit of a process which invites people from all sections of the Parish to meet and talk together about what involves them as those who live and work in the community. Already we have seen developments directly resulting from the good work of the previous Plan – the introduction of the 30mph limit and the establishment of a Youth Group, for example. Already the Parish Council, together with the Parish Plan recommendations, is initiating significant conversations with the County about flooding and road safety. The consensus view of the Parish as a whole which the Plan aims to gather provides a significant tool in our supporting or, indeed, questioning proposals which come from outside without the same stamp of lived experience. The reverse must be unacceptable - especially in a Parish as lively and concerned as this one is – that developments will otherwise happen here, to us, without our indicating any kind of interest. The Parish Plan will express your view, loud and clear; the Parish Council will work energetically to make it heard and effective in the corridors of power.One other thing .... something we have learned in putting this programme together and in the processes of consultation that we are now undertaking, is that much of what we identify for scrutiny or change is not so much a matter for ‘them’, that is the local or even national government or an equally remote body, but for ‘us’. If we feel that there are things to be put right, then many of the solutions are to hand. It is, after all, our newsletter, our Parish Council, our youth club, our village hall. And, I’d say, without wanting to get too preachy about it, our community responsibility – if you believe that such a concept is important. If we want a flourishing scout group or a ‘drop-in’ centre, are we willing to help to fund and to runthem? The questionnaire tries to drop in a nudge or two in that direction, as well.The debate’s open and running. The questionnaire invites your views of whatever sort. Please join in; the more, the better. It’s becoming a bit of a mantra now ...Our Say ... Our Future ... Our Plan And it’s a good one.Peter Diamond
provide immediate solutions to our contradictions of communication in no way ignores the needs of those who either don’t have such facilities or the confidence to work with them. It was significant that of the 412 returns, three only were completed on-line. Nevertheless, this may be a recommendation to an electronic future which should be taken further. Large numbers of respondents said that they knew about the CAPS facility in the Village Hall and many of those that they would use them in the future. This resource is first class, unthreatening and very helpful – if in doubt, give it a try. The Parish Plan group are convening a new Communications group to research all the possibilities and will report soon.And, immediately, this issue identifies our problem. The ‘findings’ document is as long as its original – 24 pages of statistical evidence –and there are almost as many pages of comments which have already been abridged to edit out repetitions and other redundancies – copies of the full original returns are available on application. To repeat the distribution/collection service as before would be costly and difficult. And we do want everyone whether they took part or not, to have access to these documents if they wish. So, here is what we propose ...Any whose particular interests have been directly involved in sections of the questionnaire –the school, the church and major organisations - will have their own copies, sent electronically.There will be copies at the usual centres of interest in the villages – the village halls, the churches, the British Legion for consultation when these places are open.Cradley Village Hall will be open for this purpose on Tuesday – Thursday mornings, 10.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m. 1st - 3rd December and the mornings, at the same times, of Tuesday – Friday, 15th – 18th December. Beyond that, it may be necessary to repeat the same arrangement early in January. There will be an open meeting in Cradley Village Hall on Monday 18th January at 7.30 p.m. at which full details will be presented, reviewing progress so far and our expectations for the future as we go into the preparation of the 2010 plan.The website has the names and contact details of the parish plan group who will willingly answer your questions; and, given the large number of others who are involved, it’s likely thatyou will already know someone who can help immediately.There will be more information available in the next edition of the Newsletter. Meanwhile, we shall be getting in touch with all those who, through the questionnaire, kindly volunteered their time or their expertise to assist in taking this project forward. Support from the community is excellent and progress very positive. There’s still much to be done and plenty of opportunity for others to be involved; come and join us.Peter Diamond