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Community charters

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Community charters can improve areas by engaging residents and setting out councils’ responsibilities.

Consult hard-to-reach groups

In Kidderminster, a group of 16 young people aged between 13 and 16 have drawn up a charter as a way to change the way their age group as perceived in the community and help agencies work more effectively with them.

In the document, young people from the Oldington & Foley Park Junior Pathfinder Project give their assessment on the area by scoring local agencies, identifying what has improved and what has worsened over the last two years. They also describe their aspirations for the future. “It is a really useful document,” says Dave Evans , an operational manager at Worcestershire CC’s youth services. “The young people came up with some creative ideas worth listening to.”

The charter works as a toolkit for local agencies, providing a checklist for them to follow when asking young people for their views. The council found that they wanted to be involved in decision making, and the charter provides guidance on what sort of activities young people want.

“Very often people have a negative view of young people,” says Sarah Turner, the pathfinder co-ordinator. “But they are not all bad and have done a wonderful piece of work.”

The document has been distributed to the area’s 2,000 households. It reminds the young people of their rights and responsibilities, and gives them a space for writing comments to guide agencies on how they can help them.

Rejuvinate communities

Over the past five years, an evolving agreement between City of York Council and local residents has helped rejuvenate a rundown housing estate. Bell Farm Estate was one of the most unpopular estates in the city, with high levels of crime and unemployment. Despite a shortage of affordable housing in York, the estate found it hard to attract and retain residents.

“In 1995 the estate was one of worst places to live in York,” says Liz Levett , the council’s acting head of neighbourhood management.

As a result, an action project to improve its appearance was followed by an agreement on services between residents and the council.

That agreement has evolved and is now one of the longest running in the country. New agencies have become involved, such as the youth service, at the request of young people. In line with the national Respect agenda, the agreement sets out how residents can be good neighbours and what agencies will deliver.

Ms Levett says key to keeping residents engaged was commitment from the agreement’s monitoring group.

The agreement has enabled the estate to thrive and changed the way services are delivered, for example housing repairs are now a greater priority. “Sometimes it is small things that really upset people,” she says. “They can bring an area down, but can easily be solved.”

Learn from residents

Oldham MBC used a community agreement to encourage residents in Medlock Vale to take the initiative in solving local problems such as dirty streets.

Maxine Moar , the council’s community participation co-ordinator, says residents were relying on the New Deal for Communities regeneration programme, and “we saw the development of an agreement as a way to inform them how they could solve things themselves”.

An agreement covering street cleanliness, the community’s number one concern, was launched in February. “We were quite surprised,” Ms Moar says. “Residents wanted ‘naming and shaming’ and other initiatives, so that people would take responsibility for their actions.”

Since the start of the process, the council has placed particular importance on identifying the roles and responsibilities of the community. “If they are not involved, they will not buy into it and it will not work,” says Ms Moar.

The agreement has been a learning process for both sides. Council staff have had to explain their mission statements in terms of jargon-free quantifiable services they will deliver.

Meanwhile the neighbourhood team of 40 actively involved residents has been trained in problem-solving and communication skills, so that they can better represent the views of fellow residents at meetings.

Four other agreements, covering issues such as crime and housing, are planned for the future.

Set out service standards

A neighbourhood charter for Eastern Road in Brighton built on the area’s former neighbourhood renewal programme by clearly setting out what standards of service should be delivered.

“We already had the structures for engaging people, and had conducted a survey of neighbourhood needs, from which we had prepared an action plan,” says Nicky Cambridge , neighbourhood manager at Brighton & Hove City Council. “We saw the development of a charter as meaningful, deliverable and quick.”

The charter reflects the needs of the local population, which is dominated by older people and a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Issues such as fear of crime and hate crime received particular attention.

Putting service standards onto paper proved an extremely useful exercise for the council. The exercise showed that some standards were out-of-date, and some managers were anxious about publishing their commitments.

The voluntary sector and police have been supportive of the charter, as have councillors, who see it as a way to champion their role.

Build trust with the community

Staffordshire Moorlands DC discovered that building trust with local communities is key to successful charter agreements after piloting a Community Pride charter initiative in the rural Waterhouses area.

The council found that there was already considerable community activity in Waterhouses. “They had a very active and successful village agent for five years, who provided capacity building to local groups,” says Sue Edbury , the council’s locality partnership officer.

One of the challenges in Waterhouses was that the community had already achieved so much, according to Ms Edbury. “The community has got to feel you want to help them rather than you are there to hijack their ideas. Once you have built trust they are more likely to ask for your help.”

Among the lessons learned by the council was that a scheme’s success did not depend solely on resources. The first problem Staffordshire Moorlands tried to fix for the rural community was clearing a long stretch of unsightly roadside daisy-like plants called butterbur only to discover that it is a protected indigenous plant.

“It is not always about money and man-power,” says Ms Edbury. “Other things can get in the way.”

As a result of the charter, the council and local community are working more closely than before. Other issues are now being addressed in the area and another Community Pride initiative is being piloted in an urban ward of Staffordshire Moorlands.

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