Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Regeneration — Say it with Geraniums?

Newsnight’s invitation to bring your plants to their newly adopted Roundabout by the Italian Way has had our Creatives buzzing, with messages all horticultural, recommending the right plants that can stand up to neglect, sea winds and mass tramplings whenever our processional events wind themselves around it. Cactus (ouch…), a climbable tree, projected images of plants, eryngiums, ranunculus and geraniums (which started to gather votes) all got posted on the new Hastings Creatives list.

However, anyone who has ever been involved in a gardening programme shoot will know that it’s not about plants but entertainment. In this case, it’s maybe more about the politics of community than plants. Or maybe the call for the masses to turn out with their plantpots is just an attempt to echo our funny little ways on national TV.

Hastings Creatives’ creator Erica Smith wrote:

Lovely and caring as a whole community bringing along random plants and flowers might be, the exercise may quickly prove a waste of everyone’s time and money if the plants all die because they aren’t appropriate for the conditions.

Clubbing together to buy a few big strong and appropriate plants might be a better solution long term— and hey, we could even get the Council to buy them on our behalf with some of the (very heavy) Council Tax we have to pay!

While a random collection of plant donations is OK for a flowerbed, and it will definitely generate huge community spirit which is a very good and positive thing, if the same system was applied to managing a hospital, then it wouldn’t be practical or such a good idea!

Big Society is a bit like re-inventing the Neighbourhood Renewal programme (New Labour’s idea) which promoted active and engaged communities. Initially, there was the chance to influence local government decision-making, but this petered out, as did the engagement of the communities..

But it’s a good and interesting debate, and I think the Newsnight coverage of Hastings is doing us no damage at all — the town really does come across as the lovely, engaged community that it is!

The Big Society – Or Just a Shrinking State?

Hastings Voluntary Action’s vew

The “Big Society” initiative was launched by the Coalition Government on 19th July as a way of promoting greater community involvement. Its key elements include: • Establishing a new Big Society Bank, using money from unclaimed bank accounts to provide extra finance for neighbourhood groups, charities and social enterprises;

♦ The introduction of a National Citizen Service, a new volunteering programme to help 16 year olds  develop their skills, mix with people from different backgrounds and get involved in improving their communities.

♦ The cutting of excessive regulation where this impedes the work of Charities and Community Groups

♦ Making it easier for voluntary organizations to deliver some services previous undertaken by the State. Pilot schemes have been announced in Liverpool; Eden Valley, Cumbria; Windsor and Maidenhead; and the London borough of Sutton – as part of efforts to “turn government completely on its head”.

Whilst  some of the statements about greater community involvement are to be welcomed there is little detail as yet about the support or funding this initiative will receive. As we know from our work the effectiveness of local groups is often dependant on the advice support and funding they receive and on these issues the policy has not yet been published in sufficient detail.

Hastings Voluntary Action was able to make these points directly to Nick Hurd MP the Minister for Civic Society when he came to Hastings for a Ministerial visit.

Discussions have also taken place with the new political leadership of Hastings Borough Council to review the issues, problems and opportunities the Big Society approach presents. Whilst none could argue that greater participation, volunteering and community action are not a “good thing” significant problems of support, accountability and ultimately funding will need to be overcome if this policy idea is to make significant progress.

(From HVA Community News, August 2010)

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Posted 13:42 Thursday, Aug 5, 2010 In: Home Ground

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