Connecting People: Connecting Places has as its aim bringing the wider community of residents and service providers closer together. Collaboration that will lead to more effective services and a better quality of life. It is admirable and innovative. Sadly it is flawed.
Collaboration requires communication, dialogue and a willingness on occasions to compromise. Unfortunately there are service providers who are not prepared to communicate with anyone outside of their department or company.
At Back Garden we have experienced Council officials ignoring requests for information and private companies failing to reply to questions about their operations in Old Town. They include Council departments covering roads and recycling; companies carrying out waste collection and providing consultancy advice. Without communication, there can be no dialogue. Without communication residents are reduced to an almost endless list of complaints. Swindon is good place to live. It has advantages over other nearby towns, but too often residents and service providers only communicate at the level of mutual criticism. “Why did you not do this?” “Here is a bill for failing to follow our rules”.
There is though another flaw in Connecting People Connecting Places. Its relationship to democracy.
In parts of the town, most particularly where Ward Councillors have ignored residents in the past, an additional tier of representation has been created. Some local Forums or Community Councils, do a useful job. They claim they do not represent. They offer space to meet service providers and talk. Unfortunately in some case they do this badly. They prevent serious discussion and exclude residents. For service providers who do not want dialogue they offer a smokescreen of pretence.
It was for this reason that Back Garden set out to be an information exchange. We are in the awful jargon of corporate life a facilitator. Meetings and job titles are the world of democracy and representation. When the electorate can be counted on the fingers of one hand they are neither. Back Garden has turned its back on this. We are the online equivalent of conversations in the street, the pub or the sadly missed corner shop.
Back Garden will continue to offer ways for residents to raise issues. If only a few campaigners or if only some service providers join in, it will be a long road before we can deliver the objectives of Connecting People: Connecting Places.
Swindon’s Back Garden