March 2012

What Liberal Democrats in Government have done for you

This excellent graphic comes courtesy of Mark Pack.

Wedded to people

Yesterday I presented a webinar on 'Elected representatives and community engagement' as part of the Creative Councils programme. You can view it here. Warning - it lasts for 90 minutes, but just looking at the slides alone won't give you a proper idea of the content.

The audience largely consisted of council officers so I wanted to explore, from my perspective as a former councillor, some of the differences in motivation and outlook between councillors and officers. Councillors, after all, represent the residents to the Council and they want to get re-elected. Their reasons for supporting good community engagement may differ from the reasons that officers have.

I spend quite a time looking at how things are done in Kingston, with lots of examples from South of the Borough, starting with an explanation about how Neighbourhood (aka Area) Committees work. Then I give examples of task groups, street meetings and community panels, which are forms of deliberative community decision-making. 

I always find it quite difficult to know how to pitch these discussions. Public engagement has been so much part of the culture in Kingston Council for over 20 years that it is not easy to imagine what it must be like to work in a council that does not encourage it. I am sometimes surprised to realise that a practice that seems quite commonplace to me is taken as new and innovative by someone else.

Asked for a final comment about inflexible council chambers I said, "There's nothing to stop you holding your Council meetings in a school hall.  We get very wedded to buildings when we need to be wedded to people in local government"

Diary of a Games volunteer - over to Hackney

Some random facts I've learnt about the Games:

The marathon was fixed at 26.2 miles in 1908 because that was the distance of the route from Windsor Castle to the Royal Box in the OIympic Stadium in White City.

Both the modern Olympics and the Paralympics were born in the UK. Pierre de Coubertin was invited to the Much Wenlock Olympian Annual Games (which still take place every year) and he was inspired to found the International Olympic Committtee. The Paralympic Games began in Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948. Hence Wenlock and Mandeville, the names of the two mascots (but you knew that, anyway).

Great Britain has won 1426 medals in the Paralympics, second only to the USA.

Volunteers at the London Games will receive over a million hours of training.

And I had my first taste of what that training would be like yesterday - the orientation session last month focused on contextual knowledge rather than skill development - when I made my way over to Hackney Community College. LOCOG has taken over a whole wing of the college for several months, branding it with their own banners and large photos, and even renaming the rooms after Olympic venues. My training was in St Moritz.

The organisation, as ever, was excellent. I joined fifty other people who, like me, had been assigned to the role of Events Services Team Leader, and we spent an intensive eight hours learning what our tasks would be.

Events Services are responsible for the Front of House functions at venues, so much of it was not unlike the usher's job at the Rose Theatre. At the ExCel Centre my team will be checking tickets, showing people to their seats, and generally watching out for any needs that spectators might have. They will also control access to the areas where spectators can't go to.

But the sheer scale of the event means that tasks are far more complex than they ever are in the theatre.  Just think of all the different groups of people, besides spectators, who will be in the venue - athletes, trainers, sports officials, members of national Olympics/Paralympics Committees, medical teams, catering staff, cleaners, broadcasters, press, contractors, sponsors, security staff, interpreters, government ministers, maintenance staff, volunteers - all of whom will be entitled to go to specific areas and carry out specific tasks.

We spent quite a while looking at equalities issues through scenarios. For example, what should you do if someone asks you where the toilets are but you're not sure whether they are male or female?  What should you do if you find it difficult to understand the speech of someone with a disability?

As a trainer myself, I was impressed by the quality of the training, but I was surprised to be given a City and Guilds certificate at the end. Apparently it could lead to a new career!


David Walter

Some very sad news for Kingston Liberal Democrats - and for the wider party. David Walter, who served as Chair of the local party for four years, lost his battle against cancer and died yesterday.

David handed over the role to me, with his usual grace and courtesy, at the beginning of last year.

Beyond Kingston, he served the Liberal Democrats as Director of Communications, following a career in journalism and television production.

I have written a tribute to David on Liberal Democrat Voice - although 'written' only applies to a couple of paragraphs, as most of it was penned by Chris Rennard, the former Chief Exec of the party (now Lord Rennard), and by Peter Grender, President of Kingston Lib Dems.

We will miss him.

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