Crawley Together Conference 2011

Around 200 people attended this conference at the Hawth centre, run by Crawley Borough Council.

Julian Dobson, of Urban Polinators, gave a talk entitled "More for less and partnership working". He showed how Twitter, Facebook and other online services can be used to share information and network with each other.

He said that the unemployed should be seen as a valuable resource that should be empowered to contribute to society, rather than waste time applying for non-existent jobs with the threat of withdrawal of benefits.

Analogies were made to urban regeneration projects, making use of unused property and land, bringing people together in a meaningful and enjoyable way to improve the neighbourhood. Emphasis was placed on making the most of existing assets, including staff.

Kieran Stigant, the new Chief Executive of WSCC, outlined the extent of the spending cuts in West Sussex over the next 3 years but was optimistic about the way WSCC would cope.

In contrast to the conference title "More for less" he ended his talk with the slogan "Different for less", giving an example of how an intensive 6 weeks of hospital after care for the elderly has been shown to increase self-reliance and reduce hospital admissions due to injury in the home.

He said that WSCC aimed to be inclusive, so I will be asking him to appoint a Humanist member of the Standing Advisory  Council for Religious Education (SACRE), giving the non-religious a say in how children are taught so-called Religious Education in West Sussex community schools.

He also joked that he was a bit of a Poll Anorak, so I will suggest that he polls residents about this issue. The current poll on this website shows that 93% of people want the non-religious represented on SACRE.

The meeting split into 6 workshops. I attended the one on Community Cohesion, run by Nigel Sheehan.

We learned about the recently produced Community Cohesion Partnership Plan, the Big Society and the Localism Bill. We were split into 3 groups to discuss how the Plan should be modified in the light of the Big Society.

Unfortunately, insufficient time had been planned and we had barely 20 minutes together, as this was only a half day conference. This was incredibly frustrating for all concerned. Bringing together 200 representatives and then giving them only 20 minutes to consider a complex set of issues is the height of inefficiency. I have sent feedback to the organisers.

I would liked to have learned more about the different districts of Crawley through the experiences of our group members, all active in their communities in one way or another. This conference was supposed to be about the bottom up approach, where skilled people on the ground help solve local problems. So much could have been achieved had we a few more hours.

Our group concluded that the wording of the Community Cohesion Partnership Plan contained too much vague jargon. There was concern about the meaning of the terms Big Society and Community Cohesion. Also, local business was omitted.

I managed to talk to several people and made a few more useful contacts. After all, networking is an important aspect of a conference. We just needed more time.


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