The City Conversation journey started at the back end of the summer when a secondment opportunity was advertised on the Intranet to take part in a new initiative to get out into the Community and talk to residents. Definitely a totally different scene for me given I have spent the last 30+ years working in a council office. Granted I have contact with the public but not actually out there in the big wide world of the Community.
I made it through the selection process and with my manager’s approval I stepped into the unknown. The first round of recruitment brought a dozen or so of us together in the Quaker meeting rooms in early September. I remember looking round to see if there was anyone I recognised. We all introduced ourselves and my initial thoughts were that all these people had much more experience of working in communities than me, maybe we all felt that a bit.
Anyway we were given a really good introduction to the City Conversation by our new manager Kathy Allen. It was hard not to feel excited given the enthusiasm and knowledge which Kathy passed on to us. So off we all went to our new office base in Venture Place to select our desks and get to work!
There wasn’t a massive, structured plan for what we had to do, it was a much more relaxed, use your own initiative approach. This was a brand new way of working for many of us and believe me it took a while to adjust to this. Many in the team had never been in a role where using your own initiative and making your own decisions was ever an option!
So armed with this new way of working, we began the City Conversation.
Suffice to say we flourished in this approach and by the time the rest of the team joined us, making a group of 17 of us, we were well underway with mapping assets and actually talking to people.
As a group we divided up the City into four areas and off we went out into these areas. We met with ward councillors, community groups, residents, housing providers, in fact pretty much anyone who would talk to us!
Trying to find out what people like about where they live, initially proved a tall order. Quite a lot of people say ‘there’s nothing they like’ despite the fact they have lived there for 40 years. This is where the ‘City Conversation’ came into its own. Yes we had a survey to formally collect the data, but it was the conversations with people which really allowed us to drill down into what people really liked and what mattered to them.
So from an initial ‘there’s nothing’, it turned out there was actually quite a lot about what people liked and valued. Oh yes we did also get all the things they didn’t like, but you’d be surprised how passionate and people are about where they live.
The other surprise/revelation for me, was just how much does actually happen in communities and how hard people work to improve life for themselves and their neighbours. I was totally humbled by the amount of good stuff that actually goes on and the tireless dedication of members of the community who give up their time (largely for free) to run events and encourage communities to come together
There is such a rich community spirit in areas right across the City and a feeling of immense pride in their heritage and community was a message all of us got when out in our respective areas.
The secondment lasted for just over 4 months and we believe in that relatively short time we achieved amazing success. We managed to get in the region of 1800 surveys completed both in person and on line and spoke to over 250 community venues and organisations, which we are immensely proud of. We even did some door knocking across the City and in all areas our presence was really welcomed. Many people have very little or no interaction with the Council and the message was repeated time and time again ‘it’s so good to actually talk to someone from the Council who’s here to listen’
It has been a whirlwind few months and the time has passed very quickly indeed. It was an amazing team to be part of and we all bonded really well together. The autonomy we were given enabled us all to flourish and develop lots of new skills and deliver results.
Personally it has been a great development opportunity for me and I have learnt so much about the City and the residents and communities. It has been an amazing and inspiring few months and hat’s off to the Council for taking this new approach to ‘getting things done’. I think it demonstrates that giving staff a certain amount of freedom and the ability to use their own initiative, can produce outcomes that ‘exceed expectations’
Also the inspiration from working in a team as diverse and as talented as the City Conversation team has been incredible and we have all learnt a great deal from each other both in terms of the different services we all work in across the Council but also how differently we all operate in those areas.
The City Conversation was always a working title for our team and moving on will become the ‘City Plan’
Now all back in our ‘day jobs’ we need to continue the good work and keep the momentum of the work going and we will be acting as Champions in our services to make sure that all the good work carries on as the ‘City Plan’ is taken forward.