“Excellence in Community Service” Award 2014
Congratulations to Tatenhill Parish Council, the first winners of the Association’s “Excellence in Community Service” Award sponsored by Streetscape Ltd. The award was presented by HM Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Mr Ian Dudson, CBE, at the conclusion of the Association’s 75th Anniversary Conference on 11th June.
In announcing the winner of the Award, SPCA President Ian Ashbolt commented on how the entry exemplified the way in which a local council could demonstrate its value to the community that it served and secure widespread endorsement of a significant increase in the precept levied on electors provided that it could demonstrate value for money.
Here follow the details of the winning entry, in the Council’s own words
This is just a brief outline of how a relatively simple project – “how to engage with the community” evolved into a DCLG Front runner parish that has just submitted its Neighbourhood Development Plan to East Staffordshire Borough Council for Independent examination.
Tatenhill was a typical sleepy rural parish, large in area but small on population represented by just seven parish councillors. The annual precept for 2009/2010 of £5,500 is indicative of what Council did year on year. The introduction of some fresh blood and new faces onto the Council resulted in a decision to attempt to improve communication with the parishioners; to identify and deliver what they, the electorate, wanted. With a relatively new councillor came much needed experience in thinking “big” – a Parish Plan was needed.
Council facilitated the formation of a formally constituted Community Group to enable Awards4All funding for the project. Their personal door to door delivery system (and return to collect completed questionnaires) achieved a magnificent 67% response rate. But it also established a network of volunteers that continues to this day delivering information around the parish. The Plan was produced and published in 2011 (with the support of East Staffordshire Borough Council) and clearly identified what was important to the parishioners.
But this was just a beginning – how were these tentative green shoots of engagement to be nurtured? How could Council build on a good start and strengthen the links with the Community? The provision of a good, reliable broadband service across the parish was a top priority for the community. Could Council influence the provision of this 4th utility within the Parish? A sub group of the Community Group was formed and a two phase approach evolved. The first phase brought a wireless network into the Parish enabling access to very high speed connections. Phase two continues to talk to Staffordshire County Council and BT, looking to get a fibre feed into the parish and provide an alternative source to some if not all of the parish.
Meanwhile the Parish Council picked up on the importance of Open Spaces identified in the Parish Plan. Accessing significant grant funding and the active support of SCC a previous eyesore has been transformed into Tatenhill village green. A similar transformation was undertaken on land in front of the Alms Houses and at the village hall helping to unify the public spaces in the village.
A Parish Design Guide seemed to answer parishioner’s desires to preserve/enhance existing street characteristics and appearances. But how? With the mandate of the Parish Plan questionnaire consultants were engaged. Following further consultation with the Parishioners and the Community Group the Design Guide was published in March 2012 and has been adopted by East Staffordshire Borough Council.
The Parish Council now wanted to take on parishioner’s wider wishers but was unclear as to how. Along came the Localism Act 2011 and the DCLG Front runner funding opportunity. An ambitious plan was hatched. A successful funding bid was followed by instructing the Design Guide consultants to now embark on a Neighbourhood Development Plan. After 18 months of consultation events across all the elements of our community The Neighbourhood Development Plan was submitted to ESBC in April 2014 for independent examination.
So, in the last 3½ years this Council has definitely empowered the local community; given the community a large say in the production of three significant documents, two of which will sit in the Borough Council’s Planning Policy Framework. The Parish Council are secure in the knowledge that they have more than achieved their initial aim – they have engaged with and so empowered the community.
Tatenhill is now recognised locally as an active Parish Council where, yes, the precept has increased (£19,750 in 2013/2014) but “other income” (grants etc.) has also increased from £3 bank interest to a total of £158,180 over the four years – an extra eight years’ worth of income.
On the way Council has built relationships with both the County and Borough Council; it has engaged with Staffordshire Police in distributing “Smart Water” in the Parish; established a parish ranger service to maintain the area; a Speedwatch group performs regular checks manned by volunteers; communication channels have been established utilising a quarterly Newsletter hand delivered across the parish as well electronically mailed and uploaded to a virtual notice board on the website. In 2012 Council were presented with the opportunity to buy a 15 acre field and establish a community woodland thanks to grant funding from East Staffordshire BC and the National Forest. Phase 2 of the Broadband delivery is yet to be completed but continues to be worked on.
Congratulations also to Penkridge Parish Council, which received a commendation as runner-up for the “Excellence in Community Service” award in recognition of its highly successful “Let’s Celebrate Penkridge!” festival held in May this year. This initiative, which drew together more than fifty local voluntary and not-for-profit organisations, clearly made a very positive contribution to the development of community spirit and enhanced the profile of the Parish Council.