In partnership with Swansea County Council, (RDP) VocalEyes launched the Rural Community Voice initiative which is now in its second year. Covering 8 rural wards in the County, the predominant focus of the project has initially been within Pennard, Bishopston and Gower.
Considering the short amount of time the project has been running, there have been significant successes, with community-led projects making good headway. Here we highlight some of the fantastic ways local people have managed to have their voices heard, prioritising projects and funding according to local needs. VocalEyes, with its built in functionality in combination with face to face community organising, closes the feedback loop and helps to deliver actionable outcomes on democratically suggested and locally adopted ideas.
One of the first projects arising was the planting of a memorial tree to the poet and artist Vernon Watkins, a close associate of Dylan Thomas and one of the legendary Kardomah gang. When the Vernon Watkins tree was suggested by local charity Gower Unearthed, as part of their Vernon project, it shot straight to the top of the ratings chart.
Gwen Watkins, Vernon’s wife, was guest of honour at the official tree planting in the grounds of Pennard Primary School. The memorial stone which will accompany it (funded by PCC, Gower Society, Gower Landscape Partnership, the local community and VocalEyes ) includes words chosen by Gwen, saying ‘Tree of beginning, Autumn’s tree, Divine imaginations tree’
To help inform future generations of his significance in the literary canon Gower UnEarthed led a local poetry project with Pennard Primary. The children produced a “poetry -tree” with an artist and they and the “tree” took part in a celebration marking the culmination of the Gower Unearthed project. This was held at Three Cliffs Coffee Shop and attended by friends and family of Vernon, literary experts and local dignitaries. The 50th anniversary of his death also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the local school and the library, the strong literary and educational links are now forever embodied in the Silver Birch named in his honour.
Pennard Community Council has become the first community council in Wales to undertake what’s known as Participatory Budgeting with a proportion of the annual precept. This is all about local people making decisions directly over how local public budgets are spent.
For example, in Pennard the community council use VocalEyes to prioritise how to spend up to £5k of the community precept. Under the scheme, funding has already been allocated for grant match-funding for a feasibility study for the suggested Community Hub. A popular suggestion and discussion point on the VocalEyes platform, evidencing the need locally for a community space.
Mirroring similar schemes already adopted in Europe… Between 2014 and 2020, the city of Paris has committed to reserving €500 million (about 5% of the city’s capital fund) to be spent through participatory budgeting. In 2016, 158,964 people voted on how to spend nearly €100 million, including €10 million set aside for schools.
The proposed idea of a revamping the old park pavilion has long been mooted. But poor response to a widely circulated paper survey several years ago resulted in difficulties securing external funding and the project stalled. However, since listing the project for consideration on Vocaleyes, interest has become rejuvenated and the community have taken this idea forward to develop the idea of a Community Hub.
A grant has been applied for from the Rural Development Partnership, with match funding promised from the Community Councils Precept. This would pay for a feasibility study and business plan for the expansion of the facilities.
This project involves rebuilding the local pavilion to create a community hub in the park, incorporating a possible cafe/coffee shop, multi-use meeting room(s), baby and disabled facilities, a permanent home for the clerk of the community council, showers for sports teams, hot desking/flexible office space for local micro businesses, cycle racks etc. The application for funding is under current discussion. The National Lottery communities fund has also been approached, to discuss funding possibilities for the build should the feasibility study/business plan provide favourable results.
Pennard Primary school are currently conducting feasibility studies for Growing Spaces and Community Garden ideas that came up on Community Voice. The school is one of the few community spaces available and occupies a central position within the community.
Currently, measurements are being undertaken at the site and costings being applied for. These include appropriate fencing and access gates from both the school and local community, with specific reference to safeguarding the children while they have secure access to the growing spaces.
Through Swansea Rural Community Voice, the school are participating in a Parent Voice project, which now has additional support from Parentkind, with the intention of helping to improve parent-school communications, sparking positive conversations and action.
Plastic Free Pennard
Pennard have become the first community in Swansea to work towards “Plastic Free Community” status. With the full support of the Community Council and its Environment Committee, it’s hoped that pilot activity with the local school, as well as the support and commitment for change from local organisations and businesses will act as a stepping stone to this important accreditation.The community are looking to Surfers Against Sewage to accredit the project early in 2019. This will then be used as an exemplar project for the whole city and county of Swansea.
In common with Bishopston and Gower wards, Pennard has a Plastic Free Leader, with commitments in place from volunteers, businesses and the local Primary school. In the meantime, the community organised a successful beach clean up earlier this year, with others already scheduled, including an Autumn Beach Clean on the 21st of October at Pennard Cliffs, future regular events are planned across the Gower.
Eco Youth Council
Another idea that’s gained traction is an Eco Youth Council consisting of 2 age groups, 11 to 14 and 15 to 19. This idea came from Gower Unearthed and they hope to focus on environmental education and collaborative enterprises, such as constructing wind turbines and other eco-focused projects.
Gower Unearthed is currently building an authentic Iron Age Roundhouse, of the type commonly found in the area in earlier times. Once complete, it has been suggested that this would be both an iconic and eminently suitable venue in which to base the proposed council.
The community skate park idea (by far the most engaged with idea on Community Voice), led to the skaters themselves making a video. Prior to this the idea had gained 20 votes and interactions on the platform. The power of video however led to over 135 interactions after the video was posted on the VocalEyes platform.
Following the removal (on safety grounds) of the original skate ramp in park, the Community Council have allocated land on the playing field. Funding promises of £10k have come from Pennard Community Charity with additional funding proposed from the Community Council.
Our Swansea Rural Community Voice Coordinator Susan Rodaway, has had meetings with the Minister for the Environment – Hannah Blythyn – to publicise the “plastic free” projects and Mark Drakeford, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, who expressed a particular interest in the Participatory Budgeting process in Pennard and how VocalEyes is enabling it.#
Tonia Antoniazzi, MP for Gower constituency, is also strongly behind the Plastic Free initiatives. She’s a strong supporter of communities establishing Community Voice and is keen to see all schools adopt participatory democracy processes and training in community organising.
She frequently re-tweets and shares our content on social media.
Meet up with us…
Susan will be engaging further with Swansea communities including having a stand at Tesco in Pontarddulais soon, as well as several pre-arranged meetings with other community groups in the area to promote participation in local (and digital) democracy. Susan will also hold regular Coffee Cake & Communicate events in the wards – promoted as @swanseavoice on Twitter and Facebook, as well as posters around the communities. Look for the hashtag #followthefrog