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#PowerToChange partners meet with Steve Meadwell from the Centre for Social Justice

20 Jan 2023

Our #PowerToChange partners network was delighted to welcome Steve Meadwell, Regional Manager Midlands , Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The network has grown out of our community development work and brings partners together, to share, learn and voice their issues of concern to local decision makers. It is very much rooted in a “nothing about us, without us” philosophy, where the groups want to “Create rather than just Consume” local policy.

Steve shared that the CSJ is keen to connect the grassroots into the corridor of power, and he saw his job as building connections with local networks and community groups so their frontline, lived experience and voices could help shape the national policy agenda. In a wide ranging discussion, a number of issues were discussed:

  • Funding is an ongoing struggle is often short term and smaller organisations often lack resources and know how to apply for government grants. With cutbacks in local council funding , there is little local support , growing demand for services and increased competition for funding.
  • There was feeling local community groups whilst often talked about often overlooked when it came to deciding how best to equip local neighbourhoods, communities and people with the skills and knowledge that increased their resilience. There was a much greater need for bottom up rather than top down approaches.
  • The language of development can often be off putting to local groups, they are often great at delivering vital services, but not so good at the technical jargon and “development speak” that you often need to impress donors and government. Perhaps government and donors need to change the way they talk, if they wish to be more inclusive?
  • The importance of community media in giving a voice to local people, this is especially important in a city like Leicester where so many people do not speak English and are also unable to read their own language, so community radio and podcast have an important role to play in raising awareness and connecting people.
  • Sadly, most people do not vote in local elections, so a need to be creative , would like to see experiments with citizens juries and other forms of deliberative democracy.
  • Now might be a good time for central government to carry out a review to see if directly elected Mayors had added to or detracted from local democracy. There is a feeling that unless your local councillor is in the cabinet, they lack power and the Mayoral system, might tend towards centralised top down decision making. So would be good if a think tank like CSJ could explore this, especially as cities like Bristol and Sheffield have voted to get rid of directly elected Mayors.
  • Devolving power to councils, does not mean local people will have more say, need to look at how we strengthen local democracy, so it is not just about party activists setting the agenda, which is exacerbated when many local councils are long term one party states.
  • The group strongly believed local democracy and development is a “three leg stool” that required public, community and business sector to work together without ego, silo, or logo in creative and agile partnerships. Their experience was that for a variety of reasons this is often not the case and silo working is often the norm and it is hard for the community sector to be seen as a genuine partner. So would like to see initiatives and projects that strengthen this partnership approach to local democracy and development.
  • Young people are often disconnected from local democracy and decision making and many see politics as something older people do. So really important, especially in a city like Leicester, that has a young population, to reach out to young people in creative and agile ways. Political parties, need to ask why so few young people want to be councillors.

Responding to the discussion , Steve felt

There are many issues and this group, clearly has its finger on the grassroots pulse. The CSJ and I would like to partner with you to identify areas where we think change is possible , so your grounded knowledge and lived experience can shape policy and drive practical change

Steve Meadwell CSJ

In closing the meeting Kieran, felt

It has been great to meet with the CSJ and we welcome the opportunity to partner with them to bring about long term lasting change. We have loads of experience but do not have the resources to carry out national policy work, so this is real “win win” partnership and we are looking forward to partnering with Steve and the CSJ in the years ahead

Kieran Breen CEO Leicestershire Cares