Big Society Gathered: Eden Valley Vanguard Area Meeting

This is my first draft of the consultation meeting and any errors in the text are purely my own. I will update it, correct it where necessary and add John Popham’s excellent video clips and better photos over time (I’m sorry that my shots of the podium are a bit dark) Please click here for John’s Post

Not long after his very successful Broadband Conference at Rheged, our Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart treated us to an Eden Valley Big Society Vanguard Area meeting at Great Asby Village Hall that was as well attended as it was highly animated.

In essence, Friday afternoon was a chance for community group leaders from all over Eden to gather in one place and share information on subjects of their keen interest with our political leaders and a select host of expert consultants including senior civil servants and financial advisors.

The medium of this meeting was part and parcel of the head-spinning message that Big Society is us! It’s up to us or down to us, whichever expression you prefer, to help us all make of our society all that we hope it to be. This is both a liberating and challenging concept, and if it is taking some time for the public to digest, that is probably a reflection of the scale of this societal paradigm shift – but as many people have rightly said – Cumbrians are used to helping each other out and the big difference is that this team-work now includes people in high places listening intently to shape policy around such cooperative voluntary action.

Rory Stuart explained in his pithy opening speech that Big Society was about power, and thus encapsulated two important questions: 1) Who has the right to do things? and 2) who has the money? He pointed out that it was the enthusiastic response among local communities in the wake of the Rheged Broadband conference that had enabled him to secure £10,000,000 of funding to help connect his constituents to very high speed broadband. This was twice the figure that we’d dared hope for in these times of cut-backs and was a reflection not only of the perceived importance of connecting-up a constituency with the highest number of self-employed people per capita nationwide and one of the highest in terms of people working from home, but also of the grass-roots enthusiasm that would enable it to actually happen.

Rory stressed that rural briefing is essential. Expertise at grass root level in our communities is an essential ingredient of success in any community development activity and that the panels of experts who had gathered to consult with us have much to learn from us just as we had from them and that it was the exchange of such knowledge that would hopefully enable worthwhile sustainable community development across the vanguard area. He didn’t play down the complexities involved, but did impress us with the idea that the powers that be were on our side and that the learning exchange would be an ongoing process with far reaching benefits across a wide spectrum of issues including connection to fast broadband, affordable housing, rural transportation, “patient” finance for community initiatives and renewable energy to keep the lights burning in our community buildings.

Representative experts then concisely introduced themselves and their roles.

POLICY AREA 1: RURAL TRANSPORT

Keith Halstead is Chief Executive of the Community Transport Association UK, and a former Regional Director for the National Trust. During eighteen years with the Trust he held various senior management roles in the North West, the West Midlands and Thames & Solent regions and led a number of significant projects, particularly in Liverpool, to demonstrate the important role the historic environment can play in urban regeneration. These included the restoration and opening of the former home of Paul McCartney; securing the future of E Chambre Hardman’s house, studio and photographic collection; and implementing a major revival plan for the Speke Hall Estate. He was also involved in saving Red House in Bexleyheath – the first and only home William Morris ever built. Currently, Keith is Chief Executive of the Community Transport Association UK – a rapidly growing national charity and social enterprise giving voice and providing leadership, learning and enterprise support to community-based organisations delivering local transport solutions to achieve a fairer society. He is a Director of Watlington Community Interest Company, a member of Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts.

Edwina Edwards is CEO of Bakewell and Eyam Community Transport. She came to Bakewell and Eyam Community Transport as a volunteer initially and is now responsible for the operation of 10 small minibuses, up to 16-seaters and a voluntary car scheme in the Peak District. The charity has been operating since 1989 and has grown from 1 vehicle and driver to 150 volunteers and 19 staff members.

Kevin McGilloway represents Eden’s Fellrunner Bus service. The Fellrunner Buses are operated and driven by local volunteers for the benefit of the community. They serve most of the villages in the Penrith area with services to Penrith or Carlisle. The first Fellrunner services were launched in December 1979 after two years of planning by the local community, Cumbria County Council and Voluntary Action Cumbria. The first bus was a 16-seater Ford Transit and, in the early days, provided a feeder service from Fellside villages to connect with the Ribble bus services from Langwathby to Penrith and Carlisle. Since the withdrawal of all commercial services, the Fellrunner has itself provided scheduled shopping services from the Fellside to both Penrith and Carlisle. These services have now been supplemented by monthly excursions and by private hires to local community groups.

POLICY AREA 2: BROADBAND

Caron Britton from BIS joined the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1981. Since then, she has worked in a number of MAFF/Defra policy Divisions including on fisheries, livestock, and Nitrates policy and is currently the Defra lead on rural broadband. In her current role, she has responsibility for working with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and Broadband Delivery UK to champion the need for broadband improvement in rural areas.

Mike Kiely is acting Technical and Industry Lead for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). He has over 20 years’ experience in the UK and international telecommunications and internet industry.  He has launched national UK services for Voice Mail and Voice over IP.  He has worked in the US, Chile, Australia, Malaysia and most of Europe in various technical and regulatory roles.  He has also been a active advocate of Universal Broadband in his spare time. He is seconded from Predictable Network Solutions, a company which specialises in analysing congestion and application performance of data transport networks. Mike also has specialist knowledge in radio spectrum.  His principal responsibility in the BDUK procurement process will be to specify the NGA access and backhaul requirements to be the best in Europe and ensure that these are delivered. Mike is married to Susanne and has three children.  Mallerstang and Upper Eden holds a special place for Mike as he used to walk there with Susanne before they got married.

Robert Ling is National and Regional Co-ordinator for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

POLICY AREA 3: AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Neil Pickering is the Homes and Communities Head of Area for Lancashire and Cumbria. He has responsibility for delivering the Agency’s programme to create new communities and bring economic growth and higher investment to the counties. He works closely with strategic partnerships to deliver housing growth, urban regeneration and to maximise the potential for affordable housing. Neil graduated in Town Planning at Leeds Polytechnic and began his regeneration career in Local Government before moving into private sector consultancy, specialising in development management and funding/delivery advice.  He moved to the Homes and Communities Agency in May 2010, but prior to that had considerable experience as an adviser to English Partnerships and the HCA.
He is a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Andy Lloyd from Cumbria Rural Housing Trust is a Community Land Trust Project Officer. From 2003 to 2008 Andy worked for Dorset Community Action as the Rural Housing Enabler for West Dorset and Purbeck Districts. He organised the New Solutions for Affordable Housing conference which resulted in two communities opting to deliver affordable housing through Community Land Trusts. Originally from Cumbria, since January 2008 he has been employed as the county Community Land Trust Project Officer based in Cumbria Rural Housing Trust, Penrith. The post is funded by Local Authorities responding positively to community interest in CLTs, and also by the Tudor Trust. Andy supports community groups by describing the nature of CLTs, providing on line resources, helping to strengthen delivery partnerships, looking at sites and viability, and obtaining consultant and funding support from the CLT Facilitation Fund and other agencies.

POLICY AREA 4: NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING

Gareth Bradford is currently a Team Leader within the Planning Directorate in the Department for Communities and Local Government, which he joined in July this year. Gareth is at the forefront of the Department’s work on neighbourhood planning, particularly the legislation being brought forward through the Localism Bill, and is a planning link for the West Dorset and Eden vanguard areas. Gareth is heavily involved in the team’s strategic planning work, especially on Local Enterprise Partnerships, the recent Local Growth White Paper and the new ‘duty to co-operate’. Prior to this Gareth was a team leader of a development plans team in Devon County Council, leading work on infrastructure planning, sub-regional and local planning policy and the design and delivery of major new development proposals. Gareth has a 1st Class Geography Degree, a Masters Degree in Planning Practice and Research and is a chartered town planner. Gareth was a finalist in the UK’s Young Planner of the Year competition in 2008.

Richard Turner is an Eden District Councillor and Executive Member with responsibility for Housing and Planning Policy. He is currently Chair of the Cumbria Housing Group and, more locally, Chair of the Alston Moor Affordable Housing Group.

POLICY AREA 5: SUSTAINABLE FINANCE

Hugh Rolo is Head of Assets and Investment at the Development Trusts Association. There are over 450 development trusts across the UK, all community owned and led. They cultivate enterprise and build assets – creating wealth in communities and keeping it there. On behalf of the DTA he is a delivery partner of the Adventure Capital Fund and an advisor to Communitybuilders. He is a founder partner and Director of the Key Fund Yorkshire- both of which are investing “patient capital” in community enterprises. 
He is leading for the DTA on an action learning research programme into Community Shares and Bonds backed by Communities and Local Government and the Office of Civil Society
Hugh is also a director of ACCENT Regeneration, a leading housing association and remains active in his own community of Manningham in Bradford as a Director of ABL, and Manningham Mills Community Association, development trusts, and as a secondary School Governor, where he chairs the finance committee.

Gareth Nash is a founder member and co-director of Co-operative and Mutual Solutions Limited, a worker co-operative providing business advice, consultancy and training to the co-operative and social enterprise sector. He has 20 years of experience of co-operative, social enterprise development and financing. He has helped to raise funding and finance for new start and growing co-operatives/social enterprises. This includes community shares and loans for community buyouts, employee equity, loan and leasing finance for employee buyouts. He has helped to bring several community buyouts to fruition including: The Natural Food Store (Leeds) and the Fair Traders Co-operative in Holmfirth.  Gareth is a member of the Community Shares expert reference group. This is a 2 year action research project led by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered in partnership with Co-operatives UK and the Development Trusts Association.

Ron Seddon is the Strategic Outreach Manager for the Community Development Finance Association, which represents community development finance institutions (CDFIs). CDFIs provide loans and support to people who find it difficult to access finance from the commercial banks. The CDFA‘s mission is to support the development of a thriving and sustainable community development finance (CDFI) sector that provides finance for disadvantaged and underserved communities and, as a consequence, contribute to the increasing prosperity of these communities. The CDFA‘s objectives are to grow, support and strengthen the CDFI sector; to promote the sector to stakeholders and to government; to support members in achieving collective influence; to help forge closer links between individual CDFA members and stakeholders. In addition to member subscriptions the CDFA‘s core funders are the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Barclays and NatWest/Royal Bank of Scotland.

Grahame Latus is the Chief Executive of Cumbria Community Asset & Reinvestment Trust Ltd (CART).  CART is an Industrial and Provident Society, registered with the Financial Services Authority. It is Cumbria’s only Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) and the only rural CDFI in the north of England. This is a sustainable, independent organisation providing financial services across Cumbria with the aim of creating social improvement and business development returns.

POLICY AREA 6: PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING

Oliver Henman is a Project Manager leading the Big Society Network’s ‘Your Local Budget’ project. This project aims to develop new directions for citizens to set priorities in their local budgets and identify opportunities for innovation in the delivery of services. He has worked in the voluntary sector for a number of years and specialises in participatory democracy. He is on secondment from NCVO where his role is UK & International Campaigns Manager. Previously he worked at the Power Inquiry, where he coordinated the European Citizens’ Consultation – UK. He has had considerable experience in Europe and Brazil on grassroots democracy and citizen participation, including in the Amazon rainforest and has also worked as a parliamentary researcher in Westminster. He completed his studies at Oxford University, where took an MPhil in Latin American Studies (Politics) with a thesis on the Participatory Budget process of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Paul Dodson is Economic Programmes Manager for Cumbria County Council, and manages a variety of programmes including social enterprise support, business start-ups and the Rural Development Programme for England. He also chairs Cumbria Social Enterprise Partnership.

POLICY AREA 7: COMMUNITY RENEWABLES

Eleni Yiasoumis is the Senior Rural Carbon Challenge fund Manager for Envirolink Northwest. Envirolink Northwest aids the development and growth of the energy and environmental technologies and services sector in the Northwest of England.  Envirolink Northwest is funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the region’s local authorities and industry. Envirolink Northwest is a not-for-profit organisation working to increase the levels of technology transfer and innovation within the sector; increase the level of knowledge and skills in the current and future sector workforce; and promote the sector in regional, national and international markets.

Stephen Lang represents the Rural Carbon Challenge Fund. The Rural Carbon Challenge aims to benefit the rural economy and rural communities by supporting community level demonstration projects. The expected outcomes of funded projects include job creation, training and the provision of renewable energy in rural communities. On the supply side, it will support microenterprises to set up or expand a renewable energy business as well as supporting training provision for a range of organisations. On the demand side it will support businesses, social enterprises, charities, and formally constituted community groups with the capital costs of renewable energy projects.

Matt Crump is Area Environment Manager for North Cumbria. He has worked in Environmental Regulation for approximately 20 years, and in his current role deals with a wide range of environmental issues, from Flood Recovery and Droughts to Waste Regulation, Water Quality and Monitoring. He lives in Penrith and is based in the Penrith office

Steve Powell of the Environment Agency is an Environment and Business Advisor specialising in fisheries and currently hydro-power schemes. He is based out of the Environment Agency’s Warrington Regional Office.

Steve Welsh is General Manager of Water Power Enterprises. Water Power Enterprises is a social enterprise, a Community Interest Company limited by shares. It aims to save approx 6,500 tonnes of carbon emissions per year by installing around 5MW of renewable energy by 2012. Water Power Enterprises takes the long view of renewable energy creation enabling larger hydro-electricity sites to be installed with a greater benefit to the environment obtained over the lifecycle. This is achieved by providing a slower financial return to stakeholders which is the essence of being a social enterprise; bigger social returns achieved by accepting more modest financial returns. WPE believe that social enterprise and renewable energy go hand in hand and that local communities can become the beneficiaries of the revenues so raised for decades to come. Water Power Enterprises propose to remove the two biggest barriers to the involvement of the local community in renewable energy by providing both the finance and capacity to develop and install small scale hydroelectric schemes.

Charlotte Jackson represents the Energy Saving Trust, the UK’s leading impartial organisation helping people to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. They do so by providing expert insight and knowledge about energy saving, supporting people to take action, helping local authorities and communities to save energy, and by providing quality assurance for goods, services and installers.

Peter Ward was introduced to the Anaerobic Initiative in Crosby Ravensworth in 2009, as a result of contacts made through PACT, part of the Transition Town Movement. Since then he has worked to ensure that this and similar low carbon initiatives are successfully implemented.

The national spotlight is hovering interestedly over this part of Eden to watch us succeed, Rory encouraged us to start proving that we can show how this is going to work. For our consultation, a series of tables were laid out , seated  with experts in their particular fields. At it’s peak there were probably 250 people in that village hall, all actively engaged in earnest conversations about the key topics of community interest that had spurred them to attend. It’s not an enormous building, so you can imagine the ferment, but with clever organisation it proved to be a very fine venue for the purpose.

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I headed straight for the broadband table and first chatted with some students from Appleby Grammar School who’d gathered there, very keen to see faster connections at home to facilitate studies, social networking and career opportunities. One lad is eager to be a computer programmer and he talked excitedly of a film that he’d seen about the young man who’d developed Facebook. It was very refreshing to see their enthusiasm and it served as a reminder that fast broadband developments that we make over the next year will have real impact on their future prospects. Shortly afterwards I met Freddy Markham of Travelling2, Broadband Champion for Morland Parish Council. Together we consulted Robert Ling of Broadband Delivery UK and did our best to convince him that we were serious about setting up good fast broadband access for our communities. We promised each other that we’d liaise and share information.

En route to the Finance table I encountered Dr. Andrew Ramsey, Principal Lecturer at the Centre for Wildlife Conservation at The University of Cumbria. His centre has four PhDs ongoing at the moment and he is engaged with community forestry amongst other things and he mentioned some very interesting developments in the reforestation of Cumbria with the establishment of new footpaths and cycle ways.

At the finance table Grahame Latus and I chatted ourselves hoarse about possible financing of community broadband (at this early stage I didn’t yet have numbers of subscribers or known costs to produce concrete figures, but I left with his card and the impression that our broadband initiative could be attractively competitive with established large providers, offer faster service locally and with healthy margins (based upon Great Asby Broadband’s successful model).

I then headed for the Community Transportation table and talked about transport from our villages to Appleby and Penrith for nights out with a very enterprising lady named Edwina Edwards (Chief Executive of Bakewell & Eyam Community Transport) she runs this charity with about 70 active volunteer drivers! We touched on car sharing for commuting as well.

Then I went over to the Renewable energy table and talked with Matt Crump of the Environment agency who showed me a map with blue circles marked upon it that suggested several areas of our Lyvennet river that were potentially suitable for small scale hydro-electric development, he presented me with an information sheet that would help us to decide whether an investment of about £350,000 would make sense or not in terms of returns.

At this juncture the activity shifted to a seated presentation and Q&A session with top level speakers from our local and national Govt. including Cumbria County Council and Eden District Council.  Here I shall refer you to John Popham’s excellent videos.

Videos coming soon.

Afterwards informal chatting resumed over a superb feast laid on by The Crosby Ravensworth Food Alliance. I left Great Asby happy to confirm that England is still a developing country in the best sense of that term, and that information exchanged this November 5th will help community-led developments in the Eden Big Society Vanguard area and beyond for some considerable time to come. I  would like to thank all those who worked so hard to make it such a great success.

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16 thoughts on “Big Society Gathered: Eden Valley Vanguard Area Meeting

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    • Thanks David, tonight the LVC is having a renewable energy meeting to try to get an Anaerobic Digester project up and running.
      Where there’s muck there’s brass!

      Please wish us luck.

      Charles

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