Dialogue 2: Mandy Shute, Knowle West Neighbourhood Management: 10 October 2006
Mandy Shute from the Knowle West Neighbourhood Management team arrived for our meeting and we began to discuss the digital challenge bid. Mandy told me that there had been a scheme whereby Neighbourhood renewal had a fund which paid for residents to have computers at home with internet connections. The scheme paid for the computers and £10 a month towards the cost of their internet connection. She said that this was important to ensure that the neighbourhood renewal team could have communication with local people so that things like minutes of meetings to be e-mailed and approved. The scheme was relevant for about 7 or 8 residents who were involved in renewal. She also told me that there is a fund that has allowed the team to publish their newsletter as a website.
Mandy talked about the issues forum that KWMC are establishing as an online opportunity for people to comment on local issues and she said that she thought this would be an important space for people to communicate through.
Mandy said that she thought such uses of the internet could usefully be expanded upon, and that there was the need for an online forum where minutes from meetings could be posted, for people to access and respond to. She said that the only thing preventing this is capacity, and that a communications worker, who could be based at KWMC, might address such needs.
Mandy said that people are generally quite reluctant to come to meetings but that she thought they were more likely to attend virtual or on-line meetings. She suggested that a neighbourhood management chat room for meetings to take place in would be a useful asset.
One issue is that it is difficult to get young people involved in neighbourhood management and so she thinks there is a need to identify more ways of connecting with young people as well as with other residents. She said that in terms of setting up a greater community partnership there is an issue about involving people that is about confidence and time, in that it is only people with the time and confidence to be involved that are involved. She suggested that there needs to be more work that uses a creative process to engage and involve people and that a ‘surgery’ model might also be useful.
She said that the same people get invited to lots of events, not just meetings, so they end up not having time to attend things. She said that a personal chat room might address this and might also extend the numbers of local people who are involved. Such a neighbourhood forum would also allow people to have virtual meetings with the team on a regular basis.
She said that she wasn’t sure how we had managed before email, given how quickly and efficiently it allows us to communicate.
Mandy said it would be interesting and useful to know how many people locally were on line at home.
She suggested that there could be a demand for an internet café in Knowle West to address the lack of access there is for people to the internet. We talked about the library facility and how for some this might be too formal a space.
Mandy said that access wasn’t just about having the equipment but was also about supporting and encouraging people who are frightened of using the technology to use it in ways that are useful to them. She said that there needed to be work around demystifying the technology for people to be able to use it or to be interested in using it. She said that one way of doing this might be through an internet café as there would need to be support staff there. She added that some people were unlikely to want to travel far to go to an internet café and so a mobile internet café, perhaps using the beat bus, might be a solution. She said she thought it would be very useful to carry out a survey regarding how many people have internet access.
Mandy then told me that there is an issue around people reporting crime and that this comes up regularly at task meetings. People are reluctant to report crime for fear of reprisals. She therefore thought that an on line way of reporting crime that might be anonymous would be very useful. She said that even if the reports were anonymous, as long as three or four people reported the same thing then it would be responded to.
Mandy talked about one of the positive elements of Knowle West being to do with the rare sense of community that there is here. She said that she thought this sense of community could be drawn upon more successfully. She said that the community is less transient here than most and that the extended family is alive and well in Knowle West. She said that although this does bring issues, it is still something worth celebrating. She said that professionals tend to talk about the community as deprived, but that the community itself doesn’t refer to itself in that way even thought they might be fed up with certain situations.
We talked about things that interest local people and the significance of family. We agreed that in order to demystify technology it was important to base its use on things that people were interested in. We talked about the possibility of running workshops about researching family history as one potential way of doing this.
Mandy talked about community partnership as a step away from the council always running things, by ensuring that the community decide how things should be done. However there is a need for commitment from all in order to get the community partnership working in this way. She said that it is important for the community to be in control of the partnership rather than the council, and for the partnership to have a real role in decision-making. She said that this was important because for change to be real and sustained it was crucial for local people to have ownership. She said that local people have plenty of good ideas and that all that is needed is for them to be encouraged to get back their enthusiasm by believing that they can make a difference.