Local Democracy Week 2011

12 October 2011

Across the country local authorities brought together young people and adults in a range of events to learn about how local government works and discuss key local issues, during Local Democracy Week (10-16 October).

NIACE has recently published a document – Social value of adult learning for community empowerment – that illustrates the key role of adult learning in enabling people to participate effectively in their local communities. This document will be crucial as more powers are being given to local people through the new localism agenda.

In Social value of adult learning for community empowerment, a number of local authorities share their different approaches. The Bridge Street Buddies project, at Herefordshire Council, shows just what can be achieved by working with local people to identify local learning needs.

Herefordshire Council focussed its project in the market town of Leominster, an area where over 40 per cent of households experience income deprivation. The Bridge Street Buddies project worked in partnership with a small community learning and development organisation, which allowed the learning agenda to be set by local people to suit their very specific needs. The analysis of the project found that it had successfully involved a growing number of residents in community decision-making and voluntary action to improve their neighbourhood.

The range of outcomes reported by learners themselves include new skills, less social isolation and better mental wellbeing. Some learners gained paid work or went on to vocational training as a direct result of their participation in the project. Others now have the skills and confidence to represent their community more widely, at local consultation forums and on the town council. Whole families got involved in organising the community events, which has strengthened relationships between partners, parents and children and led to better mental wellbeing within families. Parents are more confident to support their children’s learning.

The impact of the project was felt across the community as well. Residents reported that the events organised through the project brought people closer together. There have been fewer incidents of anti-social behaviour and less tension between groups of young people on the estate, leading to a safer and more pleasant environment.

Cllr Phillips, Cabinet Member Enterprise and Culture, said:

“I am delighted to see the difference that this project has made to the engagement of the community in Leominster. It shows how adult learning can strengthen the partnership between residents and the Council to release the untapped talents within our communities. This project demonstrates that local people often know best what their area needs. We can enable them to get involved and bring about change.”

Penny Lamb, the NIACE Programme Manager leading on this work, said:

“Gaining new skills and confidence through adult learning is the critical key that enables people to participate in the running and shaping of their local communities. This is becoming increasing important with the changes through the localism agenda. NIACE is pleased to be able to share the good practice featured in Social value of adult learning for community empowerment and to highlight the effective contribution to enhancing local democracy that this kind of practice makes.”