In this blog, Paul Nelis from PB Scotland reflects on Letham4All’s approach to voting. The community-led group used multiple methods of voting to engage the wider community. At the voting event in February 2019 they had collected 1,452 votes by using ballot boxes, online voting and in person voting. Around 10% of the population had their say.
Many good community-led projects find it difficult to engage with the wider community that they work with for a variety of reason including lack of resources, few employees and limited volunteers. It’s also seriously difficult to compete with the multiple channels of communication available today in our modern lives. Facebook, What’s App, Twitter, Instagram, national and international news channels – Trump, Brexit and Putin all collide and compete for people’s attention and this creates a noise which makes it difficult to focus on the things that are important and that will make a real difference in our immediate communities. We’re always looking down at our phones to access celebrity news, viewing Instagram posts or chatting on Facebook. As well as the media onslaught our lives appear to be busier than ever as we struggle to look after young ones or older relatives and continually strive to make ends meet.
The residents of Letham experience the same pressures as the rest of us but do so in the context of a densely populated estate built in 1950’s in the North of Perth City, it is the single largest population settlement in Perth and Kinross. The area is quite high on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Letham and surrounding North Perth area, has a total of 21 Data Zones Within the Bottom Half of the Index for Multiple Deprivation, this equals to 15,000 people in “Deprived Areas” of which 4,600 people live in “Highly Deprived Areas”. In recent years the closure of Active Letham Hub has added to the inequalities for the community. The closure left the community without a facility that offered physical activities, and more importantly, much needed community services for young and old.
The PB movement in Letham
We’re all doomed I hear you say, but no! There’s something brilliant happening in Letham, a movement of local people which is coalescing around ‘Letham4All’ a smart community led project with a dynamic Board made up of experienced local people and genuinely enthusiastic volunteers.
‘Letham4All’ was created by local people to support residents to be involved in their community, to develop their ideas and to improve the health and wellbeing of the area.
In a relatively short space of time ‘Letham4All’ was working with the local statutory partners to secure funding and have successfully reopened the Hub. They’ve had to pick themselves up when some funding commitments disappeared and have been looking positively to the future to see if they can realise their ambitious plans to extend and develop the Hub. For more information about Letham4ALL go to: https://letham4all.org.uk/
It’s this resilient spirit which has allowed ‘Letham4All’ to think creatively about their Participatory Budgeting process. The group successfully applied to the Scottish Government’s Community Choices Fund for £25,000 and set about developing a plan to engage as many people in the community as possible.
The Board and volunteers wanted to ensure that the noise of social media would not get in the way of the PB process. To achieve this they placed voting boxes out in the community, a couple of weeks in advance of the voting event, they used online software to gather votes from the residents and then on Saturday 23 February they held a successful event for people to vote in person and to speak to projects about their funding ideas and how they will use the PB money to benefit the community. In total 1,452 people took part in the voting process either online, at the event or through community ballot boxes.
At the voting event 21 projects presented information to the community from table tops placed around the Hubs large games hall. Some of the projects which received funding included:
Community Defibrillator – to be placed in a central location for anyone experiencing heart problems
Fairfield Lunch Club – to provide lunches for anyone living in Fairfield for anyone aged 50+. There will be opportunities to play bingo and other activities and to connect with others in the community.
7 Acres Wildlife Project – to develop a walk and picnic are for the community to encourage residents to make the most of the outdoors.
Letham4All demonstrates that using multiple methods of voting is a great way to engage the wider community at a time and place that suits them. Participatory budgeting is not a precise mechanism in terms of voting, it’s focus is aimed at widening participation and giving as many people in the community an opportunity to have their say. It’s about revitalising democracy in our communities and letting the community (young and old) know that we are listening and will respond.