We want to know whether localism is increasing freedom not just over what decisions can be taken by communities, but how those decisions are actually taken? We want to test the idea that an era of ‘do it yourself democracy’ is approaching, and whether it is starting (it would make sense if it were) at the neighbourhood level?
How would it be if every neighbourhood in your town had a different model of local democracy and if some parts of the town had designed their own democracy? Would it matter if in the street where you live a traditional neighbourhood council looks after the local park, and cuts the grass, while a mile away residents have voted-in powers for their neighbourhood council to collect £30 a year to do all kinds of other things like keeping the local library open? What if in another part of your town a group of local volunteers had formed a group which now takes decisions over grittier-sounding issues like getting unemployed households into work, or reducing deaths from heart disease? And what if another neighbourhood group seemed to be making more practical difference than everyone else put together, having started a food-growing business using £1 million they had been given to invest?
These are all forms of localism we have seen (and you probably have too) up and down the country. On the face of it they all claim to be about ‘putting local people in charge of local decisions’. But under the surface they can be quite different things. What is more, while some communities are locked into prescribed models of local democracy – an increasing number are building their own models of local decision-making as part of programmes like neighbourhood community budgeting, Community First, Big Local, or by redefining how their parish council works.
We want to find out more about the opportunities and implications of this. Our open space workshop in Bradford on 16 October aims to bring together people involved in different forms of neighbourhood decision-making to discuss the issues mainstream debates may have missed, share experiences, and generate questions and answers which we hope will spark further discussion.
The workshop is open to anyone interested in these questions; not just professionals, but also students, researchers, and those who are active in their communities. We’re also hoping those with first-hand knowledge of Neighbourhood Community Budgets, the new Neighbourhood Councils, Big Local, and other similar initiatives will join us.