I just stepped in something squidgy
We love a good guest post and today’s is both amusing and thoughtful at the same time. We love it and we hope you do too. Now, watch your step!
Walking to work a few weeks ago; slight skip in my step, beautiful radiant sunshine and frost on my breath, over priced coffee in my hand, thinking about the “to do” list that never ends and my lunch date with a friend from work… I skip along the well trodden roads near my home in London , hair bouncing and smiles exchanged from passers-by. Everything was going so well…
Now I work in consultation and engagement for Local Authorities. I actively try to support community empowerment and provide the bridge between the community and over worded reports and increasing amounts of jargon that only the author understands (or sometimes doesn’t).
I have facilitated community meetings where Joe and Joanne Blogs complain about what in the Council’s eyes are minor – non priority things.
For example, some things I have sat and listened to after 9pm on a week day: neighbours who put their rubbish out a day early or who see a group of young people (aka two young people), and think the riots are going to start again or the Police taking a leak in the side of the road. Diligently minuting them, smiling and promising to speak to the relevant personnel. Quietly rolling my eyes and thinking – OMG!
Back to my morning, hair bouncing and smiling… Aha! Commiseration and understanding hits me as my shoe sinks into large, smelly, squidgy dog poo. I live near a park, and of course, there are some lovely dogs running through it, escaping their two bedroom flats on their daily walks, wind rushing between their ears, tongue hanging out, saliva pouring from their mouth… there are some others that enjoy a good waddle and sniff in people’s crotches and a quiet grunt at the fish and chips packet holder.
The owners that I run past in the morning are diligent with their scented poo bags and quietly do the deed, holding their breath and praying that none slips over the top of the bag while they do it up and put it into the poo bin. The owners, (that must only come out at night like vampires, ghosts and ghoulies) to let their dogs sh*t on the sides of the roads and public pavements are the ones that I am being petty over. To be fair, there is a significant amount of dog poo all over the pavements where I live; making what is a great and vibrant community- a bit of a dirty one at times.
Furious after my skipping and enjoying the sun on my face, I look down and my shoe heal is covered – all two inches of it – covered in dog fouling vomit smelling mess.
Usually it is Transport for London that makes my journey to work irritating and stressful – no, not today – today it is irresponsible dog owners. So what do I do, I go to a community meeting to make a few suggestions.
Now this is weird for me – as I used to facilitate some of these in this particular borough. I see people I know, and they ask if I am here as a professional or a community member; “community member” I say, and you can see the beginning of eyes rolling. I report my “petty” grievance, and ask for further information and suggest some constructive and affordable solutions. I know what’s coming next… there are others that are nodding around me, and agreeing with my statements. <<sigh of relief>> Council Officers carefully minute what I have said, breathing quietly and thinking, “really, is this it?”
Of course, not much is done, but in Council terms, it is early days– only being a week after the community meeting – no response yet. I am still furious and have finally anti-bac-ed my shoes to a state where I can touch them without jipping. I then start to think of the other “community powers” afforded to me – and the words “freedom of information” spring to my mind.
I still get these in my new job and every time they pop up in my inbox I duck and roll for cover. Time consuming and usually asked by reporters for their weekly story on the Council… FOI’s are a pain in the preverbal for any Council Officer. Yet, they are there for a reason. So I investigate by asking a few friends if they have ever launched one. Eyebrows raise, coughs in the back of the throat, and a “seriously?” look shortly follow. That’s enough for me. So I start one. Refusing to bow down to peer pressure.
The FOI process is easy enough. A quick click to “whatdotheyknow.com” find my Borough, bit of research and submit an FOI. I know someone will shortly be going for “duck and cover”. Quick preview of my FOI and a click on submit. I sit and wait… My reply tells me I’ll be waiting for 20 days.
In an age where we have legislated to consult and inform the community about the work that their council taxes and central government subsidies pay for – we should be able to inform the priorities that they work towards. In previous years this was mandated by national indicators, deprivation indexes and Ofsted inspections. I’m not saying that I think dog fouling should be a priority for the Council – although on that particular morning I was close to suggesting it, nor do I think our elected members would have a second term if it was part of their party manifesto…
What I am saying is that there should be a clear cut, easy way to inform Council decisions. The longer I work in my sector, the harder and more complicated it gets – the words used are meaningless; the statistics irrelevant and the community more disparate. Real engagement and empowerment is so rare.
I wonder if we are all doomed to observe irresponsible dog owners and powerless to do anything real about it.
The lesson learnt for me on that particular morning was a good one. The glass ceilings; the Directors; Heads of Service; Chief Executives; Leaders; Elected Mayors are now all concerned with statutory obligations. Budgets are being slashed, staff being made redundant, holiday and sick pay cut – sometimes it is the little things that matter to a community.
The tangible and easy fixes that would satisfy my FOI are the ones that matter to me, Joe and Joanne Blogs. These are the ones we easily forget, roll eyes over and start doodling on our blank pages.
To summarise: I don’t give a monkey’s about strategies, policies and or budgets; I do care about how we can fix this sustainably and do it tomorrow. I do care about my shoes!