A day out in Staines (upon Thames)
Sometimes we receive a guest post and think it might be a simple promo job. Despite appearances to the contrary we’re pretty convinced this is not one of those and in fact make a really strong case for local authorities as geographically based entities and not just service delivery organisations. It’s therefore well worth a read:
Neither living in, nor working in, the borough of Spelthorne I was, to put it lightly, a little sceptical at the council’s attempts to rename the town of Staines to call it Staines upon Thames. After all, is changing the name really going to make any difference to the town? It was next to the Thames before the name change and it will remain next to the river after the name change. It was not as posh as Richmond or Windsor before the name change and this will not change after the name change.
However, when a friend of mine invited me to pop along to Staines upon Thames day, the official launch of the new name for the town I was intrigued to say the least (the promise of beer and jazz had nothing to do about it).
What I found was, in its own way, brilliant.
The local council had done more than just voted to change the name of the town. The day they had organised to launch the new name showcased local charities, voluntary groups, water based leisure activities and businesses. It featured local bands singing from a stage in the town centre and a map of Staines upon Thames where local residents could signal their favourite parts of the newly named metropolis.
And the crème de la crème of the whole experience was a duck race. The race involved placing over 1300 ducks in the river, each costing a couple of quid and contributing to local charity, and then, a la pooh sticks, waiting for the current to do what it does best.
All in all the day was quaint but well attended.
It was also a good reminder of why we have local councils and the importance of a sense of place. Everything about the day, and the plan to change the town’s name, was based on a wide coalition of local supporters. The event itself was sponsored by at least twenty local businesses, the street signs were sponsored by a local estate agent and many of the stewards for the day were provided by the Heathrow airport ‘here to help’ team (which was quite cool). Many businesses had stalls; usually with some games to support local charities. And most of all many members of the town turned out to show their support, both for the new name and for their local area.
This then, was a true partnership between residents, the council, local businesses and the rest of Staines upon Thames civic society.
The fact that this happened at all was only because the council has decided to act; had gathered together a local constituency to support and help fund the event and then had the conviction to deliver.
However, the reason it succeeded was because Staines upon Thames is a place defined by the people who live there, the geography it inhabits (it’s next to the Thames by the way) and the businesses who operate there.
My hope is that the people in Spelthorne who came up with this plan to change the name of Staines upon Thames now take it a step further and use the new town name as the launching pad for a new economic strategy for the town.
My other hope is that whilst this current round of extreme budget cutting is going on people don’t forget why we have local government. Councils are not about simply providing a defined number of services (like some sort of council version of a PCT) but play a vital role in corralling and defining the local area they operate in. If local authorities are to make a real difference to their local area it will not be by providing services alone.
A great local authority will be the guardian of its local area, bringing together a coalition of local interests to improve it and working hard to make the town it represents the best it can; in every sense.
In the meantime, I wish all the people involved in Staines upon Thames day every success.
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