Q & A on Community Action Planning

Drafting a Community Action Plan has been instigated by Stratherrick & Foyers Community Trust but it is a plan for the whole community, not just the trust. To make sure that our community plan is impartial and well-prepared, the Community Trust has engaged an experienced team from outside the area to work with us all.  The team includes Nick Wright Planning, icecream architecture, Scottish Community Development Centre andWMUD. Although starting with a blank sheet of paper, obviously the plan will build on all the good things and people that we have here in Stratherrick and Foyers.
Here, team leader Nick Wright answers a few questions about how they will make sure that the plan really is our community’s plan.

Hi Nick. What’s special about the situation we have in Stratherrick and Foyers?
As someone from outside the area, what I see is a rural community, close enough to Inverness for commuting but far enough away to feel forgotten by the powers that be, and off the main tourist routes. 
I guess some folk will love that, but for others it will be a challenging place to live… we’re looking forward to finding out more about that over the next few months: the special things that people want to keep or make even better, and the challenges that they’d like to fix - whether that’s opportunities for young people, better public services or any number of other things.  That’s what we enjoy so much about this work: understanding what local people love about their place, what’s not so good, and - with you - working out how to tackle those things.
What’s really special about Stratherrick and Foyers from my point of view is that your community has two ingredients to make things happen. Firstly, willing and active people, such as those in the Trust and other local organisations, who want to see the community thrive in the future.  And secondly, money - those millions of pounds that will flow from renewable energy firms for many years to come.  Not many communities in Scotland have that combination.  It’s a great opportunity for you to shape your future.

What is a “community action plan”?
It’s a bit of jargon really.  The plan is basically a description of a community’s priorities for the next 10 or 20 years, the priorities that it will focus on as a community, and how it will make them come to fruition.  It can contain anything that has positive long term impacts for the future of the whole community - that might be new sports facilities (although you’re already getting those), more affordable energy-efficient homes, more youth activities, new space for businesses to set up… the actual projects will be worked up in response to people’s aspirations, working with local folk every step of the way.
The process of preparing the plan - with lots of community involvement - is as important as the plan itself.  That’s because the plan is only worth anything if it genuinely reflects local aspirations, is ‘owned’ by the whole community, and people and organisations across the whole community want to help make it happen - from voluntary groups like the Trust and others to local businesses, estates and even the local authority. 

Why do we need a plan? 
There are two answers to this.  The first is: how does a community know what it needs to focus on for the future if it hasn’t discussed it and explored the options?  That’s because a really important part of Community Action Planning is asking the local community what’s important for them.  Without asking people, the community won’t know what’s dearest to people and what could have most impact on their community.  It’s back to that point of the process being as important as the plan.
For example, some folk might say that improving the local play area should be the number one priority.  Others might say build a swimming pool - or better health care, homes and jobs.  The truth is that there’s no way of knowing without some kind of survey or research – like a Facebook survey, online interactive map or door-to-door questionnaire for example, which we’ll be doing.
The second point of doing a plan is because it helps to unlock money and support.   Including a particular project in the plan - like a path network, a men’s shed or a soft play centre - demonstrates its contribution to the wider community, and makes it more likely to get the support it needs.
You can read more about what community plans can unlock in this recent post on my website.

Thanks Nick.  But why do we need your help to produce a plan?
The half a dozen of us in the team have a range of skills and experience covering community development, working with young people, planning and community engagement.  We are definitely not here to tell you what should be in your plan – our role is to help you identify what’s important for your community and what you will do about it in the future, with help from others. 
So, our role is to:
  • Be independent.  We might be commissioned by the Trust, but we are independent and impartial, and bring an outside perspective with experience from other places.  We will make sure it is the community’s plan, for everyone.  The Trust is very clear on that!
  • Do the legwork.  The Trust, like every other local organisation, has a limit to what it can do:  Directors are all volunteers, and there is limited paid staff time.  So, even if the Trust wanted to do this work itself, it doesn’t have the capacity.  We’re like a few extra pairs of hands.
  • Bring an outside perspective.  Having worked with communities from Stranraer to Shetland, we can share useful ideas and knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t) from other places.
  • Bring specific experience and expertise.  We have the experience to organise a full community consultation, to contact all the relevant ‘stakeholders’ - from local schoolchildren to the powers that be in Inverness or Edinburgh.  As we have with other communities across Scotland, we will produce a community action plan that will provide a strong basis for future decisions on community projects and funding.  As a team, we are also quite good at finding out what local people do not want, or what ideas are likely to end up as ‘White Elephants’! 

Who do you think should participate in this planning exercise?
Everybody and anybody!  Young people are really important as they are the future, and have great positive ideas of what they want for years ahead.  Older people have all their experience and knowledge to share. People who have disabilities, people who worked the land all their lives, people who have gained knowledge from working abroad - each and every one of you has something to contribute to the future of Stratherrick and Foyers.
We will make it easy for folk simply to get involved, whether they’ve only got a couple of minutes on the phone or Facebook, or maybe want to get more involved in a discussion.  It’s not every day that people have the chance to explore the future of their community, so often folk get quite enthusiastic! 
For some inspiration, check out this video from similar work in Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston we did as a team a couple of years ago.

Are you using any special techniques to allow folk to participate, given the COVID-19 situation?
We’ll be getting out and about from January onwards in lots of different ways to contact as many people as we possibly can - through local schools, community groups, existing Facebook groups, surveys and lots more besides.  COVID means that we’ll be doing more online, but we’ll make sure that people don’t need to have internet access to contribute. 
In February we’ll be asking folk what’s good and less good about living in Stratherrick and Foyers, and what they’d like to see change in the future.  We’ve setting up this dedicated website, which will become even more important to reach people since lockdown has increased.  We’re planning to work with local schools too, and have adapted how we’ve done that elsewhere in the last few months in response to COVID restrictions.
Then in March and April, we’ll bring folk together to explore and agree priorities, plans and action.  That will probably take the form of an online “community assembly”, open to everyone, with a focus on solutions and action.  Exactly how we organise it will evolve in response to the COVID situation, but we’re quite excited - it should be quite an occasion!
Before the plan is finished, we will check back with local folk that it matches your aspirations.
Remember that the team and I are not here to sell you anything. The plan must be the community’s plan, with the community’s priorities. Everyone should feel free to speak their mind about how the community can derive maximum benefit from the windfarm and hydro cash that will flow your way for the coming decades.  This is a great opportunity for you all!

Alex Sutherland

Nice as it is to benefit from other peoples fuel bills I think we owe it to them and the world to reduce our own energy consumption by energy saving measures. Grants for solar panels heat pumps etc..youve done it before, bring it back

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