Saturday, 17 November 2007

Consulting older people On the question of consultation with older people, to paraphrase Gandhi, I think it would be a good idea. I've just found out about some interesting work that Urban Buzz funded in the London Borough of Lewisham as part of the Thames gateway development, which resulted in the publication of a toolkit and guidelines for consultation with older people, prepared by The Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths. It's a thorough and welcome document and appears to try and cover everything about the process they went through, which included field trips and mental maps of the neighbourhoods. It's important because the sense that many older people remain inexcusably excluded from consultative processes is widespread. But some of the tone leaves me a wee bit bothered. Like this: 'It is important that you present your project in a way that makes it relevant to them.' Radical stuff eh? There's more. 'Incorporate older people’s knowledge in the planning process, by consulting them if an area is going to be changed. Make use of their old photos, listen to them talk about the history about the spaces.' 'Free lunches and refreshments should be provided to offer something for their time and effort.' So long as the points get made, what am I bothered about? Well, I'm uncomfortable thinking that I live in a society where it's really necessary to make such points. It implies that there are people charged with 'consultation' for whom such things are not fundamentally obvious. But maybe the authors are right, maybe it does have to be pointed out. Many people are emerging from an embedded non-consultative authoritative culture and this is strange stuff for them. <Shudder> If I were being picky, and it's not unheard-of, I'd have added a section suggesting that people doing consultation didn't feel the need constantly to refer to one another as Dr, Professor, 'professional' or 'expert.' The entire document is suffused with a sense of the implied superior status of such people, and of councillors, over older residents. It reinforces my desire to keep pushing for a neighbourhood-mapping process designed by older people themselves.
Collective responsibility for children and young people There is a perception among adults that the community is currently fractured and that it needs to unite and recognise the collective responsibility of all for the children and young people in their midst. People see the role of the community as providing guidance and support for young people, but also spending time with them and providing activities for them to do. This suggests the potential for the community to get more actively involved with young people, giving time, skills and resources to promote happy, healthy and safe childhoods. This comes from a lengthy consultation report published today by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which summarises 'knowledge on the wellbeing of children and young people in England today' and will form the basis of the forthcoming Children's Plan, due next month. It incorporates the views of children, young people and adults. It's unfortunate how a statement like this one (especially the last sentence quoted) suggests the resilient notion that there is something called 'the community' which government still feels it can exhort or conjure up for a given cause. Off-hand I can think of a few points to be taken into account before the problem can be cured by community involvement; such as - the extent to which informal social control has been designed-out and people encouraged not to occupy their own neighbourhoods, and to drive all over other people's; the difference in scale between the mental map of 'community' held by an official (local government or similar agency) and the neighbourhood as perceived by even moderately localised residents; the contribution made by policy over the past ten years towards a culture which vilifies young people (the Blunkett legacy). But meanwhile, it's reassuring that the importance of informal social control emerges when government starts talking to people and listening to what they say. Press release.

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