Organising in a Local Council (Part Two)

Community organising taught me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things, when they’re given a chance and brought together.”
Barack Obama, 11th September 2008

In May 2016, I was honoured to be elected Mayor of Glastonbury by my peers, and – as both a Town Councillor and Community Organiser – I wanted to explore how to use my time as Mayor to integrate community organising methods into the role of the Mayoralty.

Central to the community organising approach is the fostering of strong participatory democracy through grass-roots ‘active listening’ combined with political engagement – “the organising that means the people must be heard.”  It’s an approach that takes time and involves meeting people; it provides the opportunity for those most affected by a decision to have their say.  It’s about working with the community to identify issues or concerns, and then organising together to create positive, community-led actions and solutions.

As councillors, we play a vital part in representing the interests of the communities we serve; improving the quality of life and the local environment.  However, as the National Association of Local Councils highlights, it is the job of a council “to represent the whole electorate, and not just those who voted for you”…  As councillors, we have a responsibility to be well-informed, especially about diverse local views. We cannot assume that we represent the interests of all our electors without consulting them.  In this respect, community organising is an imperative!

– – –

As Mayor, I found many opportunities to put community organising into practice – from commencing the process of Glastonbury’s Neighbourhood Plan, to listening to people’s views on the development of St. Dunstan’s House (newly purchased by the Town Council), to working with the Nationwide Building Society to engage and consult with Glastonbury’s community about the potential of a new branch opening in the town.

As a tool for local councillors, community organising has great potential along side the ‘general power of competence’, which enables local councils “to do anything that an individual might do”; to respond more effectively to the communities’ needs – encouraging innovation and assisting in shared service delivery.  This is something that I hope the following example will illustrate.

– – –

In October 2016, I met with Sue Mountstevens, the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), at Glastonbury Town Hall.  The background to our meeting was a strong desire within our community to address the increasing anti-social behaviour that Glastonbury was suffering – intimidation, drunkenness, racial and verbal abuse, and open drug dealing.  Many residents had raised the issue of anti-social behaviour with me over the Summer months; it was a situation that came to a head with the serious assault near St. John’s Church in September…

Give us back our town front page CSG 22nd September 2016
Give us back our town – front page, Central Somerset Gazette, 22nd September 2016.

In preparation for the meeting, I had several conversations with the local Police Beat Team; and the Deputy Mayor and I met with local Sergeant Matt Slade and Inspector Mark Nicholson…  I also talked with an Area Commander, and – from Constable to Commander – I received the same response to my questioning:
The force seriously lacks resource; six years of cuts to the Police budget mean a loss of apparently 600-700 officers to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary…

Listening to people – and using the local press and social media – I asked Glastonbury’s community for their thoughts on what should be raised with the PCC; their concerns; their issues; their ideas.  I received lots of feedback, and I took a long list of the issues raised to the meeting.

In the week before I met with Sue Mountstevens, I also helped to arrange – and took part in – a ‘multi agency’ meeting about crime in the town, with representatives from the police, town and district council, a number of support services, the PACT team, and the Church. This was very productive, and also gave me further points to raise.

Mayor calls for more visible police presence CSG 22nd September 2016
Mayor calls for more visible police presence, Central Somerset Gazette, 22nd September 2016.


Sue Mountstevens came to the Town Hall with her Staff Officer, Detective Sergeant Ashley Jones, and met with me and the Deputy Town Clerk, Gerard Tucker.

Not surprisingly, the first issue we discussed was anti-social behaviour; the main concern for so many in the town.  I asked the PCC why there was a lack of a visible police presence in Glastonbury; why there was not a beat officer patrolling, on foot, up and down the streets in the centre of our town?  Many people had fed-back that they felt the lack of police presence contributed to the rise of anti-social behaviour over the Summer.

We discussed the ‘multi-agency’ approach; particularly the work of the ‘One Team’ in dealing with troubled families and individuals.  The PCC was pleased to hear about the meeting of the multi-agency group in Glastonbury the week before.  One of the points raised at the Glastonbury multi-agency meeting was the proven effectiveness of ‘Street Pastors’ in dealing with street drinkers, addicts, and anti-social behaviour in Bristol.  Sue Mountstevens told us about possible funding available to support Street Pastors team in our town.

Another issue that many people were concerned about was the increase in drug dealing in the town – particularly of the most harmful and addictive Class A drugs, like heroin and cocaine.  This was something that the Police were fully aware of, however, as the PCC reiterated, without residents reporting incidents, there is a disconnect between police intelligence and local knowledge.

We discussed the fact that many people who had got in touch with me about witnessing crimes – such a drug dealing – were scared to report these incidents to the Police for fear of reprisal.  Sue Mountstevens understood people’s reticence, and reminded me about Crimestoppers – the national confidential reporting charity (independent to the police) to which the public can make truly anonymous reports about any criminal activity of any kind. This seemed like a very useful option, and one that I promoted widely after the meeting.

We discussed issues around health and wellbeing, and the impact on policing from cuts in the support services for people with mental ill health, for the homeless, for vulnerable people, for addicts.

I mentioned the recent closure of Turning Point’s centre at the Old Library; the County Council’s cutbacks to the drug and alcohol service – this was an area that Sue Mountstevens was obviously passionate about, and she was not impressed by Somerset County Council’s performance.  She said that as a result of the increased impact of mental ill health on the police service, she had placed professional mental health workers into the police call centres.

‘Disaster’ worries as drugs service moves out of town, Central Somerset Gazette, 6th October 2016.

Responding to the issues and concerns raised, Sue Mountstevens was very candid about the impact of the austerity funding cuts imposed by central government on the Police service as a whole, and that Avon and Somerset had been intentionally ‘dampened’ – provided with less resources than other constabularies, resulting in £14 million ‘missing’ from the budget; which means 350 fewer officers, PCSOs and staff than the average!  Apparently, the PCC doesn’t have the power to set the amount of funding, and couldn’t explain why Avon and Somerset has seen a disproportionately low amount of funding!

In concluding our meeting, we discussed a number of options which might help the situation in Glastonbury.
1) the deployment of officers for a ‘permanent’ day-time police presence in the High Street;
2) developing a Street Pastor team, to work as part of a multi-agency approach to addressing the anti-social behaviour;
3) encouraging people who are concerned about reporting crimes and incidents, for fear of reprisal, to use Crimestoppers;
4) Special Constables – residents who have had enough, and would like to make a difference, could apply to join the Special Constabulary…  At that time, there were vacancies for over 300 Specials in Avon and Somerset!  I asked the PCC to contact the Special Constabulary Coordinator in respect to recruiting for Special Officers in the Glastonbury area, and as a result, a closer collaboration with the Town Council and Special Constabulary was established;
5) Finally, there was the potential for Glastonbury Town Council to fund an additional Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) for the town through the Parish Precept (the amount of the Council Tax that goes to Town and Parish Councils).
– – –

Search for solutions to problems that have been a blight on town, Central Somerset Gazette, 10th November 2016.

Following the meeting, with the ‘general power of competence’ in mind, I took back the idea of a ‘Precept’ funded Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) to the town; encouraging residents to comment on the idea – through the local press and via social media.  Feedback as largely positive, but with the specific condition that a PCSO paid for by Glastonbury would be on duty only in Glastonbury; providing a visible presence in the town – not constantly being called away to other areas.

To clarify this point, I met with Chief Inspector Mark Edgington and Inspector Mark Nicholson.  Who said that, in exceptional circumstances – “if there was a danger to life and limb and no other officer was available” – they would need to call away a PCSO to another area, the Chief Inspector guaranteed that:  “If a new PCSO is being paid for by Glastonbury, they will be working in Glastonbury for their tour of duty; not servicing other towns.”

At the Town Council’s Finance & General Purposes Committee meeting on 29th November 2016, it was confirmed that a Glastonbury funded Police Community Support Officer would add £11 to the Council Tax per band ‘D’ dwelling in Glastonbury – less than £1 per month.

£1 per month to keep town safe – front page, Central Somerset Gazette, 10th November 2016.

After much debate, it was proposed that the Town Council would fund a PCSO dedicated to Glastonbury for a trial period of one year.  A Task and Finish Group was established to discuss terms of reference with the Constabulary meeting several times between January and April 2017.

I am delighted to say that – after a long period of negotiations – the process of recruitment began in August 2017.

– – –

Back in October, I explained to the Police and Crime Commissioner that I was very disappointed to hear, from every level of the force – from Constable to Commander to Commissioner – about lack of resources.  I asked: “If you are not responsible for funding the Police, who is?”  “Brandon Lewis”, she replied, “the Policing and Fire Minister…”

At that time I was struck by how decisions made at Ministerial level – miles away from Glastonbury; abstract, formulaic, bureaucratic – had impacted so profoundly on our community.  The correlation between an ideological, ‘political’ drive for “efficiencies”; to “radically reform the way the Police deliver services to the public”; to “reduce costs and duplication”, and the rise in anti-social behaviour in our town – with its miserable effect on people’s lives; causing alarm, fear, distress, and insecurity – was plain.

It was also plain that neither Brandon Lewis nor Sue Mountstevens would, or could, resolve the situation.  This was something we, as a community, would have to address… and non-participation was not an option!

Without meeting with people; listening to their concerns and getting those concerns on ‘the agenda’ with the PCC – it is hard to see how Glastonbury Council’s response to the anti-social behaviour would have moved beyond tokenism and ‘othering’; grandstanding Councillors demanding: “What are the Police going to do about this?

In this scenario, using the Mayoralty combined with community organising methods, I was able to facilitate some degree of community (citizen) influence on the process – though, without my fellow Councillors being trained in community organising techniques, the net result is placatory rather than true participation, i.e. the Town Council still made the final decision.

However, the community’s concerns were listened to; the five solutions from the meeting with the PCC were based on these concerns.  The community’s views on a Glastonbury funded PCSO were taken into account; forming the basis of the Town Council’s Task and Finish Group negations with the Constabulary.

The process took over a year, from August 2016 to August 2017; the output being an innovative solution, taking full advantage of the general power of competence.
…Imagine how much more could have been achieved if my 15 fellow Town Councillors had all been trained as Community Organisers…


Organising in a Local Council (Part One)

I participate, you participate, he participates, we participate, you participate, they profit
There is a critical difference between going through the empty ritual of participation and having the real power needed to affect the outcome of the process. This difference is brilliantly capsulized in a poster painted last spring [1968] by the French students to explain the student-worker rebellion. The poster highlights the fundamental point that participation without redistribution of power is an empty and frustrating process for the powerless. It allows the powerholders to claim that all sides were considered, but makes it possible for only some of those sides to benefit. It maintains the status quo.”
Sherry R. Arnstein from ‘A Ladder Of Citizen Participation’, Journal of the American Planning Association, 35:4, page 216 (July 1969).

I have been working with communities for the past 18 years. Over that time I’ve often pondered the latent potential of Town and Parish Councils…

It seems to me that through the evolution of moot, leet, vestry, and – finally – parish, our forebears conceived an ideal solution for the support and mutual co-organisation of our communities. Yet, their ideal seems to have been – in the main – mislaid somewhere along the line.

The Parish Council as an ideal solution?” I hear you cry! “Surely, he’s lost it completely this time!

And to some extent, I’d agree. Except… well… before I expand on why local Councils are the ideal solution, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the many hundreds of local people I’ve met over the years. Local residents who’ve got organised; who’ve come together to do something; co-operating to address a local issue, need, or concern.

I’ve been amazed and inspired by the multitude of ideas, plans, aspirations, and dreams that individuals, groups, communities have come up with. Indeed, there seems to be no shortage of ideas; but, as the saying goes, “ideas are cheap”, and – invariably – the biggest obstacle for any community group, local project or campaign is money…

Town and Parish Councils, on the other hand, possess the ideal solution to overcome the obstacle of funding. Our forebears, in their wisdom, gave them ‘special powers’, such as the power to tax local residents and raise funds; the power to use those funds to provide local facilities and services to address a local issue, need, or concern – or contribute towards their provision by others… Indeed, under the General Power of Competence, they have the power to do “anything that individuals generally may do.

So why aren’t all Town and Parish Councils a hot-bed of community-led activity? As a community organiser, listening to people, it is clear that many residents perceive a divide between themselves and their Town or Parish Councillors – many people feel they don’t have a say; that Councils don’t inform or consult, and even if they did, it would be tokenism: “They’ve already made up their mind before they consult us.
Reflecting on the situation, I wonder if the key to unlocking the latent potential in both Councils and the communities they represent is Community Organising itself? If so, it would seem imperative:

  • for those residents who are already active in their communities – the true community leaders – to meet with Councillors and learn about the powers and duties of their local Council; and perhaps even consider standing for election;
  • for existing Town and Parish Councillors to be trained in community organising techniques – to learn how to become active listeners, to engage their communities, develop networks, and encourage strong participatory democracy.

As a Town Councillor myself, I try to fully integrate community organising into my role; attempting to realise our forebears’ ideal solution for the support and mutual co-organisation of Glastonbury’s community.  My next blog will explore some of the outcomes of this approach.

First accounts opened with ‘Last Bank Standing’

When all the High Street Banks deserted Glastonbury, our amazing community got organised and campaigned against the closures; calling for one branch to remain – a ‘Last Bank Standing’.

That call, and all the hard work that went into the flash mobs, petitions, publicity, and protests has been answered.

As Mayor of Glastonbury, I am absolutely delighted to join Deputy Mayor Emma George in opening the founding current accounts with Nationwide’s new Glastonbury branch.

Phil Goodridge-Reynolds [centre], the new Nationwide branch manager, helps Glastonbury Mayor Jon Cousins and Deputy Mayor Emma George open the first current accounts in the run up to the branch opening.
The Nationwide recently posted: “When the people of Glastonbury asked for a bank, it was a building society that answered and we’re looking forward to opening our new branch in the summer.”

Our new Glastonbury Nationwide will be located at 3 High Street, and work has now begun on designing your branch, which is expected to open by this summer.”

Leading the new Grade II listed Glastonbury branch is Phil Goodridge-Reynolds, branch manager and his newly recruited Customer Representatives; Rachael Butt, Adam Leitch and Sonia Love, who are now ready to accept new customers.

If you’d like to open a current account, you can do so online HERE
You can also book an appointment in Glastonbury Town Hall.
Just call 0800 554 1590 (Monday – Friday 9.30 am – 5 pm, or Saturday 9 am – 3 pm).

Nationwide are also offering Glastonbury residents the chance to share £200 when they recommend one of Nationwide’s current accounts to a friend!  For more information click HERE

Nationwide Comes To Glastonbury!

The Nationwide Building Society announces it is opening a new branch in Glastonbury!

Following the Glastonbury community’s high profile Last Bank Standing Campaign earlier this year, the Nationwide Building Society has spent the last three months exploring the viability of opening a new branch in the town – consulting with various stakeholders, holding an on-line poll, and taking part in the Neighbourhood Plan consultation event on 14th and 15th October in the Town Hall.

On 18th November, the Nationwide issued the following statement:

Thank you to the whole Glastonbury community and those who have joined in showing their support for us coming to the town. We’re delighted to announce that Nationwide Building Society will be opening a branch in the heart of Glastonbury next summer with the location to be agreed early next year.

We’ll work closely with the local community to make sure your branch understands the services and facilities that you need. Above all, we want to provide a branch that works for the community and that will lead to local people actively using the service and opening accounts.

There will be lots of opportunity for the town to influence and help shape the branch over the coming months and you’ll be instrumental in its future and success.”

To find out more – visit the Nationwide’s website HERE.

‘Hi-tech banking comes to town’ front page of the Central Somerset Gazette, 24th November 2016.
‘Hi-tech banking comes to town’ front page of the Central Somerset Gazette, 24th November 2016.
‘High-tech service to plug banking gap’ from Central Somerset Gazette, 24th November 2016.
‘High-tech service to plug banking gap’ from Central Somerset Gazette, 24th November 2016.


Our Town – Our Community – Our Plan

The Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan’s first consultation event happened over two days – Friday 14th October (from 6 pm to 9 pm) and Saturday 15th October (from 9.30 am to 2 pm).

Crowds of people attend the consultation [photograph by Kevin Redpath].
Residents, retailers, and business owners were invited to visit an exhibition at Glastonbury Town Hall, and share their thoughts on Glastonbury’s future development – including St. Dunstan’s House (a Grade II listed building next to the Town Hall, recently bought by the Town Council).

People are invited to write their ideas on the walls of St. Dunstan’s House [photograph by Kevin Redpath].
People are invited to write their ideas on the walls of St. Dunstan’s House [photograph by Kevin Redpath].
In addition to the main consultation, the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group invited a team from the Nationwide to join the event, as part of the Building Society’s own consultation on whether or not to opening a new branch to Glastonbury.

‘Nationwide to attend consultation’ from the Central Somerset Gazette, 6th October 2016.
‘Nationwide to attend consultation’ from the Central Somerset Gazette, 6th October 2016.
Nationwide Building Society staff engage with the community.
Nationwide Building Society staff engage with the community.

With over five hundred people from Glastonbury and outlying villages attending, the consultation was a deemed a great success.  Glastonbury’s Neighbourhood Planning officer, Gerard Tucker said, “The response was fantastic and our pin-boards – and the white walls of St Dunstan’s House – were filled with creative suggestions about our environment, housing, recreational and green spaces.

Neighbourhood Plan officer, Gerard Tucker showing residents the District Council Local Plan development maps.
Neighbourhood Plan officer, Gerard Tucker showing residents the District Council Local Plan development maps [photograph by Kevin Redpath].
The Steering Committee is extremely grateful to everyone who took time out to visit the exhibition. We’d also like to thank our Town Crier David Greenway who did such a sterling job in encouraging people to visit and Mary Parker and her team who provided the refreshments. The Post It notes are being collated and they will help to shape the development of the Neighbourhood Plan.”

Some of the 1,000+ post-it notes collected during the consultation event [photograph by Kevin Redpath].
Some of the 1,000+ post-it notes collected during the consultation event [photograph by Kevin Redpath].

Would you welcome new branch?

On 21st September, I had a very unusual experience – I received a telephone call from a building society!  …Perhaps that doesn’t sound too unusual, after all, many of us have received marketing cold-calls from one financial institution or another, asking if we’d like to change account; take out a loan.  However, this call was completely different…

Hello Mr Cousins, do you think Glastonbury’s community would welcome the opening of a new Nationwide Building Society branch in the town?

The caller was Alan Oliver – Head of External Affairs at Nationwide.  He told me that the Nationwide had been really impressed by the Last Bank Standing campaign (our community’s response to all the banks closing in town).

Unlike other banks,” he contined, “we are investing £500million into opening new branches – and we’d like to consult over the next month to see if there is an appetite in the town. What do you think?…

Well, I thought: Yes!

And that is exactly what the Nationwide are going to do.

‘We’ll open in town if you’ll use us’ from the Central Somerset Gazette, 29th September 2016
‘We’ll open in town if you’ll use us’ from the Central Somerset Gazette, 29th September 2016

So – the question is would you welcome the opening of a new Nationwide Building Society branch in Glastonbury?  They are holding an on-line poll HERE.  Why not let them know?


Here’s what Move Your Money UK has to say:
Nationwide is the largest building society in the world, and commands an impressive branch network that rivals even the Big 5 banks. It has an excellent track record in contributing to the real economy and in ethical lending, partly thanks to its strict code of human rights standards on its supply chain.

What’s more, Nationwide shows that better banking can also provide great returns, with its impressive FlexDirect current account offering 5% AER on balances up to £2,500 for the first year – far higher than even most savings accounts. You can also share £200 when you recommend a friend who uses the switch service to move to Nationwide. [correct as of 01/09/15].

Nationwide also takes a responsible approach to lending, with mortgage arrears rates less than two fifths of the industry average by March 2013. With basic bank accounts open to people on a low income, and savings accounts available from only £1 investment, moving your money to Nationwide is a great way of gaining a first-rate service whilst also supporting the society that we all share.

Move Your Money UK – a national campaign for a banking system that helps to build and support a just and sustainable society.

‘Nationwide building society could open branch in Glastonbury after Lloyds, Barclays, and HSBC shut’ from Somerset Live, 28th September 2016.
‘Nationwide building society could open branch in Glastonbury after Lloyds, Barclays, and HSBC shut’ from Somerset Live, 28th September 2016.

Neighbourhood Plan Website Launched

Glastonbury Town Council has launched a new website to promote engagement with our residents, retailers, and business owners on how our town will continue to develop and grow.

Glastonbury’s new Neighbourhood Plan Website
Glastonbury’s new Neighbourhood Plan Website

The website is part of the community engagement strategy developed by the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee; Glastonbury’s new Neighbourhood Planning Officer, Gerard Tucker explains: “Put simply, the Neighbourhood Plan is a community-led framework for guiding the future development of Glastonbury; Glastonbury Town Council and in particular the Neighbourhood Planning Steering Group is expected to provide a robust and thorough consultation exercise. Yet there is one missing ingredient – YOU!  We really do need your help, so please get involved when asked for your thoughts either at consultation events or questionnaires.

Our ambition is to research the plan during the remainder of 2016, assess the responses and engage again with residents in early 2017, before writing the plan for presentation to Mendip District Council and an independent examiner. If all goes well, we hope to provide an opportunity for residents to vote at a referendum in early 2018.”

To see Glastonbury’s new Neighbourhood Plan Website for yourself, please click HERE.