Our Communities: a blog by Jane Darling FHCLP Secretary
If you were to read the new free publication, “Folkestone Foghorn”, summer edition, you would, justifiably, get the impression that Folkestone is a thriving town with loads of good, creative stuff going on, from a stunning, shiny skatepark and indoor climbing centre to the Hythe based project “Hythe Hops”, a community of growers who grow hops in their back gardens or on their allotments, for local brewers to turn into great local brews.
Folkestone is being transformed by gentrification and the arrival of artists and other creatives coming to the town to enjoy its beautiful landscape of gardens, handsome architecture, and the creative vibe of the creative Quarter. Large property development projects on key sites are springing up, like the expensive beach side apartments which will attract buyers from out of Folkestone. This is good for Folkestone, creating jobs in the hospitality industry and bringing people with money to spend into the area.
Like the editor of the Foghorn, I love living down here, but I can see that there is another side to Folkestone town centre and our other high streets and communities – that of deprivation, poverty, run down accommodation, littered streets, and heavily trafficked areas creating high levels of air pollution. Outside the town of Folkestone, the story of inequality is retold in villages and towns across the district. Neatly manicured villages, with their green or cricket pitch, and a few shops to cater for visitors who flock to the tearooms and pubs. Set against this are the towns which are neglected, lacking the investment, the public transport links, the employment and facilities which enhance lives.
Folkestone district reflects the level of inequality of our society in Britain; a level which has risen over the years of a Conservative Government. Since the pandemic, we have become all too aware of the rise of the wealthy and the fall of the least well-off. It feels to many of us that we have returned to the days of the Victorian past – the deserving and undeserving poor.
We haven’t yet got the workhouses, but what we do have is increasing numbers of people who are homeless and reliant on charity.
In fact, without the charities relieving the government of its responsibilities to provide for the basic needs of those who cannot provide for themselves, we would have a higher death toll amongst homeless people. The government has torn the safety net to shreds and we are now all waiting with bated breath to see just how much our public services, already decimated by austerity cuts since 2010, are going to be further cut back.
Community groups, churches and charities, with varying support from local government, also strapped for cash due to government cutbacks, are working hard to fill the chasms in provision for those in our communities who have “fallen on hard times” for all sorts of reasons.
We all know about the energy crisis, the Cost of Living crisis, the war in Ukraine crisis, the interest rate crisis which are affecting our lives and causing a great deal of stress for many families who cannot see how that are going to survive the coming winter.
The government continues to blame the paucity of provision, the growing number of people waiting for operations, the lack of dentists, doctors, teachers, mental health workers, (the list could go on), on the pandemic or on the global downturn or on Vladimir Putin. They fail to hold their own policies, designed to “shrink the state”, for the situation. Public Services have been fracturing since the Tory Government came to power in 2010, and now they are broken.
By virtue of the government’s decimation of public services, the neo-liberal ideology of not telling people what they should eat, scrapping programmes designed to reduce obesity levels and not being a “nanny state”, it becomes clear that the Tories are content to see more and more people become disabled instead of being enabled to become productive members of society at huge cost to our public services and our ability to grow the economy
It is difficult, in this chaotic and callous climate, not to despair, to feel powerless to do anything useful and to feel full of an anger which eats away at the positive energy we all have. The way ahead is clear. WE, in Folkestone and Hythe can make sure (to borrow one of Liz Truss’s favourite phrases) that we do not waste this crisis, but that we come together as a community of Labour members to work with people, in our neighbourhoods, with Charities and with our councils towards change. Community action can do so much to enable people to solve problems, to address injustice, to create the social capital to make our community, whether it is Folkestone town or an outlying village, a more cohesive, collaborative and connected community.
There are so many examples all over the country to draw inspiration from. To bring about change is a challenge but can bring with it the rewards of a sense of agency or of taking a degree of control, connection with others and the feeling of “making a difference” to the lives of others.
What is Labour doing locally in Folkestone & Hythe District?
Labour wants a better future for the people living in our communities. A Fairer, Greener Future for ALL and for future generations. We want to win the District Council in order to start making the changes needed to involve the people of the district in the building of their own futures. We can all do something to make a contribution. Here are just a few examples of Labour in action locally…
- Labour is voicing our concerns about the nature, size and nature of some of the property developments in Folkestone district – particularly in the council’s failure to deliver on their annual target. of social housing provision and council housing. FHDC has just put out a public consultation on Planning. Labour will be putting forward a contribution centring around the need for greater democracy in council proceedings.
- It was our Labour councillors who put forward a motion to the District Council to hold a Cost of Living Summit. The Council held a summit to which community group, churches and charities were invited to share information about what they do. The Council is currently considering next steps. We are keen to know what these will be. In the meantime we are aware of two more possible COL crisis meetings, on of which the public are to be invited to. We will put details in our Newsletter and on social media, as and when arrangements are firmed up.
- Labour Councillors were involved in the planning, fund-raising and setting up of the Community Fridge in Wood Avenue Library. A number of our councillors and members volunteer for community organisations such as Rainbow, working in the Winter Shelter or Food Banks. Others have volunteered to work at the newly launched Hythe Food Pantry.
- Members and councillors are also involved with projects which are hosted at Sunflower House in Foord Road, such as providing lunches several times a week for Homeless people and for those who run out of the means to eat; running and helping at the Friday morning Drop-in, the Folkestone Repairs Together sessions and the Folkestone Performing Arts Centre.
- Labour members and councillors are joining picket lines to show our support for striking CWU. RMT and ASLEF workers in their fight for decent working conditions, secure jobs and decent pay.
We will be using our forthcoming All Members Meetings to continue exploring what we can do to help in our communities. Our meeting in November is our Annual General Meeting. We are hoping to have a good turnout of people who are willing to join the Executive Committee. All posts will be up for election. We are also having a discussion on housing, an issue which our councillors, through their casework, have found to be most pressing.
Please join us and get involved. Every small action joins up with others to make significant change.
Jane Darling (13/10/22)
The Local Government Association on Communities in Action
Why is community action important?
Community action is about putting communities at the heart of their own local services. Involving communities in the design and delivery of services can help to achieve a number of objectives, including:
- Building community and social capacity – helping the community to share knowledge, skills and ideas.
- Community resilience – helping the community to support itself.
- Prevention – a focus on early access to services or support, engagement in design, cross-sector collaboration and partnerships.
- Maintaining and creating wealth – for example helping people into employment or developing community enterprises.
The types of activity can include:
- Asset transfer (either through formal transfer to bodies such as parish councils or community interest companies, or transfer of their management to local community and voluntary groups).
- Making better use of physical resources, such as council-owned buildings, to support community-led activities.
- Community engagement in decision-making (for example through public engagement events where the community helps to decide local priorities, co-design or co-commission services).
- Community networks
- Community grants