Our officers have been set a challenge: think from the position of someone who deals with the council but doesn’t work for the council.
We think that it’s impossible to work well without understanding the issues people in the county face. A few officers who work for Monmouthshire have imagined they are either Mr or Mrs Jones – fictional people who live in the fictional Wyefail.
This is what they’ve come up with.
First post by Kellie Beirne
My name is Connie Jones, I am 63 years old and I have lived in the same three bed semi on Hilltop Wyefail for more than 25 years. Since my husband Raymond died three years ago, I have lived alone. I have a son called Gareth who is forty two. He lives over the valley since he could never afford to buy a home here in Monmouthshire and his wife Sally’s family are from over that way. My daughter Natalie lives in Australia with her family. She’s a teacher and has a fantastic lifestyle. I love my home because it is where I have raised my family, but it’s too big for me now and I find it difficult to manage by myself – especially the garden which is much too large for me on my own.
I havelived here long enough to see all the changes. This used to be such a lovely area; we were queuing up to live here when the houses were first built, they we’re so modern and the whole estate was set up for families with the play area, little shop and school, just around the corner. It’s not like that anymore. Lots of the people who live here now didn’t choose this place as a home or a community – it was the just the next house that came up on the waiting list. A lot of the people here don’t have permanent work and being stuck up here can be quite isolating you know. Crime has gotten worse and my son installed an alarm for me last year after those thugs broke into my downstairs porch. Didn’t take anything as they got disturbed by the postman, but still, better to be safe than sorry. I don’t get out much now anyway really.
I used to walk to town quite a lot – three or four times a week – but since my knees got worse, I just can’t do it. The bus doesn’t stop here so I can’t take that. Truth be told, I end up taking taxis into town to do the shopping, but that gets so expensive. In the winter months it’s a choice between taxis and heating and with my bones as brittle as they are, it has to be warmth first. My son takes me to the supermarket once a month so I can do a big shop. That’s a great help. I do like a short walk though and love to go down the lane to what we call the view point, but I went the week before last and the benches where all us oldies like to sit had gone! Can you believe it? Just like that. Gone. I rang the council but am still waiting to hear back. I loved those benches and the space they gave me to think and dream.
Hear that siren going past? That’s the second this week. There was a fire last week when the play area was set alight again. I get scared sometimes and whilst I can’t blame the young people for getting bored, I mean, there’s little for them to do stuck up here, I do feel fearful when I have to walk past them in gangs. The little shop closed down years ago and there are no youth clubs or places they can hang around. Doors are slamming next door again and lots of shouting, they do this most nights my new neighbours. I tried to get to know them when they first came but when I asked them was everything all night after one very loud incident at 3am, I got sworn at and told I was a nosey old bag. A few years ago, a few of us got to together to see if we could make things better on the estate by starting a residents group, but people lost heart when others wouldn’t join in and that was that. It’s getting colder now and I dread the long chill of winter days.
My body may be letting me down but my mind certainly isn’t. I love to read and do the Suduko puzzles in the newspaper. When I was a young girl I won a story writing competition and I love to write poetry. My granddaughter Jade has one of those small hand held computers and when she visits with her father she lets me have a go a ‘brain training’. I’m very good. I’d love a computer myself. I think of all the things I could do by ‘getting online’. I could order my shopping and pay my bills, I could even see and talk to my family in Australia if I got a web camera. Can you believe it? It would be like being in the same room as them! My Raymond would never have believed it. I could occupy myself for hours with a computer. I got a leaflet through the door once saying they do something called ‘silver surfers’ at the library in town. If you forgive the patronising term it sounds like fun. But, I can’t get there anymore to pick up my beloved books so there’s no chance of me getting connected is there?
But do you know what? Betty’s son took us for lunch a few weeks ago and on the way back he waited in the car while me and Betty popped in to the library. I didn’t get any books though ‘cos I got talking to the nice lady behind the counter. You’ll never guess what she asked me? She asked me what matters to me about what the council does. What did I really want the council to make happen in Wyefail and how could my quality of life be improved? Apparently it’s all part of some new project the council’s doing called your county, your way’. Well, I told her straight. I said, I don’t want a big three bedroom house that’s meant for a family, I want a little flat in a nice community with people my age living close by and I want to move soon because if I wait I’ll be too old and it’ll cost me and the taxpayer a small fortune. I said I don’t want interference or the council poking its nose in, I just want to know that when I want a conversation there’s someone there. I want some help to get online and get to the library because then I could help by befriending others who are worse off than me and reading to them and providing some companionship. I have skills I could use to help others but nobody is asking me.
I also want to see more stuff for the youngsters to do and I want to know that with all these schools being built and everything, there are opportunities for the youngsters with apprenticeships and the like. Just like my Raymond started out. My Jade would like to move this way when she’s older and so I want to know if there’s going to be nice housing she can afford. I bet she wished she never asked me! But she did say ‘your terms’ and I left her in no doubt about what my terms are. If I had known about the benches disappearing I would have told her about that. I bet I never hear anything again about this, but it did seem like she cared and was listening. I wish I could remember her name because she could tell me the right person to speak to about getting those benches back…
Post 2 by John McConnachie
My name is Gareth Jones, I’m 42 and I live just over the valley from Wyefail, it’s in the next county. I visit twice a week though ’cause my Mum still lives there, lived there all her life. She’ll never move.
I went to see her last night and she was telling me all about this project the council are doing, going round asking people “what matters?”. I’d tell them if they asked me! What matters to my mum matters to me, simple as innit. I’d still live there if I could afford it. What I been thinking about is this: it’s the people in the community who should be designing the way it works. Community engagement they call it. So they have their meetings, in their suits and ties, in their offices and they decide if they want to help my mum or me or anyone else. They need to know how to do it first. I know loads of people out there who could help, people who are interested. They wouldn’t be interested in joining a committee though. A project board, a group, a consortium, a collaborative. Find out what the big issues are first by getting out there to the people who face those issues.
My mum was ok until she ended up on her own, isolated. So go and find out what it is that makes her isolated? It might be the chat, the physical isolation of not being able to get out. Or it might be isolation just because she doesn’t know what going on. Why things have changed, are changing. She know all about the issues, the unemployment, the behaviour going on. Why did I have to go and install her alarm? Why didn’t the Wyefail people know? She was on her own, vulnerable.
Don’t you people talk to each other? So it think its time you got out there and found out that there are so me nay people who can help you do better things. But don’t invite them to a meeting. Find out how you can get to them and meet them on their turf, their terms, their place. Learn to listen and understand their language, hopes, dreams and issues. How many different ways can you come up with to do this? That’s a challenge isn’t it? I wonder if you will feel comfortable to connect in this way. Leave your office, your jargon, your committee and get out there on the patch and you will start to find out what you need to do and where.
Maybe start by putting that bench back and put a message on it telling people you’re coming to listen. And then turn up when you say you will and put the messages in the places where the people will see them. The places where people are interested in, not your office. Put them in the pubs, the cafes, the streets you don’t like driving down, the chemist, the butchers, the 8 til 8, the class. And then you need a plan to visit those places, those people. And each one will be unique so you will need to be too. I might come along. I got a lot of ideas about making this place better even though I’ve moved.
My heart is here, it’s still my place, always will be.
Post 3 by Ben Winstanley
I’ve been seeing a lot of vans driving around advertising free solar panels and “free electricity” on the side. They could probably help me with my electricity bills but I’m not too sure whether I’ll get ripped off I’m just a little old lady! So I thought I’ll ring the council to see if they can help me; I got through to a nice young chap. He went on to say that the way it works is that a company comes around and straps some solar panels to your roof, in return for allowing them to put them there I get to keep the electricity! Where do they make all their money I asked? (I am always sceptical of a free lunch!)
He said that the government and electricity companies pay the people that put them on the roof for generating the electricity and that it was as good a deal as it looks! He did say to be careful of some firms though as they were doing a shoddy job, but in most cases it’s in their interest to do a good job. I said how long will I have to sign up for? He said it depends on the company but usually it is for the length of the feed in tariff (the money that the company will get for generating electricity) which was 25 years, however he thought in most cases that they could be bought out early if I moved (or won the lottery).
Will the free electricity be all the time? No only when the sun is shining, so it will generate more during the summer months when the sun is stronger and the days are longer, there are less clouds et cetera et cetera however during the winter it will still produce some electricity. Do I need planning permission? Well as you are not in a conservation area erecting the solar panels is classed as permitted development by the planners but it is always best to check with them if you are unsure. If you did live in a conservation area (which is a historically sensitive area which needs to be protected) then you would have the game planning permission so that the modern feel of the panels does not ruin the feel of the conservation area.
The chap said that without being cheeky he wondered if I had some savings tucked away, I said thank you very much but that is none of your business!!!!! He apologised and said no I only ask because these panels can be bought from companies to be put on your own roof. Once installed they would probably pay back in about 9 to 15 years depending on what angle roof I had and whether it was facing south. The government is currently changing the tariff because it was a bit too popular! We should know in the next couple of months what it will be from April 1 2012 onwards, it appears that the suppliers of the panels were making a bit too much money, typical!
Will it affect my house? Yes it can do which is why you need to choose installer very carefully. A bad installation could damage the roof and let water in through the tiles as well as mess up the electrics! It was nice to speak to council about this because I do feel exposed to sales people from companies knocking on my door and feeding me lies! After my chat I felt like I could trust the council and he had no reason to lie to me! I asked him if the council that any of the solar panels on their roots he said yes we have put them on schools and leisure centres as they use a lot of electricity during the day, that may be even more comfortable.
So do they really work? Yes he said depending on what the feed in tariff is set for next year the council intends to carry on installing the panels on a lot more roofs; hopefully! I went straight round to Ethel in number 24 for a cup of tea and told her all about the solar panels and that nice man at the council.
Post 4 by Gill Cox
My friend Betty’s son took us both to the library again yesterday. I wanted to get a good book to read instead of just chatting this time. The nice lady was there again working behind the counter. I couldn’t believe it when she said she remembered talking to me a couple of weeks ago and that she’d made sure that everything I’d said had been written down and been sent off as part of this big project that the council are doing asking people “what matters to them”. I never thought they would take any notice of me. I thought they would just be wishing they hadn’t asked me!
Anyway I got a book this time and when we were on our way out Betty pointed to this poster on the wall where the council were advertising for foster carers. Apparently Betty’s son and his wife have just had a visit from the fostering team because they wanted to find out if they could become foster carers. Betty’s really excited about it – she loves all her grandchildren and now she says she might be able to have some more.
Betty was telling me all about the visit they had. They’ve been asked to go on a course in a few weeks where they’ll learn all about fostering – what the children are like and be able to meet people who are already foster carers. Then they have to decide if they want to carry on and if they do they will have to go through a big assessment. The whole thing can take up to six months. I was really surprised at that because that sounds like a very long time to me.
Betty said they have to understand everything about the family to make sure they are the right sort of people to be able to cope. Lots of the children have had an awful time in their own families and so they can be quite difficult to cope with. Even Betty’s got to be interviewed as part of it because she wants to be able to help out. When you think it through you can see why it might take so long to do that big assessment. They’ve got to get the right sort of people haven’t they? I can think of some of my friends who I love dearly who did a good job of raising their children but you would never imagine them as foster carers.
Betty was telling me about all the support they get if they become a foster carer. I thought that you would just have the children to come and live with you and then you would basically get on with it yourself. But it’s not like that at all. If you become a foster carer you get your own Social Worker to support you. The children who stay with you have a different Social Worker. The council give you allowances so that you can afford to look after the children properly and then you have lots of training. There’s a support group run by the fostering team and one that’s run by the foster carers. Apparently they had a brilliant Christmas party that was all organised by the foster carers – it sounded like all the children had a brilliant time. They’ve even got a website that all the foster carers can go on to talk to each other on – it’s a bit like that Facebook thing that my Jade goes on all the time.
It all made me think. I wish me and my Raymond had gone in for fostering a few years ago. We did talk about it a few times. I don’t know why but there was always a reason for us to wait a while longer and so we never got around to doing anything about it. But I’ve got those empty bedrooms and I always loved being at home when Gareth and Natalie were little. I don’t know why but it was always our house that all their friends ended up coming to. I loved having a full house and I still miss that now. Betty said they’ve got foster carers of all ages but I couldn’t do it now.
My knees mean I can’t even walk down into town anymore never mind run around with little children. It must be brilliant to know you’ve made a difference for a child and see them growing up and doing well. I’m so proud of my Gareth and Natalie. I think we did a pretty good job of bringing them up. Maybe I’ll mention fostering to Gareth and Sally. They might have a think about it – even if it’s in a few years’ time when the children move out. Betty and me could both have a few more grandchildren to spoil then!