Agenda item

Community Forums

Minutes:

The Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities set out the background to the report and described how community forums had evolved over the past twenty years. She introduced the three guests to the meeting, from the Thurrock Association of Forums (TAF).

The Chair of TAF introduced himself and states that he was the Chair of both Horndon Community Forum and TAF and felt that community forums provided a go-between for residents and the Council. He stated that community forums constantly examined themselves and how communication could be improved with both residents and the council, particularly during the difficult times of the pandemic. He stated that forums were currently not working as closely with the council due to COVID-19, but instead were working very closely with residents. He explained that TAF were currently trying to reactivate 2-3 deactivated forums, to get back to the original number of 20 forums across Thurrock. He added that there were also two non-active forums in Grays, both Grays Central and Grays Riverside, and two fragile forums which TAF were working to try to maintain during the pandemic.

The Vice-Chair of TAF introduced himself and stated that the role of forums had evolved since the early 2000s and were now quasi-parish councils, but with no legal status, as they helped collect resident’s views on issues and convey these to the council via Ward Councillors. He felt community forums had a good working relationship with their ward councillors, particularly his forum of Chadwell St Mary which worked closely with their three elected members. He thanked the Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities and her team for their hard work and he felt they were very active and helpful, but added that he felt there was some reluctance amongst other council directorates to engage fully with forums. He stated that TAF and other community forums worked closely with other organisations such as CVS, and through their good work had provided the impetus for projects such as the Chadwell St Mary community hub, which had been very successful up until the advent of COVID. He added that as the role of forums had changed over the years, and TAF had been formed, they were now in a better position to make representations to the council and they could negotiate on issues that affected all forums, such as the LTC and Community Infrastructure Levy.

The Secretary of TAF stated that although community forums were experiencing difficult times due to COVID-19, they were still helping CVS support vulnerable people across the borough, and were using email and social media to stay in touch with their local communities. She thanked the hard work of the community development and equalities team, particularly the Strategic Lead and Lynn Gittins. She added that community forums had good working relationships with elected members and other organisations such as CVS, and also had access to good insurance through the Council. She summarised and stated that she felt that some directorates did not realise how to utilise community forums to their full extent.

The Chair thanked the members of TAF for attending the meeting and providing their views and asked how the Council could help and support community forums. The Chair of TAF responded and stated that the Council currently paid for community forums insurance as well as administration money, but this had been cut over the years, and felt that forums could always do with additional funding. He thanked the Community Development and Equalities team for their hard work and felt that any barriers could be overcome. The Vice-Chair of TAF agreed with the statements made by the Chair of TAF.

Councillor Rice added that the Chadwell St Mary forum had worked very hard in the fight against the LTC and informing residents what was happening, and the Council should continue to ensure all administration money continued to be paid. Councillor Ralph questioned the average turnout for forums and asked how Councillors could help in generating more interest. The Chair of TAF responded that the attendance of forums varied from 2-3 people to 40/50/60 people if an important topic was being discussed. He stated that it was difficult to interest people to standard meetings and persuade all Thurrock residents to join forums. He added that the community supported forums in many different ways, not just through physical attendance at meetings. Councillor Ralph asked how forums and the Council could spark interest in younger generations, and asked if there was a possibility of holding specialised events post-COVID, such as Christmas and summer fetes. The Chair of TAF responded that there was interest in community forums amongst younger people, particularly young parents, but they found it difficult to attend meetings due to work and childcare constraints. Councillor Ralph questioned whether meetings could be livestreamed to include younger people. The Chair of TAF responded that this was something TAF and other community forums were currently looking into. The Secretary of TAF added that although younger people did not attend meetings, they were active in forums in other ways, such as on social media. She added that in some smaller communities it was easier to establish forums, and that different areas had different issues which affected attendance.

Councillor Duffin thanked forums for their hard work, and thanked those residents who engaged with community forums and the Council. He suggested that the Committee recommend an annual meeting between TAF, Members and senior officers to improve feedback, as he felt this would be beneficial to both parties. The Chair of TAF stated that they met roughly 4-5 times per year and certain council officers were invited to these meetings, but other senior officers and members were always welcome to attend.

The Chair summarised and stated that this report would be the start of an ongoing conversation and process into the relationship between community forums and the Council, which would focus on funding, communications with council departments, and community outreach to residents. The Strategic Lead Community Development and Equalities added that the Collaborative Communities Framework would be a good way to incorporate these ideas and conversations, and the detail of this would be discussed at the next TAF meeting. The Chair thanked all community forums and the meeting attendees for their hard work and help within the community.

RESOLVED: That:

The Committee:

1. The report is provided as background information to Community Forums.

Supporting documents: