As part of the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP), Wexford Local Development supports representatives from Local Community Groups to participate in local, regional and national decision making bodies. Through engagement in these structures, marginalised communities can articulate the needs of their local areas and the communities which they represent, with a view to influencing the decisions that directly affect them.
Through work with our Community Development Team around the county, the need to develop knowledge and skills for effective participation on these bodies, on which many community leaders are members of, was voiced.
In response to these needs, we engaged the services of Brian Harvey, Social Researcher, who delivered an inspiring full day workshop in Enniscorthy on Tuesday, 12th April, focusing on the benefits of participation and the development of practical skills while providing an insightful overview of new structures, such as the Public Participation Network (PPN) and other advisory structures.
The participants in the workshop came from all over Wexford, from Ramsgrange in the south-west, to Coolgreaney in the north. They also included members of the Travelling community, the Roma community and other new communities. The levels of experience varied; from community reps on the Local Community Development Committee, Joint Policing Committee and Strategic Policy Committees to those who were learning “the system”. All had a common focus on equality and social inclusion and “parity of esteem”.
At the end of the workshop everyone was asked how WLD could further support community activists and a number of practical ideas were put forward, including the provision of relevant, clear information, more networking opportunities for those sitting on local committees, additional learning opportunities and the development of communication skills training for community leaders.
“The value of these workshops is not only in the content and skills development, but also in the alliances formed between community champions from different areas who might not often meet each other outside of a formal meeting” said Marie Louise Byrne, WLD’s Community Development Co-Ordinator. “When community representatives get together they are always so willing to share their experiences and tell others what has worked for them and what hasn’t worked. This leads to collective actions and a collective voice with a mandate that is truly representative of the needs of local communities and can influence positive change in these areas” .
Despite identifying frustrations and challenges, the communities focused on presenting solutions and overall the participants agreed that engaging with decision-making structures was worthwhile and necessary to improve the quality of life for the communities in which they live or work in. The final word was that everyone is looking forward to learning much more and working in partnership with Wexford Local Development in this area over the coming years.