Our Communities and Strategic team leads, Gemma and Katharine, kicked off this week in Milton Keynes as they attended the National Association of Local Councils’ (NALC) Annual Conference for the first time.
For those of you that don’t know, NALC represents over 10,000 community, neighbourhood, town and parish councils who were established in 1894 by Gladstone and are now made up of over 100,000 councillors. Often disparagingly referred to as the lowest tier of government it is in reality the first tier of government, driven by people prepared to dedicate extraordinary amounts of time to fighting for and enhancing their communities, the residents of which they are frequently on first name terms with. When it comes to the issues they are grappling with these are enormously varied, from climate change to health and wellbeing, housing and connectivity.
The conference was an opportunity for local councillors to get together and network, sharing their knowledge and experiences from across the country.
So, what did we learn? Beware the stereotype. When it comes to diversity of councillors, there is very little difference between the average councillor at a District & Borough / unitary / county level and the average parish / town councillor for example. The average age of a parish councillor is actually only 61, compared to 59 across counties, unitaries, districts & boroughs. The male to female ratio meanwhile is 60:40; it’s 63:36 across counties, unitaries, districts & boroughs.
We learnt how the network of Cooperative Councils is tackling austerity through New Municipalism – community wealth building in Stevenage and how Woughton Community Council are spending to save are but two examples.
We also heard about the challenges around loneliness and isolation with a lack of transport connectivity being a major factor for rural communities in particular, but also heard inspiring stories of people coming together to tackle this through initiatives such as the Rural Coffee Caravan and Meetup Mondays.
There was also strong debate around strengthening rural communities and increasing affordability of housing so as to attract new, younger residents while protecting a place’s rural feel and character.
We were humbled by some of the stories we heard over the course of the two days and strongly encourage everyone involved in local communities whether that be as housebuilders, transport operators, or service providers to work closer with parish and town councils. Indeed, their work should be lauded, celebrated, recognised, appreciated and valued by us all.