A strong community has two crucial ingredients; pride in itself and aspiration for the future. As our industries declined over the past forty years it did not only impact on the income and employment of our residents, it changed the character of our community.
The working-class aspiration and civic pride which once characterised us began to ebb. We lost the shared values which bound us together, and stopped believing in ourselves and what we could achieve. This was made worse by the cruel neoliberalism first introduced by Thatcher in the 1980s and followed by each Government – to varying extents – ever since.
This focus on free markets, economic competition at all costs, and the stripping of public support and planning has changed the way we think about social challenges. To many the unemployed, the homeless, the sick, or the ‘just about managing’ are not worthy of our support, they are irresponsible, lazy or just unlucky.
It is no wonder, in this context, that honest people who struggle, for any number of understandable reasons, have been stripped of their sense of value and worth. Where once success was seen as being a part of an inclusive community, now it is seen by many as being above the community. Any positive change we achieve in Barking and Dagenham will not be sustained if we do not also harness our enormous growth potential to build a new sense of aspiration, pride, and self-worth in ourselves and our community.
Civic Pride is an understanding of the values within the community. It is pride; in our history, our heritage and our shared achievements – and it is social responsibility; towards our friends, family, neighbours and environment. Civic pride is the shared value which binds us together as one community.
We want everyone who lives or works here to share our pride in the place and our people, and to demonstrate this in how we treat one another. In practice, civic pride means doing your bit. It means saying ‘hello’ to your neighbour in the morning, being welcoming and polite to those around you. It means not dropping litter or vandalising the environment, being rude or intimidating. It means treasuring and maintaining the community. It means reporting any wrongdoing you see, and speaking up if you are worried about your friend, co-worker or neighbour.
As a child, if I littered a passer-by would not hesitate to tell me to pick it up, or worse, threaten to tell my Mum. If we noticed Mrs Jones down the road had not picked up her milk in the morning, we would knock and check she was okay. If we did not trim our front hedges we knew our neighbours would mention it in passing, probably after a good gossip.
This social responsibility – these common standards – may seem small or insignificant to some, but they are the values which bind us together and which strengthen the community. They make the Borough clean and pleasant, which in turn make us feel safe and welcome.
Nostalgia will not bring back the Barking and Dagenham of the 1970s, nor would I want to return to days gone by. Our community has huge potential, and our ever-quickening diversity makes us stronger each year. We desperately need to rebuild civic pride.
Littering, vandalism, fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour and intimidation are widespread problems. Less than half of our residents feel safe in the community at night, and 93 per cent of them support greater enforcement against anti-social behaviour. These are interconnected and self-sustaining problems. The less clean and pleasant a neighbourhood is, the less safe we feel travelling through it. Additionally, the less safe an area feels, the less likely we are to actively engage with its community.
Civic pride is about breaking and reversing this cycle, it is about reinforcing a feeling of belonging and affection for the community through positive action. With over 50,000 homes and over 20,000 new skilled jobs coming to the Borough in the next twenty years, and our population growing and diversifying each year, we need to harness this potential to build a new sense of pride in ourselves and our community.
Pride embodies every piece of work we undertake.
First, we must strike a new deal with the community. We call this our Good Neighbour Guide. It will set out what is expected of us as a Council, and of each resident of the Borough. It will establish the common standards which will keep our Borough clean, safe and welcoming.
For the Council, this means honouring our residents’ council tax contributions by maintaining our services to the highest of standards. In the short term, we must get the basics right. If we want residents to maintain the local environment, our refuse, recycling and maintenance services must be able to set the standard of how clean our Borough should be.
For residents, our new contract will give everyone a stake in the community. With this comes responsibility – a responsibility to maintain their homes and gardens, to respect the environment, to be polite, friendly and welcoming to others, to support those in need and engage with the community, to challenge and report wrongdoing wherever it occurs, and to understand, share and celebrate our proud history.
Civic pride can only be fostered from within. It cannot be imposed by the state. That is why we are working with Participatory City to establish Every One Every Day, an initiative which will facilitate hundreds of community projects across Barking and Dagenham.
Every One Every Day has attracted significant funding into the borough to help co-produce and sustain these projects, aiming to improve health and well being, resilience and civic pride across the community as a result of efforts of the community itself. This is another example of the council using its role as facilitator to empower residents.
We must all take it upon ourselves to do our bit and respect our community. I know that however hard we try, there will always be a small minority who will let everybody else down; who continue to behave unacceptably. For this reason, we have established our new Enforcement Service, which will make sure action is taken against anyone who continues to behave anti-socially or degrade the Borough.
The post-Thatcher era has been marked by growth in the interests of the few not the many, and austerity has held our community in a perpetual state of dependence, simultaneously denying us opportunity and holding us back. If we are going to turn the tide on decades of deprivation and dependence, we must foster a new sense of working-class aspiration.
This starts by equipping every resident, young or old, with the education and skills they need to compete and succeed in our global economy. As we start to understand the potential impact of automation and artificial intelligence, it is all-the-more important to ensure we have the right skills for the jobs of tomorrow.
Ninety-two per cent of our Borough’s schools are now rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, and Coventry University – the ‘most modern university of the year’ – moved into the Dagenham Civic Centre in October 2017, but our mission has just begun.
We will work in partnership with educators and employers to ensure Barking and Dagenham residents have access to the learning necessary to undertake skilled jobs in the Borough and across the region.
We will empower the community by handing back power and responsibility to those most able to use it. For example, Crowdfund Barking & Dagenham – the Borough’s very own crowdfunding platform – harnesses the resources and wisdom of the community itself to support valued local projects, bringing benefits directly to the Borough, and to those involved in the projects themselves. The Council will use its own resources, through our corresponding match-funding pot, to amplify the strength of the community, and further foster our aspiration.
Growth and productivity have no inherent regard for the character of our community. We must work to enable aspiration by ensuring our growth regenerates not only our buildings and infrastructure, but also our culture. We want to help the community find its voice again.
That is why we are undertaking projects such as A House for Artists – backed by Grayson Perry – which will offer accommodation complete with studios, in the heart of the Borough, at around two-thirds market rent, but with an obligation to run artistic projects in the on-site community centre.
This will be an exciting space where local artists and the community can come together to create art and express themselves, and is just one example of how our growth potential will fuel our aspiration and culture as well as our infrastructure.
Pride and aspiration are also to be found in our shared history, heritage and culture. In 2015, we marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Borough with a programme of free community events, which brought us all together to share, laugh and learn.
Last year we ran a Summer of Festival programme, with over a dozen free events around the Borough, which proved even more popular.
Since 2015 over 100,000 people have attended these events, and over 90 per cent of residents want to see more community events in the future and so do we. Our programme for 2017 is bigger than ever.
Many councils run community events, but for Barking and Dagenham they are a tried and tested way of strengthening the community, and of building a new sense of pride and aspiration.
By coming together, celebrating our history, heritage and culture – and by having fun – we remember that we are one Borough, one community, united in our strength and potential.
Through projects such as Every One Every Day, Crowdfund Barking and Dagenham, and our Summer of Festivals programme, we are enabling residents to participate more actively in the community. In what other ways can we build a more participative democracy?
Civic pride is important but, in some ways, intangible. How can we ensure it remains prominent in the practical policy of the council and our partners?
How will our culture change with the huge growth we are expecting over the next 20 years?