Greenhead Park Regeneration: Family, Fun & Concerts 2012

One of my continuing enjoyments over the last couple of years has been visiting Greenhead Park, Huddersfield. Its restoration has been terrefic. My first post about the park was a couple of years back, when the main restoration was nearly complete. For the last year or so I have walked through it on my way to the office, and in a short flirtation with foursquare was briefly, dare I say proudly, Mayor! I’ve now dropped foursquare, but not the park.

We regularly visit as a family, making full use of the tennis courts and spaces for football and basketball. We often take the bikes and scooters, so the children can race around. I take the young lad up on a Sunday morning even when its raining, to get a bit of extra football practice in. Most recently I have taken part in the Huddersfield Park Run, a 5km Saturday morning run around the park – wonderfully organised by volunteers with an overall very friendly and vibrant atmosphere.

Just the other week, Mumford & Sons performed there. Now, I’m going to hold my hands up and say I am not a big fan of theirs. But then, that’s just musical preference. It doesn’t take away from the fact that a good couple of thousand people had a really cracking time, by all accounts. I might also add however that, even had it been a band I liked, the ticket prices I did not!

What I did like is the brilliant Concerts in the Park 2012, whole weekend of free music performances and entertainment that was staged by Kirklees Council. If you missed it, then you missed out. We managed to attend two out of the three days.

Friday evening was an Abba and BeeGees tribute night. It was wet. Very. But it clearly didn’t dampen the spirits of those that endured the rain and mud; certainly not ours. It also wouldn’t be a proper trip to the park without a go on the swings, regardless of the rain. We didn’t make Saturday nights Proms, and I guess this would be the one where sunshine would have been most appropriate. Classical music and a couple of Pimms would have been lovely. Sunday got the best of the weather and it was fitting for the finale,with Tinchy Stryder completing proceedings. The park was rammed with people and the atmosphere pretty good. We watched this one from afar, up on the hill so the children could see properly.

We had a great family weekend, at a park that has vastly improved since the completion of the restoration work. It has a warmer, friendlier atmosphere all round, whether you’re at a concert, having a stroll, or using the sporting facilities and cafe.

I hope these type of events continue to take place, but more importantly that the full range of facilities continue to be used and enjoyed by families over the coming years. In what are testing times for many families, it is great when there is something right on your doorstep which provides somewhere to go and have fun. I expect there are a cumugeonly few out there whom would disagree with some or all of what I’ve said, and each to their own, but I and my family love it.

Greenhead Park is also pretty much on the Olympic Torch Route, as it passes through Huddersfield on 24 June. Excellent!

Webcasting the net that bit further

Webcasting, once a thing of mystery and in the eyes of many a questionable investment, has become far more widespread over the last few years. This has been down to progressive private sector thinking, by organisations such as Public-i, who grasp the concept of community and political environment and how the two relate to each other.

As a consequence, those local authorities who have taken on webcasting, could in some respects also be classed as progressive councils; they have grasped what this technology means, understanding it’s value. That is, the ability to reach a much wider audience than they could have previously only dreamed about, opening up democracy and providing transparent decision making, to the public they represent and serve.

Eric Pickles at Conservative Party Conference
Image by conservativeparty via Flickr

I’m a big believer in transparency, and webcasting is a tool that allows for displaying such. It was therefore refreshing when Eric Pickles, openly supported this and called for more of it from councils across the country.  What does surprise me is that there are some councils who have pushed against this openness (pre and post Pickles comment).

The technology for webcasting is now long established. I expect if those councils who have webcast for a number of months (if not years) all of a sudden stopped, there would be be some kind of public and local media outcry. Such activity as webcasting gets into peoples psyche, and in this case it manifests into a ‘citizen’s right’ to observe what goes on in the meetings of the electorate; a powerful thing, that kind of mindset! Of course, this is only my opinion.

However, webcasting of council meetings is only a part of the story. In most cases it is no longer innovative; certainly not on it’s own. In some places then, such as Kirklees Council, webcasting is becoming normal practice. So, just what is it that continues to make webcasting a useful tool? Well, I’ve been lucky enough to play a part in it’s implementation, so here’s what I think.

Who does it reach?: Openness and transparency, as stated, is very important. We vote to elect our representatives, and as citizens have a right to see what is going on in those corridors of power. But more than this, it also allows for officers to watch and educate themselves, about the wider debates and reasoning relating to decisions. This can be especially pertinent when their service is one of the hot topics of the night. The idea of a better informed staff, should be embraced by any local authority. Specific encouragement of officers to watch these meetings should therefore undertaken; innovative ways to help staff educate themselves, rather than send them on a political awareness training course (at least use some of the footage from a webcast).

Other media: The introduction of other social media tools is something else that, in places, has been cause of some consternation for some councils. Tweeting during a meeting has been frowned upon, but I find the frowning flawed. I won’t go into a rant about it, but…a mixture of tweets from citizens, officers and councillors, further opens up the transparency and engagement that the ideology of local authorities should be striving to do. A combination of media, in this case “Watching and Tweeting Democracy”, has worked well so far. There is no real reason it should stop, as the dialogue has been respectful and everybody has been very adult about the whole thing! The innovation then is how we can start to use a combination of social media tools, not simply one here and one there; get them in the same place.

Internal communication: This is an important addition to the webcasting of council meetings, a small step in more innovative uses of the tools at our disposal. At no other time has a local authority needed to open up the communication channels with it’s employees, as it does now. A number of Meetings with Directors have taken place, allowing staff to listen to and ask questions of directors. On a couple of occasions, webcasts have been recorded. What this has achieved is the ability to reach a greater number of employees, in effect creating a greater transparency and humanity in communication (rather than the obligatory long email; which actually still has it’s place, of course). The potential savings on conducting some communications in this way, is significant, and necessary and certainly as a taxpayer myself, something I welcome in terms of the council making best use of it’s resources.

In terms of uses for webcasting as a tool, I believe we have barely scratched the surface. The uses outlined above, themselves, all need to be driven and built upon in order for them to generate greater value, and that is possible through a bit of hard work and creative thinking. Where an authority empowers it’s employees to think and make decisions that best serve it’s citizens, engaging citizens in that more and more along the way, there is much that can be achieved.

A new and old Greenhead Park for everybody

Over the last couple of years or so, there has been a massive investment made by Kirklees Council and partners, in the regeneration of Greenhead Park. Me and Lil’Roo went up there yesterday tea-time for a bit of a nosey. Impressed? Yes, very much so.

There is clearly a lot of work still to do, and I am acutely aware there were some quite fervent objections to removal of a number of trees and to the change in location of the play area (I know, because I was the officer facilitating an area committee meeting where we received a presentation). Yet, I think what has been done has been done with respect and integrity.

I love the fact they used a lot of old photographs and ‘memories’ submitted by and collected from people who would have known the park as it used to be ‘back in the day’. So, bearing in mind not everybody is going to pleased with all elements, I think this new ‘old’ park is really good.

I took some photos that I hope capture some of the great renovation work, and how inviting the park now is…far more so than it was previously! Unfortunately, I only had my phone with me, so they’re not the best.

One of the most inviting things, maybe strangely, were the paths. They have all been tarmacked and the smooth even surface gives that great impression of ‘new’. And for bike riding, well Lil’Roo loved that bit!

For me, I love the reinstating of the lake/pond area, which is very pleasant to stroll around. Admittedly, it’s not all that relaxing when your youngest is circling it on her bike; she can swim, but still, be aware! Having a back drop which includes the band stand, really helps set the scene and I imagine that during the summer months (should we get them), there will be much frivolity.

Of course, there is also the play area, or several to be precise, which cater for the very young right through to the older children. Watch out for the zip-wire though, hold on tight,  it’s got a bit of a kick at the end!

Not yet fully restored, but what I expect to be one of the grandest features, is the restored ‘greenhouse’ which is currently having, I think, a sort of visitor centre/cafe extension built onto it.

Anyway, it was a nice couple of hours we spent up there. Can’t wait for the warmer weather!

Just a reason why frontline services in Local Gov should be celebrated!

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Image via Wikipedia

“Facts, facts, and more facts!” A line, if I remember correctly, from the headmaster character in Dickens’s ‘Hard Times’.

Quite the appropriate book, don’t you think, considering the times we find ourselves in. The word austere, has surely never had so much coverage. Appropriate as it may be, the Hard Times reference is merely one of coincidence here.

Facts, though, are facts. Facts are, for the most part boring, in my opinion. There is little creativity in facts, due mostly to the fact they are so inflexible. Fact! (Cue, the fact busters…but you know what I’m getting at)

It is facts that are the most fundamental principle on which we should make decisions. Not being in possession of all the facts can lead us to…can only lead us to…making incorrect decisions. This cannot be good when it comes to local authorities making decisions on how they direct resources to address specific problems – large or small.

So look, I’ll get to the point. A true story, that inspired this blog, will highlight this very fact. But, I want it to beknown from the outset this is about the value that dedicated frontline staff can bring to a local authority. I will relate it as best I can!

Picture a street cleaner, who has a ’round’ in a small village. He knows pretty much every inch of that village and a fair few people too. He’s respected their for the great job he does.

In that village though, there’s an issue. Every Friday and Saturday night, the village gets pretty darn busy; pubs full, drinks flowing. The following mornings, between the main pubs and the taxi pick up point, there is a horrendous mess. We’re talking left over pizza, burgers, chips, with a polystyrene packaging bonus to boot, strewn across path and street.

As a result the poor Street Cleaner has to clear all this up. What’s more, one or two council services, maybe including a partner like the Police, have to think about how they can address this issue with the obvious ‘louts’ (young or old) who are doing this. These citizens are clearly irresponsible and something needs to be done. Discussions take place, meetings with all concerned, discussing potential projects to implement to either educate and/or lay down the law to put a stop to this, to what I am sure we would all agree is anti-social behaviour. A deserved use of small, but necessary resources required to launch whatever it is that is needed to solve the issue.

But here comes the genius, that being of the 99% perspiration 1% inspiration kind – the one where dedication brings rewards. The Street Cleaner, doesn’t get it! Something does not quite stack up for him. So what does he do? He starts work earlier in the morning, on a nagging doubt maybe, just to see…but what?

What he is able to feed back to his superiors, who in the best interests of everybody concerned have acted accordingly, is a not only a different point of view, but a point of view based on fact. He did not surmise this point of view, he established the facts through application.

This is what he discovered. By starting earlier in the morning, specifically because of this issue, he noticed that the when he got to the street there was no such rubbish as he was used to seeing. Those louts then, were perhaps not louts. Or, maybe they were a different kind of lout; and this is what he discovered.

Crows! Crows, on making their early morning start, were ripping and pecking out the rubbish that the ‘louts’ had left in the bin the night before. It was the crows whom were making the mess, not the citizens of said village. So to quickly finish off, it wasn’t the collaborative invention of partners that brought a solution to issue, but the genius of application by a single person, a key frontline worker, who posessed ‘the facts’ that was able to bring resolution.

This is not to decry collaboration, really just to highlight that frontline staff in local authorities are perhaps better placed to give advice or direction to service delivery. The solution to the problem was simple, the dedication brilliant; that the Street Cleaner went down early every morning, before the crows, to take that food packaging out of the bins before it found itself strewn across the streets.

Just a reason why frontline services should be celebrated!