Councillor Hannah Perkin, Assistant Regional Development Officer, South East Region talks us through best practice for getting to know your ward.
Having been through 18 months of lockdown it is brilliant to be able to be back out and about and making the most of the British summer weather (pack a raincoat and sun cream). Summer time is the perfect time to get to know your ward, whether you have been a councillor for a long time or are just starting out as a campaigner, things will have changed and there’s always something new to campaign on or fix for your residents.
On the doorstep – There are lots of different ways that you can create meaningful relationships with the people that live, work and spend time in your ward. Has your local party put a summer survey out? In a recent by-election in Dover, a survey helped local activists to determine some of the key issues that people in the area were concerned about. They are also a great way to see how well people feel the Lib Dems support or represent them. The long evenings and sunny weekends also provide extra time to go and knock on doors and have personal conversations with residents and for delivering the ever important Focus leaflet. Recent elections in the South East proved that the amount of in person contact that local parties had with people the better their chances of being elected. The more you are listening to people the better you know the things that they care about. The more you are speaking about things that people in your community care about, the more likely you are to build meaningful relationships.
In the community – Visiting businesses, religious centres and attending community interest meetings as well as supporting events that champion Liberal Values are great ways to meet new people and offer support in your wards. Across the South East there are examples of Liberal Democrats being part of lots of different community campaigns from helping with tourist traffic pressures in Sussex to beach cleans and anti racism demonstrations in Kent. Being visible in support of community issues can open doors to conversations with people that we may not speak to within our own local party activities. Investing time and energy in helping our communities is what we do best as Lib Dems. In Faversham we organised people who were already doing community work to come and tell our local party members about what they were doing. Plastic free Faversham came to talk about their ambitions to become a plastic free town, the community campaign to reduce speeds to 20 miles an hour across came to talk about the benefits of this and the Faversham Traders Assocation came to talk about the business group they had set up. As a result of these meetings we not only now know more about the incredible work that they all do but also have made some great contacts and friendships along the way.
Making the time – Being open and available to residents means that more people are likely to come to you with their problems and with their successes. Tim Prater in Folkestone runs “bench surgeries” where residents can come and sit with him and chat about anything they want to raise. Other local parties have run street stalls and pop ups at events. Civic and community events are great opportunities to network with others as are protests and community celebrations.
Social Media – Social media can be excellent for picking up casework and reporting back on things that you are doing as a councillor or campaigner. Community boards can also be helpful for gauging public opinion and catching adverts for public events. Through these boards you can become a “go to” person for advice and help and let a wide number of residents know what you are up to. Running your own social media pages can also increase the number of people you can speak to and how accessible you are. Alongside promoting the work that you and your team are doing, share posts from local charities, community groups and council updates. This could be information ranging from road closures to requests from a foodbank. Your knowledge of the local area can become a fantastic resource for residents. This will give people a practical reason to follow your page.
Getting organised – One way of really getting to know what is going on in your community is to create a “community calendar”. Members and supporters can then add key events and dates. This might include social awareness campaign dates like pride month, religious celebration dates, or memorial events, but could also include local talks, webinars and community meetings. If currently your local party doesn’t have any councillors, adding in council meetings might also be helpful so activists can ask public questions. Sharing responsibility for maintaining contact with multiple groups is important so that this doesn’t end up being the sole responsibility of just one person. Knowing when things are happening in your wards will help you to plan any communication that you might do with members, plan attendance at events and will be helpful to regularly assess whether you are actively speaking to people beyond the local party.
Community Champions – As Lib Dems , being community champions and working with people that live in our wards to improve the area for everyone is what we do best. Really getting to know your ward opens opportunities to really understand the area, grow your team, reach out to groups that might not necessarily come to the Lib Dems for support first and be as representative as possible of our communities. It takes work and commitment but can be really rewarding not just electorally but also for community building and resilience. Go knock doors .