Civic Engagement - A Bus Trip with a Difference
Ahead of the launch of our Civic Activism Programme next week, we will be looking at some innovative ways in which people can become more engaged in the processes that run their lives. Here we look at 'A Bus Trip with a Difference'.
This year, just before the local elections were due to take place, Nicholas McCrickard and the County Down Rural Community Network, took some of their prospective councillors on a bus trip with a difference.
The journey, which took the group from Bangor to Portaferry, stopped off at various points to meet local people and see their community projects in action.
Nicholas said: “We wanted to organise a familiarisation trip to allow our councillors to get to know their local community. It also enabled our groups to meet and greet the movers and shakers in politics.
"The idea came to us just before the elections in order to target prospective councillors. We had a bus of 30 out of the 87 people we had invited to join on the day, which was a good turn-out.
"The guided tour took in various community projects in Bangor, Newtownards, Ballywalter, Millisle and Portaferry, covering rural areas and towns.
"The direct, face-to-face meeting between politicians and local community activists was a hugely successful aspect, as was the opportunity for ‘work on the ground’ to be seen".
He continued: “Candidates for council were attracted by the exposure of being seen by potential voters at pre-election time. It also appealed to their genuine interest in seeing a wide range of urban and rural projects in the area.
"Approximately 30 that arrived on the day were re-elected at the polls. There were some old hands, some existing councillors that were up for re-election, and some news ones that weren’t successful".
There were several key factors that led to the success of this project. The County Down Rural Community Network picked the right time and the right places to visit in order to attract their councillors to participate.
The day was planned carefully, with an itinerary that didn’t try to overdo it or pack too much in. Travel was kept to a minimum.
The stop-off points were also well considered, with a mix that balanced the positive with the not so positive. The group also made sure that some of the projects had physical efforts which could be seen. Each stop off point had people who were directly involved on hand to talk about their activity and answer questions.
Interesting and Informative
Nicholas said: “We made sure the trip was going to be interesting and informative and that the attendees would learn something new from it. But it’s not rocket science.
"We’ve been doing these network familiarisation trips for donkey’s years. There’s nothing new there. I suppose in the past - and ongoing – one of our services, if you like, is to arrange such trips, but generally speaking councillors do not attend in big numbers.
“In the urban areas the councillors did receive a tougher time than in the rural parts. There were given some fairly negative feedback and a shopping list of needs and wants in some of the housing estates in Bangor and Newtownards.
"But in general they enjoyed their day and the opportunity that it gave them to meet with their community".
This approach could work well as a means to bring any public sector managers, decision-makers or MLAs into contact with local people where they are. Similarly it could assist local people to make initial contact with decision makers and politicians.