St Neots Citizen Gathering: Let’s Talk About Infrastructure

St Neots Citizen Gathering: Let’s Talk About Infrastructure

27th February saw the first Citizen Gathering take place in St Neots, a chance for the members of St Neots Initiative to get together and talk about what the future of infrastructure should look like.

It was the first time in 29 years we had an open gathering like this for our members, the blend of ages, backgrounds and interests made for an inspiring evening. It all happened in the round and made for an inclusive experience for all involved.

First, we heard from Alex Hughes Daniel Dodson and Katy Davies on the progress of the Citizen Hub project, seeing skills, employment and community reimagined with the focus being on infrastructure to enable people to help themselves through the services on offer.

We then had Tanya and Michael from the Sports Collective share why they got involved, with hockey being their passion, they called for support to get local sports infrastructure improved after explaining that the pitch they rent is hindering the progression of hockey locally. This was met by some shocked citizens, one of whom said “When I think of local sport we only really consider football and rugby, but to hear of the growth of sports like hockey and table tennis, it makes me want to do more to explore sport locally.”

Followed Sam Squire the chair of The Future, who shared with us a series of messages from young leaders in the town regarding their wish for a space to exist to serve their generation, with fantastic ideas for what that might look like from Joe Tilley Zion Ayokunnu Maxwell Mcknight,Tanya, Scarlett and Sam too.

 Quote that they remembered from a citizen following their moment “It’s the first time in 40 years where I’ve heard better ideas outside of my own head from people half my age”

What then followed was two break-out sessions on “Envisioning the future of St Neots” and “Own goals in the town”, what these sessions produced was a rich open conversation about the opportunities of the future. Some of our favourites that come from that were;

  • More community space to see multi-generational working and living
  • A shared vision for a multi-use sports facility
  • The need for more options for secondary education

The opportunity for our citizen members just to get together and discuss ideas like these is such an enabler for those who want to take action towards the future of infrastructure, something that will continue to be a feature of our monthly gatherings.

On the ‘Own Goals’ front, some glaring failures were noted;

  • Allowing for one trust to own both our secondary schools
  • The complexity of the layers of government, slow decision making and confusing decision-making locally
  • A potential future own goal was the risk of there being a lack of primary infrastructure and recreational options

You could feel the passion coming out in the conversations at this point and that really connected the room to not only the art of possibility but also the importance of realism in the process of discussing infrastructure.

It was then time to assemble our expert panel. Invited guests joined Rebecca Britton Will Plant Ian Sollom and Sam Caldbeck on the subject, a thread of conversation centred around communication. There was some real talk about the challenges that exist within planning processes, the reality of complexities with the many layers of government we have in Cambridgeshire and how communication is hugely complex.

Rebecca shared the impact ongoing communication with Wintringham residents has had, giving us insights on not just people’s general happiness and well-being locally but importantly their sense of agency to change the future. Further fuelling the room to appreciate the importance of the tangible and intangible communication inputs into place planning in the future.

Ian emphasised the concerns he had about the need for planning reform at a national level and that with his context being the many engagements he is having locally with residents, there is a huge concern for teenagers with the challenges with both education and the lack of youth provision locally.

Sam not only updated us on the major infrastructure development that was happening in the centre of the town but also prompted the room to feed him with ideas and opportunities. He shared personal experiences from working in Central Bedfordshire vs Huntingdonshire, addressing the concerns about layers of government and that the reality is we have to learn to overcome those barriers.

Will then exploded the hearts and minds of the room with the best response of the night to a fantastic question about “How can we all do more to make the town a place we can be proud of?”, his response was a call to action to be the example for others and watch the chain reaction take place in our communities. How we communicate through our actions is key and assembling in formats that allow for human connection can influence culture change over time.

We thank all of our expert guests for coming to the Hub with such an open mind and willingness to engage, likewise to the members who attended this first-ever event of its kind with SNI.

This will be a regular monthly event from now on and every month we will rotate the subjects on matters most important to citizens, with our ongoing business leaders gathering we are starting to see some fantastic opportunities to bridge the gaps between ideas and action already. Keep engaging with us and we will continue to develop the opportunities to bring that all together with you.

Dan Dodson (Vice-Chair) said “Seeing the hub full of community made my heart happy last night. It was a moment where the community had their voices heard for the first time in my lifetime and the result was synergy around the room to complete the challenge ahead. My favourite moment came from Will Plant who used a phrase that makes me cringe but is so true “we have to be the change we want to see”

Alex Hughes (Chair) followed that with “All of these issues are community challenges, there may well be formal places where decisions are made and we encourage all citizens to engage in those processes. However, we also believe in developing a safe place for open conversations about our town, tonight we did that and I look forward to seeing this evolve!”

Katy Davies (MD of Evolve Your Future) “We are dedicated to serving local people with skills relevant to their personal and professional lives, hearing tonight, the commitment and passion for lifelong learning has been an inspiration and reinforces the approach to do this with St Neots.”

If you want to be part of these events in the future, please be sure to sign up as a St Neots Initiative member for free today

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