All About Hope! 1 Year of Being a Local Councillor.

In 1 week’s time, I’ll have been officially a councillor for 1 whole year. WILD.

I still can’t quite believe it. The time has gone so fast and yet slow at the same time. SO much has happened and achieved, and so little at the same time. These juxtapositions are normal, I think? Adjusting to the rhythm of local authority and community life.

My 1 year experience has evolved as I’ve learned more about things and gotten a bit more confident. That confidence comes from the vision we’re making as a ward. It’s a lot of 2 steps forward, 1 step back. You have to be persistent and patient, and I think it helps to keep being a bit naive. But we’re *slowly* moving in the right direction.

Through this process, I am learning that one of the common denominators for fostering change, growth, and our most meaningful experiences is hope, a belief that things can be better.

This is no small thing, is hope. Not everyone has it, some people previously had it but then that hope was squashed by people taking their support and position for granted. This makes it even harder to get people back into the habit of dreaming and hoping. As a resident recently told me, “it’s the hope that really kills you“.

I think we rely a lot on hope and goodwill. But one thing I’ve been thinking about as a councillor is what actually goes into hope?

[H] uman Challenge

First, a challenge must exist. But not just any challenge, a human challenge — something that is shared by a group and meets a deep, felt need. Human needs might revolve around issues like belonging (love & community), security (safety and care), or approval (career and personal growth). They relate not just to the local community/residents, but to me and all the people who work at the council & the partnerships, and the lands we live on. We are all human/alive after all.

[O] pportunity

Secondly, we must believe that there is a real opportunity to make it better.

We feel we have (or can find) the resources and abilities that give us a fighting chance to actually address the challenges that we’re surrounding with. This will come with a clear vision, working across different people, an understanding of the field, and surrounding forces, and tangible ideas for what it will take to bring this hope to fruition.

[P] ersonal Care

Third, there needs to be a feeling of care. Our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual states must be tended to, or else, hope will dwindle. It’s hard to have hope if you can’t stay awake/ or sleep/ or eat, are super stressed, or can’t think straight day-after-day. This is harder because of the surrounding forces that are harder to tackle. But having systems and people who look out for your personal care, and help you feel cared for, we can begin to build the hope needed.

[E] ngagement

Lastly, there needs to be engagement with others — a sense that you’re not alone in this effort. Even if no one else has this hope, being able to share it and be accepted for having it will fuel your hope. Engagement can come from friends, loved ones, colleagues, your councillors, residents, general public or even external inspirations. We have to feel some sense of community. Each person can find and define that in their own way. Without it, hope will be under threat of shifting to loneliness and discouragement. This is something that is always ever present, especially when teams are burnt out.

As a councillor I witness that hope impacts every interaction and action. A lack of hope and it dwindles into jaded responses/lack of actions. A hopeful interaction goes so much further and everyone goes away feeling better. With Hope, we pursue experiences that are generative and filling — leading to better lives, relationships, and better work.

I’ve been trying to learn to have more of a ‘growth mindset’. Having a growth mindset has also proven to help create more trusting, inclusive, and diverse workplaces. In short – a more hopeful culture.

We are all a mix of growth and fixed mindsets, and while we might like to think that we embody a growth mindset all the time, chances are that a mischievous fixed mindset creeps into our thought patterns more than we realize. Being a councillor asking for stuff to happen has helped me see my fixed mindset a lot more often than I knew. And can sometimes see myself slip into more transactional demands than I’d like.

When I do that, I don’t account for people’s vulnerabilities. I realize that for people to be able to push the boundary of what they’re capable of, they need two things.

First, they need to be able to fail every now and then. If there’s no room for that, how do you improve/innovate? And if i keep making you do some dull process/job – we might not see another perspective/issue/opportunity. Equally, please don’t keep using the same tool for the same longstanding issue, and expect a different outcome.

And we also need to understand better that when we’re entering new territory, we may have to fail a lot before we to get something good. But as long as we incorporate what we learned into our next attempt, then the failure is worthwhile. As is the way in art practice!

this is an adapted drawing about doing PHD Viva – most of it stands for this except apologetic/laid back (depending upon context).

There have been many more things I’ve learned. Too many to write about without boring everyone silly. But here’s some of my favourite things I’ve achieved so far. Some of these will look like a 2 minute job. Like, what’s the big deal about that? But everything below has taken A LOT of work / emails / being cheeky asking, to happen.

And whilst I am obviously taking some credit for this. The real credit goes to all the officers and council workers on the ground who have made it happen. They work hard in applying for funding to try and fix our roads, get those extra things which we wouldn’t have without them often being stretched. And here I am asking them to do *ANOTHER* thing on top of everything else. I am always aware of this. I know how hard the majority of folks work across the council, and I am in awe of it all.

Between us we run on mutual respect and trust. They have to trust that what I am saying is a genuine need, and I have to trust what they’re telling me is true when they say something’s out of stock or not their responsibility or doesn’t satisfy funding needs. Sometimes there’s communication fails. And as with hope, I do trust and respect my colleagues so much. I always think it’s a wonderful privilege to get to learn so much from the officers. Whatever specialism they have, they know it inside and out. The curious cat in me wants to take every director/assistant director/officier out for a coffee and get to listen and learn from everything they’d like to share about their life/experience/learning/work/research. For now – I get to learn some of it bit by bit, email by email, teams meeting after meeting, advise/project by project.

Here’s my top things we’ve done over the past 1 year!

In no order.

WE GOT ADWICK PARK PLAYGROUND PAINTED THIS WEEK.

This was my first email i sent as a councillor. Then I realized I had no idea what was the best way to update the playground and that decision shouldn’t be me or the council. it should be the community. So we got this fresh lick of paint to see us over to the decisions being made and funding rewarded. Fun fact: This playground is OLDER than me!! And as you can see, was over due a paint.

Before:

AFTER: *love heart eyes*

And OFC we’ve got ARTY PARTY IN THE PARK on the 11th June 2022, that will be about designing the extension of this playground and reimagining our park and play spaces led by artists, designers and play specialist (Plus general gala party community get together). This is possible because I wrote us an Arts Council funding bid and absolutely made up that it was granted!

I got this path re- tarmac’d after 12 YEARS of it being rough AF. 12 years! (It’s the only path next to the very busy A638)

I said to myself, if I achieve only one thing – it’s this! It used to be like riding up/down an actual rocky mountain. I used to imagine what it would feel like for kids in pushchairs.

Before: (Images from google maps 2009 – Jan 2021)

AFTER! (Now) (Was done in 2 weird parts)

Our first cycle path!

It’s been controversial for the car-centric, and some of it could have been done a bit better by using local knowledge to foresee some of the things – but it gets used loads and it’s wild that it’s our first & only cycle path in our ward! We’ve put lots more down for any future funding that comes up. I’m so passionate about making the roads safer for people and cycle lanes are a great way! See the before, look at how tiny that path was.

Before

AFTER

Adwick Park Memorial Garden Clean Up

When I was elected, I got a lot of emails about the state of our local parks. One area, in particular, was the Memorial Garden in Adwick Park. A beautiful area, peaceful. It used to be a pond when I was a kid. Now a rose garden. But when I was elected it no longer looked like a rose garden. It had gone WILD. With its wildness, came lots of ASB from young folks – who smashed bottles and chucked sticky drinks over the memorial stone. Disrespectful but to them it looked like an unkempt space. The “broken window effect” in action.

Thanks to Streetscene & community payback working with us – it’s been restored and new plants back. The ASB has disappeared (touches wood!). Amazing what making things look cared for can do.

BEFORE (July 2021)

AFTER ( April 2022)

We stopped Welfare Hall from being sold at auction (for now!)* & reignited the communities collectivity and imagination!

This is/has been of my steepest learning curves. And one of my most stressful, and constant, and time-consuming projects. BUT I’ve been blessed with incredible goodwill gestures from residents helping me communicate it across the community – to an almost endless list of officers and professionals who gave up their time to help us figure out potential solutions/plans or what to do next. Turns out if you’re cool with asking for help (nicely) and have the right team with you ( Ed Milibae ) with HOPE then great things happen. Even if they’re not directly the solution. I have learned SO much. And even written a proper business plan, which is mad.

Many many thanks to everyone who has helped, you know who you all are. I’m indebted to your time and support.

Before:

“The community aren’t interested in it anymore”

AFTER:

20,000 new trees! At Bullcroft Pit-top, Carcroft

Now, I have nothing to do with this. All the work belongs to Tim Newton and all of his team and partners. They’re amazing!!! BUT I did get loads of people networked together, and got LOADS of kids out planting trees. They’re so passionate about climate action, protecting wildlife and the earth. Talking to Tim made me realize that this is an incredible opportunity to do a regenerative project up here. So with our new found connections and passions realized – there’s going to be some cool stuff happening up here. Keep it locked!

Before (way before most of us were born)

AFTER

Community Gardens, carcroft

If you’re looking for community action and love growing/gardening/outside space – get in touch with me. This project sits quite close to my heart and we have local schools involved/interested. Imagine a community pumpkin patch! Or local garden, or maker space, or whatever. This project sits in a middle of an area which has high rates of mental health diagnosis and social isolation. Partly driven by unchecked crime in the area, alongside a series of other issues. If we can get positive activity happening here – i want to test to see if it improves 1 or some of these feelings/issues. A girl can hope, right?

Highfields Lake Clean Up & Future Parks work!

Highfields Country Park is a beauty. Everyone loves it. For different reasons. Some people like to fish, some to play, some to run and walk dogs, others to ride their illegal quad bikes all over it. Because of some of its complex ever lasting ASB going on, it’s not made to shine like other parks are around Doncaster. We’re slowly changing this. We have active community groups now, re-thinking about the eco landscape and kids and activities, and we’ve had Streetscene and Community Pay Back do some incredible work over the winter. We’re SO grateful for all of their work. I suppose it might look to some, streetscene are just cutting grass and emptying bins, etc. BUT IT’S SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS. It genuinely breathes love and live back into the area. It makes such a paltaple difference when a job is maintained and done right. Getting to hear more hopeful things from residents, how they feel about themselves and this area now it looks cared for again. and ofc – lots of less emails for all of us is always a winner Ha!

I can’t wait to work with my residents on the Future Parks funding vision this summer. Including young folks across the age spectrum!

Before:

AFTER:

Helping Raise Money for Food Banks

I wish we didn’t need food banks. My ward area has so much deprivation going on, we need 3 seperate foodbanks! We will do anything to make sure people can survive and thrive. Getting access to one of these foodbanks means our communities team can identify people where we might be able to offer more support if possible. I’m always so damn proud of what our communities team and communities do as they pull together to help people. We know, intutiatively that together – we all grow more if we grow and are happy and healthy together. That’s what I love so much about Adwick & Carcroft ward residents. And I’ll do whatever it takes to help.

I’ve spent my time raising £1000+ of my own money, and food from partners, from selling cool arty stickers and tshirts and then some of my ward budget. We ended up – on Look North and BBC because our local food banks are pivotal parts of our community and doing urgent & important work and making a huge difference.

SO-MANY-GROUPS

We’ve managed to support and get people together, to feel empowered enough to drive projects, lead people and ideas, use their own time to be community leaders/activists. Becoming good role models for others… influencers!

This has been incredible to witness. From Friends of Highfields Lake, Friends of Welfare Hall (who have expanded their remit for woodlands), Adwick&Carcroft for playgrounds, Project Highfields (who are young late 20’s energetic women), Adwick Communities (now building infrastructure in adwick park), New TARA groups, new neighbourhood watch groups in Carcroft, Skellow Action Groups, and so many more.

More Projects

There’s so many more things I could write. But some I can’t talk about yet, some aren’t finished, some are a legal nightmare such as trying to get a path built that was agreed by developers that have not been honoured. I chose the above specifically because you can tangibly see how changing the infrastructure, the landscape, and getting people to drive those changes adds to an ever-changing landscape of hope, democratic involvement, growth and positive change.

I think we often forget that when we’re surrounded by things that are damaged, not as cared for as they used to be, and don’t change over a long period of time, it seeps into confirmational biases and our behaviours. It’s our story of separation locally that has gained roots and grown deep down.

So now, with help from so many people, i’m trying to lean into our Story of Separation. A year spent trying to understand what it is, what people believe we need, sowing the seeds that things can be different and hopeful. We can collectively dream and ask for/ do things that are bigger than what we’d normally think/do. But understanding that it’s more likely to happen if we have open conversations about it and that it fits a regenerative vision. That it’s not all in parts. We think in wholes.

That slowly we can build these parts into wholes together. Even as I look back on the above there comes out a theme of play, safety & health, green/nature, community, space that connects them all together. That’s not by mistake. It’s the glue that holds us all together and creates space to dream.

What a 1 year of my life! PHEW. I might take a nap now. A reminder:

Here’s to HOPE.

Thanks to everyone who has made dreaming and hoping easier/possible. Especially to all my colleagues, y’all are awesome.

To the next 6 months/ year!

Published by smizz

I've had this blog since I was 17. I use it process thinking & work. It's changed with how my life has changed. Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

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