It was the ever-excellent Participation Cymru that brought to my attention recently an imaginative, yet simple and low cost proposal to:
“establish a new vehicle ‘Street Ambassadors Wales’ with the aim of establishing and supporting a street ambassador in every street in Wales.”
Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Timebanking Wales and Blaengarw-based Creation Development Trust are the proponents of the proposal and a paper, Creating another piece of the jigsaw – Street Ambassadors / Creu darn arall o’r jig-so – Llysgenhadon y Stryd,outlining the proposal in more detail can be found here or yma. What appeals to me is that the proposal sets out broad principles that can be adapted to suit neighbourhoods.
For instance, it suggests the idea being adopted in ‘areas’ where an area might be defined as any from a “local authority, sub-local authority, Communities First cluster, Community Council [or] ward”. And that a ‘development agency’, who identifies and recruits the street ambassadors, might take the form of a “County Voluntary Council, development trust, housing association, church, community council, rotary [or] volunteer centre”.
The paper sees street ambassadors as key in being able “to mobilise people at the very grass roots, street level” and in so doing facilitating through co-production the transformative change required of public service. Such radical and large scale change requires a robustly constructed framework of political, policy, organisational and financial imperatives. Yet clearly without the consent, effort and energy of residents the street ambasadors idea will wither on the vine. As Hoban (2002, 218) accurately observes:
“It is the ownership of the action that increases involvement”
The paper’s receptiveness to a number of different spatial scales and range of potential development agencies is to be welcomed. The non-prescriptiveness of the what constitutes the ‘canvas’ across which ambassadors operate allows for residents and neighbours, perhaps via a process that is animated by a Community Development Worker, to take ownership of the ambassador role, the information it shares and how it networks. The paper even suggests that
“street ambassadors can develop their role…by networking with other street ambassadors to form other neighbourhoods”
The key to the extent to which, as the paper aspires, neighbourhoods become the “building blocks of organising” – of local services, different programmes and initiatives – will depend on what happens at the ‘seams’ where areas meet. But as the above quote suggests it could well be the ambassadors and the development agencies who will have the ownership and autonomy to decide.
Hoban, M (2002) The same old story: implications of current government policy for the involvement of residents in neighbourhood regeneration, in Clarke, S, Mendola Byatt, A, Hoban, M, Powell, D (eds.) Community Development in South Wales, University of Wales Press: Cardiff.