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“To change the conversation, we have to change who is part of it”

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From Same Skies, doing and thinking Regional Democracy in West Yorkshire

What kind of region do we want to live in? That was the question that launched Same Skies in November 2015. A question we are still asking. But how we're asking it, where we're asking it and who is being asked is changing all the time.

Our first 2015 event (blogged about here on A/UK last year) was deliberately free, offered free childcare and took place on a Saturday as no similar events thinking about the future in West Yorkshire had done likewise at that time.

The Carlisle Centre venue in Manningham, Bradford was specifically chosen as a space regularly used by people from under-represented parts of our community. Prior planning and promotion was led by people from some of those places and backgrounds. Issues raised included:

  • the need to address the unrepresentative nature of politics and to actively engage female, young, working class and BME voices.

  • the opportunities presented by our region’s diversity to ensure all parts of our community can contribute to our future, for example through community-led English language provision.

  • the opportunities presented by local public banking to invest in local business sustainably.

  • the need to ensure the development of our regional economy takes into account the impact on the health of all parts of our community.

  • the need to address the unfair choice young people face in having to move to London to get jobs.

But we were still way off where we wanted to be. People from around the region continued to take our #RegionalDemocracy stickers and use the questions on them to start conversations wherever they ended up. We thought more about what we had learned in those conversations and what it told us about people's lives and futures in West Yorkshire.

In 2017, we started to consider the hegemony of political, economic, cultural and media power that is concentrated in London - and how that same hegemony-maintained privilege. We started to learn more about the common threads in the barriers faced by people based on geography with those facing people based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, age and class.

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building.

So, recently, we decided to concentrate on smaller events in a range of places where people already were. Our latest initiative has been taking us around the many markets of West Yorkshire. We have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. So far, we have visited Bradford Oastler, Castleford and Keighley Markets with three more planned before the end of 2018.

We discovered that children would often be attracted by the colourful maps hung around our stall and adults with them would want to look at others’ ideas and share their own thoughts on their home region and its future. Together families sat down to draw and chat. They drew maps of the city or town itself and also the many other towns and villages around it from where people will travel for a good market.

It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw parks for playing, canal paths for walking the dog, community centres with things going on like sports clubs, libraries, shops, post offices and bus stops with regular services taking them to places like the market itself.

People also talked a lot about schools - from their love for a particular school to frustration at not being able to get a place at the school in their village and so having to travel every day to the neighbouring town. People also expressed concern about things closing locally (like libraries) or services being reduced (such as street lighting).

Some participants also expressed concern about the UK being ‘Londoncentric’ and that the vote to leave the European Union was in part a reaction against this.

Over time, we are building up a picture from below of the things that are valued most by people across West Yorkshire. The things that they want to keep, to protect and to develop. The things that exist in some neighbourhoods and that others would like for their own part of our region.

We are building a map of good stuff as the basis for what we in the communities of West Yorkshire want our regional democracy to help preserve and/or to develop.

As we continue to develop our role doing and thinking Regional Democracy from West Yorkshire, we are also happy to make links with others from beyond our region.

Recently for example we were able to secure a fully funded place at the CTRL-shift emergency summit for change in Wigan [in which A/UK was a partner organisation]. Useful conversations here started us exploring the links between Regional Democracy and developments around bio-regions. Watch this space

Follow Same Skies Twitter: @sameskiesblog

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