A message from Dr Irena Hergottova, Head of Community, Equality and Cohesion at Walsall.
January is a fitting month for beginnings.
Around this time a year ago, our team was preparing for the launch of the most ambitious social cohesion and integration programme Walsall has ever seen.
We wanted the programme to be fresh and stand out in the world where any attempt to bring people together is seen as a utopia at best or political correctness at worst. Somewhere in between – there’s also an accusation of social engineering.
I remember numerous focus groups and workshops where, despite complex graphs and analysis, participants only really wanted a ‘few good things’.
I would sum up the ‘few good things’ as more authentic everyday connections between those who claim the right to Walsall by birth with those who chose to live in our town as newcomers. Making such everyday connections without judgement and prejudice, wherever they are – in a community hall, school, playground, job centre or whilst getting your rubbish out on a Tuesday – these are the ‘few good things’ that make our neighbourhoods better. Of course, they are not just meaningless encounters. They are often the moments that spark a change in us as individuals and then impact on our extended networks. Through them, we are attuned to our surroundings. We care.
I could throw around many technical words to describe a town that wishes to promote such policies – resilient communities, community cohesion and integration – they all really mean the same thing: finding the people that care and giving them the tools to transform a place.
One year on, we believe that Walsall for All is the vehicle with the right tools. Thanks to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, we have been chosen as an Integration Area and allowed to experiment across different sectors. From giving community and voluntary groups innovation funding, to school linking, women empowerment, welcome packs and community dialogue, we are tested like never before. And, we are not shying away from the ‘harder stuff’, such as hate crime or segregated housing.
We have a visible brand and strategy and people can view all our activity on our website or by subscribing to our newsletters. We measure what we do and do not fall into the trap of just doing ‘nice cultural events’. Never before was the brand of ‘social mixing’ and cohesion this attractive and engaging, and, at the same time, so challenging. But we want to do more. We want our valued colleagues and professionals from Black Country and the whole region to have a stake in this agenda. We want a new debate on the importance of measuring social integration across the country and how to raise our professional standards.
So there you go, January, by the way, is a name that originated in Latin. It has its roots in the ‘ianua’ which means ‘door’. Let this be the month that opens doors to residents, visitors and colleagues and take us to another fruitful Walsall for All year. Let’s hope that this will be the year when yet more volunteers, champions and professionals come forward.
For more information of how to get involved visit our website at www.walsallforall.co.uk