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Conference sets the stage for community empowerment


Delegates from across Scotland gathered in Kilmarnock last week for a national conference on community empowerment.


The event, entitled 'Our journey to people-powered transformation', was jointly held by East Ayrshire Council and the Improvement Service and it attracted representation from public sector agencies and local authorities from across Scotland.


Since 2013, East Ayrshire Council’s Vibrant Communities team has been leading the way in terms of changing its relationship with local communities. This conference provided an opportunity for the council to share the story of its journey.


The full day event considered a range of topics through keynote speeches workshops including the Community Empowerment  Act, community asset transfer, community led action plans, and befriending and volunteering.


Audience participation and engagement played a key part in the day’s proceedings, with inspiring Q&A sessions taking place on the sofa and ongoing interaction on social media throughout the day.


Fiona Lees, Chief Executive, East Ayrshire Council, welcomed delegates to Kilmarnock, saying: “We are delighted to be able to tell our story and share the results and outcomes from this work with so many other Scottish councils and public sector agencies, because we all have a vital role to play in connecting with our communities and supporting them through this transformation.


“For many years, and in advance of any legislative requirement to do so, we knew we had to work in partnership, because not one of our organisations owns the solutions to the challenges our communities face.


“Our long established Community Planning Partnership and our five year transformation strategy ensure that we are delivering lasting change, helping to transform the relationship we have with our own communities.


“We have designated community workers out in our communities; we have a renewed focus on early intervention and prevention; we have revived volunteering  - both inside and outside the council - and we have empowered people to have a voice.


“We have redefined, refocused and re-energised our approach and this is without a doubt one of the top decisions ever taken by this council.”


Iain Murray from the Scottish Government Community Planning and Empowerment Unit provided the opening address. He said: “The Scottish Government’s vision is for a country where every community enjoys the benefits of inclusive growth, experiences fewer inequalities and is empowered to make decisions that make a material difference to the lives of local people.


“Effective partnership working provides the basis of high quality public services; and high quality public services which work together and with our communities are essential to support a fair and prosperous society.


“Communities have a vital role to play in shaping and, where appropriate, delivering services locally.  Events such as this one can help to demonstrate how public participation can make decision-making more democratic and public spending more equitable.


“Unleashing the potential within our communities can help us transform our services, making them better and more responsive to the needs and aspirations of our communities.”


Colin Mair, Chief Executive, Improvement Service, said: “There was a real buzz about the event and a common commitment to “letting communities in” to how local services are designed and delivered. East Ayrshire Council is ahead of the game here and the heart of their approach is the quality of relationships they have built with communities. Their recognition that how people feel about themselves and their place is central to improvement is an important counter balance to an overemphasis on piling up data about communities without actually talking to them.  This needs built on and the network created at the event, which includes councils across Scotland, will allow us to continue sharing insights and innovations.”