Festival of Debate: We Need to Talk

Story by Graham Jones and Gulnaz Hussain | Photo by Flick from Festival of Debate

The Festival of Debate sponsored this meeting with the theme ‘How can work together to improve Fir Vale?’ It was led by Mahroof Hussain MBE who valued the diversity of the local people in the workplace, saying

“A diverse workforce will give you diverse thinking.”

About 45 people attended and most of those present were from the Fir Vale area reflecting a wide diversity in terms of age and ethnic background. There were people who’d lived in the area for 50 years but also more recent arrivals, all sharing their experiences of the neighbourhood.

Rhona Saunders, health co-ordinator at Fir Vale Community Hub, said:

“We’ve opened our doors and this is for the whole community. This is for you the people that live here.”

The Hub intends to have another meeting early July and to keep meeting and look at these issues through the lens of residents.

It was a lively, friendly and passionate meeting even though there was no mechanism for contributions from individuals to the main floor of the meeting. If there had been, we would still be there now.

We were split into groups to discuss five key questions: what can people in Fir Vale do to celebrate diversity? Has Fir Vale seen any improvements? What challenges does Fir Vale currently face? What can people do to improve the area? What is the potential for shared community-led solutions?

The Hub received really good feedback from all attendees who demonstrated they were truly passionate about the local area and wanted to see everyone achieve their best potential. There were difficult and challenging questions but the groups as a whole wanted to find long term solutions supported by local partners and community groups to help deliver the change we all want for the betterment of the local environment, businesses and schools.

People appreciated the openness of the discussion, with one attendee noting:

“I wasn’t sure if I would gain anything I have been to so many meetings and nothing changes, this was different it gave me the opportunity to discuss concerns in a different way.”

In my group there were concerns that outsiders only heard about the negative aspects of Fir Vale but we felt that it would be great if they came to the area themselves to see all the positive initiatives and events. There was a need to work on positive activities to bring people together.

It was felt that a lack of resources leads to despondency, but there was a need to engage more with people, develop local awareness of the Fir Vale Hub and encourage volunteering.

The results of the discussions on these topics will be fed into the draft Neighbourhood Plan.

Throughout the meeting there had been a focus on the need to involve local children and young people in activities and plans. Councillor Jim Steinke, the then council Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety, wound up the discussion:

“We started off negatively and ended positively. Kids, kids, kids they’re the future.”