Newry, Mourne and Down Community Planning Fora

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Newry, Mourne and Down District Council recently enlisted NICVA's Social Enterprise Sector Matters with help in administering their community planning fora application process. The DEA fora presents an exciting opportunity for the sector.

NICVA and Community Planning

In the policy team at NICVA, we’d been following the progression of community planning closely for quite some time. We recognised the huge potential the process could have for the voluntary and community sector and the service users organisations worked with.

When the Review of Public Administration (RPA) was first announced and the Executive’s vision for local government was outlined:

“…a strong, dynamic local government creating communities that are vibrant, healthy, prosperous, safe, sustainable and have the needs of all citizens at their core.”

We at NICVA believed that no sector was better placed to feed into how to create vibrant, healthy and prosperous communities than the organisations and networks that are working on the front lines within communities and for them.

In our work to inform the sector, we organised a seminar with our colleagues in Community Places which focused on community planning and examples of best practice elsewhere. Once the draft guidelines were published in March 2015, we held another event hearing from officials responsible for the guidance and listening to our member’s concerns which informed our consultation response.

Unique elements of Community Planning

Unlike other networks that many voluntary and community sector organisations will have been involved with in the past, community planning is different and more exciting. One of the primary reasons is that a range of public partners have a statutory duty to be involved and play an active role in the development of the Community Action Plan.

The Community Action Plan not only shapes local government policy but can also play a key role in ensuring region wide policies created in Stormont are sensitive to local needs and circumstances. The Community Action Plan is the council’s long term strategic plan for the area’s future and should not be considered an end in itself, rather a working document and a continuous conversation between all sectors. The Community Plan contains the long term objectives for improving the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of a district.

Get involved

The voluntary and community sector is uniquely placed to help capture the feelings of citizens and to assist in ensuring their voice is heard in the community planning process. This is particularly true with hard to reach groups and we were pleased to see a specific reference to this in the draft guidelines:

“The sector is often best placed to reach and involve those sections of the community that the mainstream public sector may find hard to reach, and to access funding that is not available to public bodies.”

In our response to the draft guidelines, we raised a number of points including, “The voluntary and community sector is uniquely placed to help capture the feelings of citizens and to assist in ensuring their voice is heard in the planning process.”

We were genuinely excited when our colleagues in Sector Matters came to us for policy advice. We were delighted that Newry, Mourne and Down District Council had provided a solid role for the sector in their community planning process.

We would encourage all organisations in the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area to get involved. Aaron Sorkin, Creator of the West Wing, said ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.’ Ensure you show up, get involved with a network and/or your public meetings, and contribute to the decisions that will shape your local area! 

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