Connecting Crouch End and Hornsey with news, views and information
The views expressed here are , of course, my own.
The prospective Crouch End Neighbourhood Forum held its second meeting yesterday evening (27/10/2014) in the very splendid Earl Haig Hall and suffered/ (enjoyed?) its first resignation. You will of course, have read my notes on the inaugural Neighbourhood Forum meeting (optimistic in tone) and the formal minutes produced by one of the prime movers (accurate and informative and, importantly, open and available for everyone to read).
This was a steering group meeting, so a much smaller meeting of a self selecting group of the locally active. Indeed, one of the hot topics of the evening was how to engage with the locally inactive, a process called outreach, to groups described as 'hard to reach'. There was some hope that Haringey (who have some experience of this with the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum) might be able to help identify these groups and facilitate contact. There is also an organisation called Locality ("the leading nationwide network for community-led organisations") which should be able to help in this respect, to register the interest of the Crouch End group and possibly provide some funding to get things going.
As far as action points go I think the previous paragraph sums it up - Make contact with Locality and Haringey and decide what to do thereafter. The date of the next meeting will be December 1st and is very definitely not exclusive to the participants in yesterday's meeting. So let us know if you want to come along via email to email@example.com.
Some points of principle were agreed at the meeting:
I didn't resign from the group, I was never a part of it - I wouldn't join a club that would have me as a member :)
This was my first visit (couldn't make the inaugural meeting). I had promoted the event via the Facebook group as my bit of help in acknowledging the years of detailed work in planning policy by hard-working, unpaid local volunteers that are needed to create a Neighbourhood Forum (took Highgate three years), to represent Crouch End in the complex, broken planning system we've got. If you look at the Norland Plan you linked to above (or any of the many others) it is all about detailed planning policies like preventing basements from being filled with swimming pools - it's about stemming the tide of developer power that allow them to do more or less what they want, when they want, by pressing for small rules that try to mitigate their worst excesses. Neighbourhood Forums have not been able to influence the amount of affordable housing being built, or the carbon budget (ie. insist on 'zero carbon' sustainable development) or many of the other things people might assume from the name.
The ten or so people present were there to understand how to go about creating a Neighbourhood Forum. I asked them to acknowledge that the most important development in the eyes of most most CrouchEnders would be if Hornsey Town Hall were to open. Asked them to let me lead/join a working group designed to encourage people to get more engaged with the future of Hornsey Town Hall, building on the work I've helped inspire in others building the HTH Facebook Group. They point blank refused. I tried again at the end of the long meeting, on the basis that the people round the table ought to be encouraged to pursue their passions like conservation, business or (in my case, a bit of a hobby horse, HTH) by means of a 'working group' that reported to the 'steering group'. Again, as you can see from the list of working groups they decided on, no joy for me - they advised that maybe I could be allowed to do something about my concerns after the Forum was formed (which could be in three years time).
As it came up, I also tried to push for the principle that everything was open by default unless there was a very good reason to keep it secret. I know from previous experience that you cannot make absolutely everything open unfortunately because people ask for confidentiality and I respect that. For instance, if someone applies for a job you cannot publish their personal details if they ask you not to. Or if you get a quote the supplier wants kept secret so as to allow them to offer you a 'community' price whilst not affecting their rest of their profits.
Again, the group refused point blank to publish everything, citing several reasons, one being that 'you cannot publish a draft letter to someone' before the recipient has seen it (so you need to confine it to a select group until they have). Another objection was that it would attract 'thousands' of comments which would implicitly bog us down and disrupt things. A third that 'our thoughts are secret - internal processes should remain internal.
I can see a culture clash here and obviously respect the right of the group to do whatever they want, it's just that I really don't want to go down the 'behind closed doors' approach that, in my opinion, has caused us lots of problems in the past, not least the failure to open Hornsey Town Hall, which has remained closed to us and rotting for over a decade now, in spite of the best efforts of the Council working since 2007 in close co-operation with two or three local people and Cllrs on the 'Creative Trust' - where has the secrecy got us? More personal opinions and an attempt at a detailed history and suggested way forward here - bit.ly/myhthinfo. Anyone interested, please join the HTH Facebook Group.
Incidentally I don't use my real name on Facebook because I have spent so much time setting up systems for others that I do not want to use my real name anywhere I'm not expressing personal opinions. When registering on Facebook so I could post details of the community events I am involved in I was able to get Facebook to accept the name 'First Last' but later on their automatic system picked it up and I had to change the first name, hence Chris Last - I use it to post stuff that has no personal component - I'm not trying to promote myself.