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Four members of Swansea's A4D planning group travelled on Saturday 19th March to Cardiff's Senedd – the home of the National Assembly for Wales. They'd been invited to take part in a special day of events celebrating the end of the first phase of the National Theatre of Wales' 3-year long Big Democracy Project.
In a programme including performances by theatre groups, poets and musicians, A4D's invitation to a half-hour slot attracted around 60 people: ‘Democracy, if ever alive is now 'more dead' than living; its semblance just a sham. The little life left in it is being stealthily stifled by the greed and manipulative grip of the corporations controlling people's freedom and gravely endangering this planet. So join us in designing, building and operating a richer, deeper form of direct democracy.
This half-hour introductory session shares a snapshot of what has already begun. We'll be using all the means available to explore a fairer future based on people powered free expression and collaborative actions for sustainable living.’
Helen Johns, from the teachers union NASUWT, gave a passionate account of the battle with Swansea Council to prevent the termination, without any consultation of parents and children, of an Education Service in Trehafod clinic, for some of Swansea's most vulnerable children - Child and Adolescent Mental Health pupils, that led her to A4D after she realised that local democracy is broken.
A4D convenor Gerry Gold widened the focus from the local to the national and global explaining that we were re-imagining democracy in response to the rapid growth of inequality, showing how the system of corporations had merged with parliamentary democracy transferring wealth from the 99% to the 1%.
With the majority of the audience waving mobile phones in the air, Peter Anderson invited them to sign-on there and then to the Wales country group on digital democracy platform Vocaleyes and respond to the question 'How can we bring democracy to life in Wales? First up was a seven year-old, showing everyone the way, with a proposal for a free Legoland in Cardiff!!
A4D's performance evoked a lively participation – vocally, digitally and on paper, with the local Women's Equality Party candidate Ruth Williams sharing a photo-opportunity on facebook and twitter.
What will the draft Wales
Bill mean to, for example, a social housing tenant in Bangor? Or a homeless
woman in a hostel in Cardiff?
Housing is probably the
area of devolved policy where we have seen Wales and England diverge most over
the last 16 years.
Not only is devolved
government the settled will of the people of Wales, but a vastly different
approach to housing (amongst other things) is too.
In Wales, we have had
successive governments committed to investment in social housing, through
Social Housing Grant, which has allowed the housing association sector to
provide an average of 2,000 additional homes each year. At the same time, Welsh
Government supports a ‘Help to Buy’ product which allows better access to home
ownership. Across the border, UK Government pursues home ownership as the be
all and end all of housing policy, with funding for social housing sacrificed
for a loosely defined ‘affordable’ home ownership offer.
Devolution has meant that
the housing association sector in Wales has had an opportunity to define itself
very differently from our friends across the border.
The Right to Buy for
housing associations and the 1% cut to social rents will have a profound impact
on affordable housing as we know it in England. In Wales, there are proposals
afoot to abolish Right to Buy completely, and we hope that Welsh Government
won’t follow the same path on rents – a path now roundly rejected by housing
providers and tenants groups.
The draft Wales Bill
threatens the ability to legislate for these policy differences – voted for by
the people of Wales.
Welsh Government suggests
that the Housing Act, which took action on the scourge of empty homes, created
new models of co-operative housing and takes action to improve the private
sector, would not have been within the competence of the Assembly. This is
It is not a leap to suggest
that the proposals in their current form take us back to the dark days of the
Legislative Competence Order (LCO). Those of us schooled in the history of
LCOs, or indeed housing policy, will know that this didn’t work.
The Reserved Powers model
this Bill seeks to enshrine should be about simplicity and clarity. For
legislators and voters.
In its present form, the
Bill adds to the confusion – not only threatening to slam the brakes on the
devolution journey, but threatening to halt the significant progress Wales has
made as a nation in a number of areas. For housing, devolution hasn’t just
allowed us to do things differently; it has allowed us to better meet the
needs, and the will, of the people of Wales.
Not a movement of protest - but a movement of what we stand for is how Gerry Gold described the People’s Assemblies - which has gained some interest in mainstream media recently after the use of the term by the Labour Party. However the movement itself is not drawn up along party lines and encourages groups to come together with different ways of trying to achieve a more democratic society.
“We are challenging traditional party boundaries and opening up a more democratic space and atmosphere where we don’t ask the State for anything and instead focus on working together - aspiring to greater continuing development.” Gerry said.
Gerry reported that currently there are several emerging Assemblies for Democracy - Scotland, London, Manchester, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Swansea, Wicklow, North Wales, Oxford and Oban.Swansea’s A4D is discussing the possibility of naming itself ‘Swansea Bay Assembly for Democracy’ to pull in a wider geographic reach.
Swansea has a diverse local food supply instigated by the immigrant communities focused on the production of fresh. local food by independent growers/suppliers. However, many people rely on poor quality mass-produced food with the known impact on people’s health and wellbeing.
Clean water and fresh local food is what food security is about, said Geoff Thomas, a Swansea-based horticulturalist, in his brief presentation about food security to the Swansea Assembly for Democracy.
“Society often forgets we are totally dependent on plants to sustain ourselves” explained Geoff. “Our economy is built on plants!”
Geoff suggested that everyone in Swansea should be able to grow some food - even in a couple of grow-bags. “If you set up your own community garden and grow your own you will benefit from the higher quality of the food and learn a really vital skill. We could be self-sufficient in Wales if we grew more of our own food and produced and consumed less meat.”
Geoff also mentioned the CSA - Community Supported Agriculture movement that is helping people to self-fund local food production - Cae Tan and GowerPowerCoop are collaborating with the CSA to produce organic produce. Geoff’s also been involved in a project with Swansea University looking at vertical growing, which has is said to use much less resources in terms of land and water, than traditional horizontal methods.
Swansea is a hotbed of agricultural projects with many local communities already turning so-called brown field sites into green growing spaces and allotments. Geoff also highlighted the local groups involved in setting up green energy projects and animal husbandry such as Gower Power. Community Benefit Funds will also be arriving in Swansea where the energy produced will not only help the city to become more sustainable and also bring in money for the community. Such projects are the start of a movement that could see Swansea and many communities in Wales become excessive producers of quality local food and green energy in a ‘win win’ scenario.
Imagine a city centre shop where we exchange and share ideas and projects to help take Swansea to a more sustainable way of life where people can come together and not only prioritise some innovations but also tap into the expertise of fellow residents to create projects and businesses from feasible ideas.
That was the subject of the first A4D pitch from Peter Anderson in a short presentation he shared at the recent Swansea Assembly for Democracy meeting held at the Volcano Theatre on Swansea’s High St.
Peter reported that one of the ideas under the topic ‘How can we bring democracy to life?’ on the Swansea District VocalEyes group was for such a space to be established to help turn some of these conversations and ideas into tangible actions.
“We’re looking at creating a community innovation space for people in Swansea for groups, volunteers and enthusiasts to make use of. It would be a shop front on the High Street where people could develop projects and business plans together and share knowledge”.
“We’ve been unofficially offered lots of different empty spaces in Swansea for this. I would like to see VocalEyes Digital Democracy used to underpin the consultation and decision-,making processes to help local groups progress their projects”.
The proposed Community Innovation Hub - (Chi anyone?) would house a 'productive and fertile space' for the innovation and incubation of new ideas and initiatives starting with the regeneration of Swansea’s High Street. Ideas will often start their journey on the digital platform VocalEyes and be identified as a priority allowing everyone to have a say.
The objective is to tap into the collective knowledge and wisdom of local people and empower them to implement projects that will increase the level of positive social, environmental and economic impact in the area. Projects would have access to an exhibition space and publicity. A public engagement space would be created allowing everyone to gain access to digital tools to increase the democratic nature of the decisions being madSeveral groups in Swansea have also expressed an initial interest in collaborating on this proposal. If you’d like to get involved, please contact Peter Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org