Community Engagement Policy & Strategy
This policy was adopted by the Council at its meeting held on 23rd January 2019, Minute Ref. 19/09c, amended June 2023. For review annually.
The Parish Council is committed to community engagement at all levels and supports and encourages all community members to engage with the Council.
The overall aim is to make Council communications a two-way process. The intention is to provide timely information to allow the community to understand what we do, whilst enabling the Council to make informed decisions using accurate information received from residents and partners.
Objectives of the community engagement policy
- To improve, plan and shape the future of the parish according to local needs and priorities through active engagement with the community to understand needs and priorities.
- To use the process of engagement to inform decision making.
- To raise the profile of the village.
- To raise the profile of the work of the Parish Council.
- To use a variety of methods to provide information to the community.
- To engage with local and strategic partners on a range of matters of interest or concern to the community.
Who are the community and local partners and stakeholders?
Within the parish:
- Village voluntary groups
- Village clubs, societies and organisations
- Local churches
- Local businesses
- Heathlands Primary School
Wider groups and organisations:
- City and County Councillors, MPs
- Neighbouring Parish Councils
- Essex County Council Departments
- Colchester City Council Departments
- Other public sector organisations such as those concerned with health, education, the police and emergency services
- The media
A strategy for engagement
The Council will achieve its communications objectives in the following ways using the methods of communication and engagement below:
- Publicity / Communications Officer – This role was first implemented in 2011 when the Council determined the role was required to help liaise between the Council and its community partners. This liaison role helps encourage the public to have a say on village matters and to assist them to publish their village aspirations through the use of a named contact.
- The Parish Clerk – The Clerk is a pivotal point of contact for residents in fielding and answering queries which arise. The Clerk’s contact details are widely publicised and contact may be made by phone, email and via Facebook.
- The Clerk’s Assistant – will be responsible for the majority of communications, including posting on the social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram.
- Parish Council Meetings – Parish Council meetings are held monthly on the third Wednesday of each month. A key aspect of the meetings is publicising the agenda in advance on the village noticeboards, website and Facebook page. In all respects the Parish Council meetings must comply with the Councils Standing Orders ensuring good practice is maintained.
- Residents Question Time – The public are continually invited to attend all Parish Council Meetings. Each and every meeting begins with a public “Questions from Registered Electors” session. Open questions are normally restricted to 15 minutes in total however at the Chair’s discretion a period can be extended if deemed appropriate.
- Parish Council Committee Meetings – All committee meetings are open to the public and publishes their agendas in advance of meetings, dates available on the noticeboard, website and Village Bulletin.
- Parish Council Contact Details – The Parish Council display contact details on the website, noticeboards and in the quarterly Village Bulletin magazine.
- Calendar of Meetings – The Parish Council display the annual timetable for meetings on the website, noticeboards and in the Village Bulletin.
- Annual Parish Meeting – The Annual Parish Meeting is the ideal opportunity to bring the community together and allow residents to question and review how the elected councillors help shape the community. To be successful good planning is needed and it is the responsibility of the Parish Clerk to both timetable an annual meeting date, organise the venue and ensure that Parish, City and County Councillors all attend and have a part to play. The Parish Council determines the “interest theme” for each annual meeting to encourage maximum turn out by the community. The main objective of the annual meeting is to provide and encourage two-way communication between the community and Councillors. The meeting is heavily advertised in advance on the website, noticeboards, Facebook and in prominent places around the village e.g. Doctors Surgery, School and Hairdressers.
- Public Meetings – From time to time the Council may decide that an item warrants being dealt with through a specially convened Public Meeting. Public Meetings will be organised by the Finance, Policy and Personnel Advisory Committee (FPP) to set the meeting agenda and meeting content. The Clerk will arrange the meeting venue with any costs met by the Council.
- Public Consultation – A public consultation will be conducted if the Council concludes a particular event or programme that has an impact on the village warrants a consultation programme. The intention of this exercise would be to better understand the needs of the village.
Examples may include;
- Update of the existing Parish Plan or Village Design Statement
- Neighbourhood Planning – Consultation at many levels is an inherent part of producing a Neighbourhood Plan and a public consultation is a statutory requirement.
- Village Road Safety planning
- Boundary change proposals
In some cases, when a consultation programme needs to engage with the wider community a working party will be appointed to analyse any results and report to the Council with the outcomes. The Parish Council will have the option to accept all or part of any recommendation made by the working party by way of a majority decision by Councillors.
- Village News Distribution – It is important that what happens in the community and how the Parish Council administers the village is widely publicised. Funding for the Village Bulletin or WBPC Newsletters will be provided if required, however these publications can become almost self-funding using advertising income. However, the Council has a duty of care to ensure that accurate and relevant village news has a medium available to it that does not solely rely on advertising funding. Village news publication media financially supported by the Parish Council include:
- Village Website (www.westbergholt-pc.gov.uk) – A wide ranging website with extensive information regarding the Parish Council and village is in operation which includes news both of the village and further afield to encourage regular visits by interested parties. A regular report is produced by the web master for the Parish Council to monitor the popular web pages visited. This information is used to allow the Council to determine where visitor interest lies from an information exchange perspective.
- Social Media – The website has been enhanced to allow social media to encourage rapid communication within the community. Facebook and Instagram capability has been added; allowing short news items to be quickly distributed to those preferring to receive news through social media channels. Social media provides a two-way capability therefore it is important that each is regularly checked and responses given from the Council in a timely manner. Aside from the link there is a Parish Council Facebook page and the Clerk’s Assistant can post to this and other Facebook pages such as the Hub and Community Facebook Page.
- Community Fora – The Parish Council may act in a proactive way when there is a need to assist the community to become organised in order to lobby or influence other partners or where it will be useful to determine a way forward for residents as a whole. By doing this the Parish Council is an enabler rather than the main driving force. Current examples include:
- Neighbourhood Plan
- Allotment Committee
- Playground Advisory Group
- Village Hall Users Group
- Climate Change Group
- Poors Field Working Group
Over time it is hoped to establish a free-standing Community Forum.
It is important that the Council measures its progress towards its stated objectives so that it may inform any future plan. Initially a benchmark of the current state will be required.
The following initiatives can potentially be monitored:
- Raised awareness of the Parish Council and the services it provides.
- Participation and engagement of community partners with Council projects, initiatives and consultation processes.
- Attendance at public meetings and organised events.
- Media coverage of the Parish Council’s communication coverage.
This can be done by:
- Parish questionnaires.
- Assessment of the report provided by the web host.
- Measurement of press coverage following press releases.
- Number of likes and followers on social networking sites.
- Attendance at meetings.
The Council should aim to consult regularly with residents ranging from light touch opportunities such as the “Questions from Registered Electors” session at the start of each PC and Committee meeting through to formal consultation programmes where information must be widely disseminated and feedback obtained to shape the programme and demonstrate democracy in action.
For large or complex consultation programmes it may be necessary to form working parties – ideally consisting of Councillors and members of the public to organise the consultation programme. Outcomes from surveys and consultation draft material should be made available to the public through village bulletins and the web site for transparency purposes.
This Community Engagement Policy and Strategy provides the framework for how the Parish Council will communicate and engage with parishioners and other organisations. It must be reviewed and updated if necessary, annually.