Parish Plan Section A - Introduction
1. Parish Plans are an initiative by the Government to encourage local communities to find out for themselves how they want their villages to be improved. It is an exercise in grassroots planning from the bottom-up rather than top-down. At its heart is a consultation with the community to identify their wishes followed by a report (this document) to the service providers (transport, health, police, etc) at county and borough levels.
2. In Barrow upon Soar, the consultation was initiated by the Parish Council and the Rural Community Council (RCC). After an Open Meeting to explain the scheme, a team of volunteers formed a Steering Group – including representatives nominated by the Parish Council - and started work in July 2004 on receipt of a grant from the Countryside Agency (supplemented by contributions from the Parish Council and British Gypsum). Frequent presentations have been made to the Parish Council during the course of the project and this Final Report has its endorsement.
3. We decided, early on, to carry out extensive consultations in the village before designing a questionnaire. This included: articles in the village newspaper; invitations to submit ideas and questions; mailshots to the 70+ clubs and societies in the village; random mailshots to residents and businesses; ‘post boxes’ for suggestions (in the library, paper shop and health centre); and an open meeting to discuss concerns. The outcome was over 4 closely typed pages of specific suggestions for improving the village services and facilities! This became the basis for the Barrow-specific questions in the questionnaire. The RCC (Hazel Fish) helped enormously in finalising the format of these questions.
4. In addition, we incorporated a set of ‘standard’ questions, not specific to Barrow, reflecting the overarching concerns of Service Providers. These are questions which Service Providers seek to ask of all communities so that they can compare and contrast when assigning priorities for funding. These questions were endorsed by the Service Providers and the Parish Council.
5. Also, in consultation with youth groups in the village, we produced a ‘youth questionnaire’ aimed at the 10 – 18 yr olds. This contained Barrow-specific questions reflecting the particular concerns of young people.
6. The knock-on effect was that the issues thrown up in the initial consultations were more complex, apparently, than usual. Accordingly, the questionnaire was big (eg with separate questionnaires for adults and young people) and involved more complex than usual data input and analysis. With hindsight, it is obvious that this was inevitable since Barrow upon Soar is a big village (about 2500 households, population about 8,000) with a lively and well-developed community spirit.
7. The questionnaires were: distributed, in late May 2005, to all households; collected, during June 2005, by a team of volunteers; coded by the Steering Group; data input was by paid typists; and the Steering Group did the subsequent analysis of results. This process took much longer than any of us had expected.
8. 1190 replies to the ‘adults’ questionnaire were received from households representing about 52% of questionnaires distributed and about 2800 people. This is a good return given the length and complexity of the questionnaire. Also, the demographic make-up of the respondents is reasonably similar to that of Charnwood Borough as a whole (as revealed by available census data) leading us to regard the Barrow data as ‘representative’. In addition, 167 questionnaires were received from young people. We feel that these data provide a sound basis for action.
9. Both questionnaires were anonymous but we invited people to say if they wanted more information on anything (eg clubs and societies, help from social services, childcare) or wanted to offer to help with task forces to follow up to the survey. These details were collected on ‘tear-off’ contact sheets which have been/are being passed to those relevant to the requests received. Incidentally, this has identified a lot of new volunteers to help with village activities.
10. Following the data analysis, a draft was produced of the Key Issues and the proposed Action Plan. These were presented to the Parish Council and, subsequently, to the community as a whole at an Open Meeting in November 2005. A draft Final Report was then written based on these findings and comments. This was sent, in mid January 2006, to service providers as recommended by the RCC. They were invited to a ‘question and answer’ session in early February 2006 as a mutual check of understanding. This version of the Final Report was written in the light of comments made by the service providers.
11. Copies of the Final Report will be put on the village website and made available from the Library and the Parish Council Offices. A shortened version has been distributed to all households by way of feedback and a ‘launch exhibition’ held in the village. These generated additional names of volunteers.
12. The Steering Group is now concentrating on encouraging the formation of ‘action groups’ to follow up the recommendations of the Action Plan. Once these are up and running, the Steering Group will disband.