On 26 May 2023, Community Voices Cardiff launched our Local Report, summarising a year of conversations held through a month long urban room in May 2022 in the Grange Pavilion, Grangetown, Cardiff, alongside an online mapping and survey platform and ongoing conversations and workshops.
In this blog, Mhairi McVicar shares some of what we learned through the engagement process.
Consultation for and by local people
A key recommendation from the conversations we held through Community Voices Cardiff is that consultation resources be invested directly within communities.
Consultation led directly by people in areas where development is planned can bring local knowledge and skills to adopt multiple consultation approaches to be relevant, appropriate, and accessible to people with varied and intersectional interests, needs and motivations, avoiding a generic ‘one size fits all’ approach.
For community members to participate in leading or contributing to consultation, it must be clear that the consultation will lead to demonstrable action. Far from being hard to reach, people report actively choosing to step away from consultation that is tokenistic and which doesn’t support the skills, interests and values already present in the community.
A hyper-local approach
Community Voices Cardiff took a ‘hyper-local’ neighbourhood approach to consultation, forming a research team through existing local networks of individuals and organisations.
A decade of my work in the area through Cardiff University’s Community Gateway and the Grange Pavilion had established community partnership projects on the basis of the mutual benefit of skills, resource and knowledge exchange.
Mymuna Soleman’s activism through Privilege Café had established a network of individuals and organisations on local, national and international scales committed to tackling structural inequalities. And Shoruk Nekeb’s leadership of the Grange Pavilion Youth Forum brought young people’s voices to the table.
Alongside local knowledge and trust, the team brought a commitment that the time and knowledge we asked of participants would lead to action. As consultants, our reputations were on the line.
Listen, learn, adapt
With that in mind, our consultation had to be prepared to adapt as it rolled out. We listened to people who felt uncomfortable coming into any physical ‘urban room’ public space and adapted to offer 1-1 in-person and online conversations.
We learned that our large public events worked best when making and strengthening connections with people, rather than extracting knowledge though survey gathering.
Deeper learning came from ‘flipped’ sessions in which residents fed back on the consequences and mistrust of consultation, challenging the language used in consultation and identifying mistrust as linked to a lack of evidenced action following years of giving time and knowledge to consultants. We were advised to ‘lean into our discomfort’ and to be willing to challenge our preconceptions about how our own consultations would inform action.
Towards a community-led place plan
It was important that we acted on recommendations shared within the urban room. Our Local Advisory group of residents, local Councillors, government and third sector representatives, and planners and architects, advised us to support the first steps towards a community-led place plan.
In a proactive relationship with Cardiff Council planners, Cardiff Council and Welsh Government representatives attended every session of follow-up ‘Conversations about a Grangetown Place Plan’ workshops held in November 2023 and attended the launch of the local report, committing to hold Local Development Plan consultation events in the Grange Pavilion. The Community Voices Cardiff local report captures the initial recommendations for a Grangetown Place Plan from a year of conversations.
There can be a fear in consultation that simply asking people what they want will raise unrealistic expectations. But the ‘asks’ from the Grangetown Place Plan imagining a future Grangetown are far from unrealistic or unachievable: they speak of ‘leading the way in community practice’, affordable housing ‘representative of the community who live here’, a ‘greener and cleaner’ area, a ‘community with a sense of ownership’, a place where developments and community projects are ‘based on the voices and needs of people in the community’, a ‘great place for children to grow up in and a great place for people to grow old’, and a ‘beacon for the importance and process of community consultation’ where residents ‘feel acknowledged’ and have ‘voice and power in their own places’.
These comments speak of approaching consultation as sharing power in decision making with the people who will care for and manage the places they live in.
Community Voices Cardiff are Mhairi McVicar, Mymuna Soleman and Shoruk Nekeb, as part of the AHRC Community Consultation for Quality of Life research project, led by Flora Samuel and supported in Cardiff by Ruchit Purohit (CCQoL), and Ali Abdi, Corey Smith and Sophey Mills (Community Gateway).
Photography: Peter Evans