wWw – To access the Leicester Speaks website, please click here.
SCT worked with Leicester City Council and other local partners, including public services, the education sector, voluntary organisations, community groups and the business community, to organise a range of events during the course of Local Democracy Week which runs between 11 and 17 October 2010.
The aim of the Leicester Speaks/Leicester Listens programme was to involve as wide as possible a cross section of Leicester’s communities in debating a range of issues of importance to them, provide platforms for sectors of Leicester’s community which are seldom heard and create opportunities for constructive engagement between the public and local decision takers.
A steering committee representing a broad cross section of the local communitywas established over the summer and, by the end of September, some 25 events had been organised as part of an initiative which is thought to be the most ambitious programme ever mounted to mark the annual Local Democracy Week in the UK.
The City Council and other organisations including the two universities, the Peepul Centre and Curve offered venues free of charge and the list of event organisers included both universities, LeicestHerday Trust, Brahma Kumaris Youth, Leicester Secular Society, the Chamber of Commerce, Citizens’ Eye, Leicester City Council, Leicester Council of Faiths, Voluntary Action Leicestershire, the Leicester-based National Institute of Continuing Adult Education (NIACE) and Leicester University Students Union. Local MPs and Councillors will also be participating.
Announcing the initiative at the end of September, Joint Chair of Leicester Speaks, John Coster, editor of Citizens’ Eye, said, “now more than ever it’s vital that Leicester people get the chance to speak out and be heard about the issues which matter most to them and we’ve come together to try to create opportunities and provide platforms to make that happen. Our message is that if local democracy is to work, everyone’s opinion has to count and everyone has to be encouraged and enabled to express it. We also believe that there is so much we can learn from each other which could make our city a better place for us all.”
Joint Chair George Ballentyne, equality and diversity officer at Leicester Council of faiths, added that “thisinitiative really is owned by and run for the people of Leicester. The enthusiasm and goodwill of the growing number of groups and organisations which make up our partnership is extraordinary. A lot of people are freely contributing huge amounts of time, talent and resources to make this happen and we want to encourage more to join us. There will be events not just in university lecture theatres and Council buildings but also in local libraries, community centres and cafes. It would be great too if people want to organise their own event in a local pub or their own front room because we want to get Leicester people talking and listening to as many ideas and opinions as there are out there in the community and to celebrate everything Leicester people have to offer.”
Public Takes Centre Stage at Leicester Speaks Launch
Members of the public joined the Lord Mayor, Cllr Colin Hall, and representatives of some of the 30 local organisations and community groups behind the Leicester Speaks initiative at its launch at an open air event in the city centre on 11 October.
No fewer than 30 local people took the opportunity to address their fellow citizens on subjects close to their hearts from a platform at Humberstone Gate as a central feature of the launch of seven days of debate and discussion to mark Local Democracy Week. Topics ranged far and wide, from benefit provision to parenting, from job opportunities for graduates to residential acre for the elderly, from the needs of small business to the war in Afghanistan.
The launch was a prelude to a programme of 31 events taking place in 19 venues throughout the city with topics ranging from What Women Want to Should Leicester Have an Elected Mayor? and from Can We Change Destiny? to The War on Terror – Nine Years On.
And SCT’s new mobile Speakers’ Corner toured residential neighbourhoods during the week to give local people the chance to speak their minds, visiting St Matthew’s Neighbourhood Centre, Highfields Community Centre and New Parks Library.
Leicester Speaks Joint Chair George Ballentyne said: “Local democracy is about local people and we want to give them the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions right from the start of our programme and to celebrate all the wisdom, energy and goodwill the Leicester community has to offer. But this initiative is also about listening and we plan to organise another event in a few weeks time so that people can see how the decision-makers have responded to the issues they’ve raised.”
Joint Chair John Coster added: “We want to create a platform for all of Leicester’s communities, right in the heart of our city centre as well as in the places where people live. What’s important is that people have the opportunity to speak their minds.”
Mobile Speakers’ Corner on Tour
SCT’s new mobile Speakers’ Corner was pressed into service outside the St Matthew’s Neighbourhood Centre on 12 October. Even passers-by too shy to mount the platform were pleased it was there and happy to talk about the things that mattered to them, including the respective roles of men and women as parents, the need for a volunteering spirit and the problems of unemployment. There were lively debates the following day in Highfields and on the next, schoolchildren queued up during their lunch break to have their say.
Meanwhile Leicester City Council Leader Veejay Patel has given Leicester Speaks his enthusiastic backing, saying, “Leicester is a great free-thinking, open-minded, creative city. There are many people – from different backgrounds and of different faiths and cultures – but there is one Leicester community. And its people are strong-willed, straight-talking but always generous. That’s what makes this such a great place – and Leicester Listens plays to its strengths.
“I’m proud that we’ve been able to help with so many other local partners to mark Local Democracy Week by creating opportunities for Leicester people to come together to discuss what really matters to them. This is a celebration of all the best that Leicester has to offer.”
The week was an overwhelming success, drawing together partners from organisations large and small, providing platforms for the debate of big current political issues and the discussion of cultural and spiritual matters and providing opportunities for people from all over the city to speak their minds.
Local media company touchRainbow led by Bipin Anand, an enthusiastic supporter of Leicester Speaks, made a five minute film which wonderfully captures the spirit of the initiative. The video and still photography which makes up the film was all shot and edited by a group of some 20 volunteers, some of whom had never before handled a camera much less entered an editing suite. The skills they acquired and the film they made are among Leicester Speaks’ many successes.
Leicester Speaks Again…
Following the outstanding success of the first Leicester Speaks, the initiative was repeated in Local Democracy Week 2011. In a partnership coordinated by the City Council, more than 20 local organisations held a wide range of events between 12 and 19 October. The programme kicked off at a major launch event at Humberstone Gate in the city centre which featured around fifty stalls showcasing the work of local groups and once again provided a platform for Leicester people to talk about the issues which matter to them.
Once again touchRainbow made an excellent film short film of the highlights.
A full list of the Leicester Speaks partners along with photos and videos of many of the events can be found on the Leicester Speaks website.
In 2012 Leicester Speaks got in ahead of the rest by celebrating Local Democracy Week a week early. Its programme for 8-14 October can be found on its website and touchRainbow’s film is below.