Friday, 8 November 2013

A classic demise part II

After eighteen years, the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum will soon be no more, having sown the seeds of its own demise when it was at the height of its powers; publishing a regular community newspaper, holding community meetings attended by 60-80 local residents regularly, sometimes more and campaigning on a range of fronts, plus establishing an annual community festival and ensuring that a ward called 'Dunkirk and Lenton' was created in the face of fierce opposition from the City Council (although it needs to pointed out that local Labour Party councillors and our MP, Alan Simpson,  supported the Forum 100%).

The Forum managed to be democratic and inclusive without being restrictive or bureaucratic. All its meetings were open and it came up with a model approach which enabled it to embrace division whilst representing all views and loudly rejecting prejudice of any kind at the same time. Quite an achievement by any measure. Its model brought it into conflict with the Nottingham voluntary establishment, who could not comprehend the giving of corporate powers to Forum working groups and expected all decisions to be filtered through monthly management committe meetings. The Forum's response was to cite the City Council as its role model.

Personally, as one of the Forum's founders, I saw it as a first step on the road to the creation of a urban parish council, but it was not to be. I lost the argument to those who saw my view as confrontational or political - and I happily admitted that it was both.

The 'partnership' approach was preferred with charitable/Lottery funding and I, along with Helen Sudbury, who then worked in the City Council's Housing Department, were the architects of a successful £177,000 Lottery bid in 1998, which enabled the Forum to employ three workers and start its own community newspaper, 'News From The Forum' (the last issue published was no.49 and Susan and I helped with its production, as we did the first seven issues).

Charitable funding makes campaigning harder, if not impossible, and the Forum was built on campaigning, on making demands. Once it changed to being a voluntary 'response' and service organisation it was doomed. That is not what local residents wanted. NAG was born out of that frustration and others, like myself, dropped out of active involvement, even though I helped on the sidelines. I never signed up to the Forum becoming a charitable company limited by guarantee and voted against the proposal until the final vote, when I abstained (the only person to do so).

After the last city council elections the Forum's quarterly meetings ceased and our ward councillors adopted the title 'community forum' to describe their own open meetings with local residents. That was when the Forum ceased to be responsive to local views, although it was when the Forum refused to object to planning applications some years before that I knew, for certain, its future depended on funders and not the community which created it.

As happens to voluntary organisations all too often they reach a point where the organisation becomes more important than its aims and that happened to the Forum. It made what decisions it did with the best of intentions and Susan and I will continue supporting the Forum to the very end. The proposal that its assets, liabilities and activities be taken over by The Lenton Centre is not one we would argue with, as we have been actively involved with both and support them both with monthly donations.

The outcome is that Lenton has had no campaigning organisation for some years, with the exception of NAG. A pity by any measure. The end of the Forum, inevitable as it has been for a good few years, is still something I view with regret. My wish is that the Forum's manager, Fiona, still has a job, for she has served the Forum and people of Dunkirk and Lenton well. In the past, the Forum has been well served by its staff and many volunteers.

Since 1996, the area has changed out of all recognition, but that's another story...

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