The Parish Councillors from Wealden District (the area around Crowborough, Hailsham and Uckfield) meet once a year to discuss progress in their areas. This is a good chance for them to learn new ideas that will hopefully equip them with the tools they need to deal with growing demand in an increasingly strained financial situation, and to ask questions of the district and county councils. The format of the conference was set out with different speakers offering their ideas for the Parish Councillors with a final “Question Time” styled question and answer from involving the guest speakers and the county and district councils.
If I had come to this conference expecting it to be dry, then I was mistaken. Kevin Baughen (Hidden Britain) explained to the crowd of Councillors that if they wanted to make their patch more attractive to tourists and visitors, they needed to think about their values, assets and the emotional appeal to show what their area is about. It was a positive speech using phrases such as “singing with one voice”, translated: small organisations (like Parish Councils) and individuals should not just be working at the same time, but together. It felt like he hit the nail on the head when he said that throughout all campaigns and advertising for your local area it is vital that you are appealing to people’s rational and emotional feelings at the same time.
We’ve all read that article where we thought to ourselves “I could have summed that up in a paragraph” when it was 5 pages long. Dr Jeremy Leach from Wealden DC’s policy team dedicated his timeslot (“Nudge 2”) to giving some advice on how to appeal to people, again using a lot of psychology. He used a practical exercise, involving simplifying a letter to make sure we had learned at least some of the basics. To me this felt like useful exercise that could be used in almost any field of work. It seems unfair to assume that without this kind of presentation teaching them the basics, Councillors would be able to know this stuff.
At the end of the day there was the question and answer session with all of those who had given speeches or presentations. Lots of questions were asked, and almost as many answered. Overall this was an interesting day, with Charlie Lant and Becky Shaw (Chief Executives of Wealden and East Sussex Councils) showing how their councils are tackling austerity and still getting results, and reaffirming their commitment to localism. It has to be said that a lot of unconventional ideas were batted around, but it seemed like the Councillors left with a positive feeling. Attending the conference left me feeling that I had been in a psychology, marketing and politics lecture… for all the right reasons.