In 2019 Midsomer Norton Town Council agreed a Community Engagement Policy, designed to capture feedback on the effectiveness of the different projects the Council undertakes. The document identified three strategic goals for the Council:

· To consistently promote the Council’s role in the democratic process and explain how it will engage with the community to carry out that role

· To create and maintain effective two-way communication with the whole community

· To plan and fund a range of activities each year to engage the community and to review their effectiveness at the end of the year

Blindsided by the Pandemic, the Community Engagement Policy appears to have been consigned to the dustbin of history. This is a shame, because the policy required the Town Council to agree a Community Engagement Plan for the year, that could be shared with the Town at the Annual Town Meeting in April. More importantly, that plan would include:

· A review of the effectiveness of its engagement in the previous year AND

· A plan for the following year showing what the Town Council will do to achieve each of the engagement goals and how this will be funded

Given the latest, lengthy, debates surrounding next years budget and precept, what a useful exercise this would be!

Former activities considered in the plan included: the asset transfer of buildings from B&NES, the High Street Heritage England Grant, Play equipment at West Clewes, the Town Park and the development of the Councils social media presence. Today, the Annual Town Awards, the Town Fayre, Carnival and Arts Festival remain, whilst the Christmas Socials, Council Surgeries and Midsomer Norton Life Magazine no longer exist in quite the same way they once did.

Town Councillors appearance at the monthly Framers Market is undoubtedly an effective cosmetic exercise, but is this an adequate replacement for the former surgeries? In October 2021, the Town Council chose to end their sponsorship of Midsomer Norton Life Magazine, currently producing a Newsletter available to read on their website, but has this decision ever been reflected upon?

What’s key is how the Town Council assess the effectiveness of the activities it’s undertaken. Whilst surveys and feedback forms have their place, the volume required to evaluate each activity individually would quickly become impractical. In the first instance, the Councillors and Officers will be best placed to consider what worked well and what could be improved and formalising this feedback in a post activity report would be a step in the right direction. Clearly the public’s voice should be heard and the Council can quickly and cost effectively gather feedback by encouraging the public to have their say online. For residents preferring the personal touch, a paper copy feedback form could be made available at the Hollies Library, in the absence of the Town Hall.

When large scale changes are planned to events or facilities a consultation plan should be drawn up that identifies the key questions for consideration and the user groups that need to be reached, thinking about the best time and place that people can be reached, as well as the most effective ways they can be communicated with.

Community engagement is key for any Town or Parish Council and the fact that Midsomer Norton Town Council were forward thinking enough to have such a plan, as well as brave enough to reflect upon the way they had been doing things, is to their credit.

2024 is the year for the Town Council to revisit this approach, focussing on the activities it undertakes, assessing what they are intended to achieve and whether they can be improved on in the future.

Ian Nockolds