Cabinet Office Policy School, Day 2

Empathy, empathy, empathy.

Barking Library

I don’t actually even know where to start with this because it was such a whirlwind of a day. An important, difficult, brilliant, tiring day!

Because so much happened and I learned so much, I’m just going to write up a brief summary and then give an overview of some of the information I picked up. I hope it’s useful!

The morning started with a presentation by Claire, the Chief Operating Officer of Barking and Dagenham council. She talked us through some key information about the borough and about how much it has changed in recent years. She also spoke compellingly about their plans for the borough and “Ambition 2020” their change programme.

Afterwards Monica talked about some plans that they currently have in the pipeline which they hope will start to influence community cohesion by empowering residents to change their environment or start community projects.

Afterwards, our peer group teams were split up and we all headed off to different parts of the borough to speak with different residents.

I headed off to speak with some “Silver Surfers” at club where retirees go and get support to do things with their computers. Lots of them had lived in the borough for a long time talked about how it had changed.

Teaching older ladies about selfies

We had a little bit of time to get back and have some lunch before we had to head off out again. We headed to a children’s centre and met some of the team who worked there, as well as some local residents.

It was eye opening, and hard, and I left feeling completely full of information and a bit emotional and very very tired.

In the afternoon we regrouped as a peer team to discuss what we had seen and learned, and to start thinking about themes and things we might take forward.

  • Ed went to a youth centre and assisted living centre.
  • Jon went to see the leader of the council and to the youth centre
  • Katharine went to the Job Shop and to meet the headteacher of a school
  • Monica went to meet the “Economic Wellbeing team” at the Children’s centre and to Dagenham Village estate
  • I went to the silver surfers, and to the “Economic Wellbeing team”.

What was clear was that we were all utterly bamboozled at the scale and complexity of the issues at play, and were looking forward to the weekend and some time to process it all.

Some of our team’s notes.

Because I learned so much I thought I would write up some of the headline takeaways from the day.

  • B&D is the youngest of all of the London boroughs with 30% of the population under 18. Half of those are under 7 years old.
  • In 2001 the borough was 90% white British, that has now halved. This has been very quick change.
  • The borough has the lowest satisfaction levels of all London boroughs, of those, the Asian and Muslim communities are more likely to be satisfied than white British.
  • Housing in the area is becoming increasingly unaffordable and house prices have risen 74% (unsure of timeframe, apologies for my note-taking).
  • The council want to build 50k new homes in the next 3 years, they have lost thousands of homes to the “Right to buy” scheme. 8k people are currently on the council’s housing register.
  • The churn of people into and out of the borough is around 20% and 1 in 7 residents say they don’t want to live there.
  • The Silver Surfers had all lived in the borough for their entire lives, they told me that they don’t feel safe, they were worried about rubbish and said that previously “everyone knew everyone” which isn’t the case for them anymore.
  • The Silver Surfers told me that finding jobs used to be easy, you would interview and be offered a position there on the spot, but that their grandchildren had struggled; sending off hundreds of emails and not getting any responses. They were worried that using technology had made the process “impersonal”.
  • The Silver Surfers were worried about transience of the population and said they didn’t think that people were invested in the community. They were also worried about homelessness.
  • Some other members of the community that I met said things like “you can’t paint over a problem” and thought that putting hanging baskets up was pointless. They expressed concerns that people don’t have back gardens, and that there werent any safe spaces for children to play.
  • Some residents described a Catch 22 they were in as a result of the “bedroom tax”, they had been on the waiting list for a smaller property, but were refused one because they were in arrears for their bedroom tax. An arrears of £72 was impossible for them to pay.
  • Some children are facing digital exclusion, being unable to use a computer and not having access to the internet.
  • At the children’s centre they described how poverty leads to mental health issues, which has a knock on effect on parenting and then contributes to children not attending school.
  • At the Children’s Centre they said that there has been a recent report that said that if they could get children to come into the centre with their parents 15 times, those children were much more likely to go to, and stay in school.
  • The “Economic Wellbeing Team” were concerned about zero hours contracts because they meant that, after doing lots of work and engagement to get people into work, people weren’t necessarily getting the correct hours each week and this would have a knock-on effect on their benefits. If people thought that they were “worse off” by going to work, then they would stop working again.

I’m really looking forward to next week to see what we can do with all of this information.




Now: @socialfinanceuk Prev:@ldgovuk, Head of Digital at National Leadership Centre. GDS. Proud to be @OneTeamGov.

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Sam Villis

Sam Villis

Now: @socialfinanceuk Prev:@ldgovuk, Head of Digital at National Leadership Centre. GDS. Proud to be @OneTeamGov.

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