Community Counsel

By Jane Cruickshank / September 11, 2020

Julia Morton spoke at the very end of a lengthy Stonehaven and District Community Council Skype meeting on Tuesday night. My tired shorthand could not keep up with her passionate address, so Julie has very kindly given The Bellman the text of her speech …

Good evening, I am Julia Morton, founding director of The Haven in Stonehaven, a not-for-profitorganisation that focuses on early intervention and prevention for mental health in our community.

During the pandemic we created The Haven Community Larder to address rising food insecurity.

Firstly, thank you for showing up. We are really fortunate in Stonehaven to be cohesive enough to have a Community Council. Lots of communities don’t even have one.

There is this perception that all community councils do is dog poo and planning. I know personally that you do more than that and have helped The Haven when we had issues in the community. So I have higher expectations than most!

I am here to share our experience as a small grassroots community organisation in Stonehaven with particular emphasis on the pandemic. The Stonehaven community did a lot of good during this time but there is an awful lot we could have done better.

It is not my intention this evening to diminish the positive actions taken but rather to encourage a safe way to have a conversation in how we come together even stronger as a community: embracing the positives but also acknowledging and addressing the parts we can do better. To convey this, I can only speak from my own personal experiences and observations.

When I had the idea for The Haven Community Larder I was told that food poverty didn’t exist in Stonehaven. But I had heard the same response in regards to mental health and trauma. There is this perception that Stonehaven is a middle class area and therefore that we do not have food insecurity – and we do. We are just much much better at hiding it.

When we went into lockdown Aberdeenshire Council closed all of their doors, understandably. They are too large an organisation to take on that risk. And what happened, as a consequence, is organisations, like The Haven, who are smaller and more agile could respond quicker to community need and could keep their doors open.

Yet we received no funding to keep our doors open. The funding available was too restrictive. We did not have a rent break or reduction. There was no funding for operational costs. We remained open, because as an organisation, we had reserve savings because I didn’t take a wage for the first two years.

Yes there was funding for PPE kit and food. But we were able to work in partnership with local organisations like Macphies who gave us most of our PPE kit for free and the four local Co-ops to reduce food waste in our community. Is it the most effective way to use funding to buy food when tonnes of food are being thrown out everyday in our community?

biscuits peas and mushrooms

When I asked these questions to Aberdeenshire Council employees, the most common answer was, “Above my pay grade.”

If I had £100 for every time I heard that we could have had the funding we needed. It’s not that any one individual does not want to help, rather they are powerless to do so.

Why should this matter to the Community Council and Aberdeenshire Council? So far we have been able to support nearly 2,000 visits to The Haven Community Larder from those experiencing food insecurity in our community since we opened in May 2020. We have delivered 400 food parcels and have 50 active volunteers.

What kind of additional pressure would this have placed on existing Aberdeenshire Council services if we had not taken on this responsibility as an organisation? If we hadn’t kept our doors open, what would have happened to these people?

If we are better supported, funded and resourced how many more people could we have helped?

This is what I would like you to consider as a course of action as a Community Council to help.

  1. As a community council you are the representatives of the community and our collective voice. I would then encourage you for that voice to be heard.

For example,at the recent Aberdeenshire Council Community Ward 18 discussion forum meeting in response to the community’s experience with the pandemic, where were the community council members? We had 5 local organisations show up. We needed you there. I know there were two community council members there but they were not introduced, or minuted, as community council members. They were there representing other organisations. They were there wearing another hat. I ask you, how many hats are you wearing?

2. I acknowledge the efforts of the two community council members who show up at our Kincardine and Mearns Mental Health & Wellbeing monthly meetings. But what about the Connecting Community meetings or the Alleviating Poverty meetings?

How can you be representing the community and being the voice of Stonehaven if you are not showing up?

Are the community council members truly representative of our community? Are we doing diversity audits? Is there a plan to encourage and ensure that all voices are heard based on gender, demographic, race, additional support needs and age? Otherwise what voice is really being heard?

As a community council I implore you to embody the Community Empowerment Act (2015), which the community council is bound to. We can’t depend or trust Aberdeenshire Council to solely be the agent for change in Stonehaven due to the sheer size and organisational cultural shift that desperately needs to happen.

We can achieve greater changes quicker as a community. However, as Aberdeenshire Council faces increasing budgetary cuts it is the grass roots community organisations that have to step in and up as a consequence.

These organisations need to be valued, supported and funded by Aberdeenshire Council otherwise vulnerable people in our community are left.

I know that the collective wisdom and experience that is here tonight is capable of much more than planning and dog poo. My hope is that the Stonehaven Community Council can be a safe space to engage with the community and have difficult conversations around what community collaboration really looks like in terms of evidence-based action.

Stonehaven community needs, more than ever before, your support, leadership and and empowered collective voice. We need to be brave enough to do things differently and do them better.

Thank you as a community council for showing up tonight, and secondly for giving The Haven, and anyone in the community, an opportunity to be heard. But ultimately, none of the former points really matter if it does not translate into action for the benefit of the community.

I welcome further conversation.

stone with The Haven painted on and an arrow