Armed with a broad set of principles and a loosely defined brief to address health and wellbeing issues in Camden, it was difficult to know what to expect. But as a fresh-faced policy officer, new to the council with little experience in citizen engagement, I jumped at the chance to lead on this project.
“Go and set up a Neighbourhood Assembly on health’’ they said, “see what happens.” So we did.
The Neighbourhood Assembly
In 2019, FutureGov and Camden Council convened the Camden Neighbourhood Assembly on Health and Wellbeing. This hyper-local deliberative approach married co-design with participatory processes and resulted in three ideas to combat health and wellbeing issues in the borough.
It was immediately clear how enthusiastic residents are to have a different kind of relationship with the council. Often when you mention you’re from the council, you get a standard reaction from residents. Mention you’re working on a project to put local people in charge and you get another reaction entirely.
Recruiting to the Neighbourhood Assembly got easier once we stopped talking about the process and started asking people: what about health and wellbeing matters to you and what role the council should play?
Once we explained that we’re trying new ways of working with residents to shift the dynamic and put local people at the heart of decision-making, conversation flowed. What started as curiosity and a healthy dose of scepticism, soon turned into a group of people building real relationships and trust.
No longer was I only “a council officer”. But rather, Henry, an Assembly member who cared about the work, the ideas and those involved. No longer were our members “residents and citizens” but people — friends and neighbours with a shared goal to make our local community a happier and healthier place to live. Working together, we shifted from an energetic group of individuals to a collective, focusing on ways we could affect positive change across the entire community.