Introduction to the Community Led Plan
In order to ensure that a village or parish continues to thrive and reflects the wishes of its residents for the future, an appraisal of some sort needs to be undertaken at intervals. The last appraisal for Wittersham (apart from the specifically focused Housing Needs Survey in 2012) was carried out in 1998. The Parish Council has decided to instigate a further study in the light of the changes which have occurred since then.
Following a well-attended public meeting in February 2012, a Community Led Plan Steering Group was established to conduct just such a review. The Group has named itself Wittersham VOICES (Village Opportunities and Initiatives for Community-led Evolution and Sustainability). It is currently deciding on the best approach to gather information on, and then analyse, as many topics and suggestions as possible before coming to any conclusions. All organisations within the village have been approached to come up with ideas for enhancing village life. Preparations are now being made to produce a questionnaire which will give every resident over the age of eleven the opportunity to express a view, if they so wish, to enable a comprehensive analysis to be made.
This analysis will be translated into an Action Plan with specific objectives to be delivered to the Parish Council and then on to Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council as appropriate as an expression of the determination of Wittersham residents to have a full say in their future.
AIM of VOICES
To deliver objective, analysed and practical proposals from the residents of Wittersham concerning the future development and sustainability of the village.
Scope of the Appraisal
The list of topics currently being covered by Wittersham VOICES is as follows:
A Provision of a Village Shop
B. Roads and Transport
C. Leisure and Recreation
E Business Opportunities
E. Green Issues
F. The Emergency Evacuation Centre
This list will be subject to amendment if other subjects are suggested.
Each topic has been allocated to a member of the VOICES Group and the necessary research to provide a base line is being undertaken. This involves determining what has been achieved in previous appraisals and requesting information from the Wittersham Parish Council (WPC) and Ashford Borough Council (ABC). Action with Communities in Rural Kent (ACRK) has also been approached for advice on procedure and will be used in the future to ensure that VOICES remains “on track” to produce a credible and practical Plan.
All the organisations (see Annex A) in Wittersham have been approached and asked to propose ideas for VOICES to consider. The response so far has been encouraging, especially as the communication was made just before Christmas and therefore may well not have received the attention hoped for. A “chase up” message will be produced shortly exhorting everyone to become involved either through the organisations to which they may belong or as individuals. Requests are being received for presentations to be made to members of some of the organisations and these are being followed up. The aim of these presentations will be to explain what VOICES is doing and to try to stimulate discussion which will hopefully followed by involvement in the project.
The monthly publication Outlook on Oxney has carried two short articles inserted by the Steering Group explaining what VOICES is all about and giving a brief update on progress. This method of communication is invaluable and will be increasingly important as VOICES makes progress in collecting views and ideas.
It has been agreed with the Village Hall management that VOICES can have a table at the Tuesday Community Market. To start with, VOICES will be present on the first Tuesday in the month, commencing in March. Visitors to the market will be encouraged to talk to the VOICES representatives to find out what the project is about, how it is progressing and to propose their own ideas for consideration. As interest grows it is hoped that the frequency of attendance by the VOICES Group at the market and participation by residents in what is being proposed will increase.
A questionnaire will be produced during the coming months asking for individuals to express their views on the range of topics mentioned above. The questions will be kept as straightforward as possible and will be aimed at all residents aged 11 and above to ensure the greatest possible range of views is captured. The importance of this questionnaire being all-embracing in its appeal and involving everyone cannot be understated – if the appraisal is to have any lasting and meaningful effect it must involve as many Wittersham residents as possible, even if the involvement is only a disinterested response. The current intention of the VOICES Group is that the questionnaire will be distributed in September and collected in early October. With Data Protection in mind, the answers will be anonymous unless an individual gives permission for a personal approach to be made to discuss any issues.
The involvement of both the Church and the School in the project is considered to be of particular importance as both these institutions have a vital role to play in the life of the village in the future. Each will be approached in an attempt to encourage them to participate pro-actively in the Group’s work.
Wittersham VOICES is in the throes of Topic identification which will be followed by Review. Review consists of examining all the data we can glean and preparing a questionnaire as the vital part of the survey. Then it’s Analysis and setting the objectives before making proposals which will initially be put to the Parish Council. Resources and responsibilities will then be identified before implementation is commenced.