Right now there’s a council officer out there battling with a squeaky wheel. I know this from my research on local government committees, where their role was a frequent theme. The officer is usually acting in the context of strategy and plans. The committee member is often acting with great determination and a community need in mind. This obstinacy isn’t always welcome. There he/she goes again!
Back at Christmas time I met a squeaky wheel. She dragged us off to try out public exercise equipment at Waterlily Park in Ocean Shores in Byron Shire, NSW. Sue’s a member of Nimbin Advisory Group. She’s after community accessible fitness equipment for the town, with a passion that must have council staff shouting, ‘Don’t oil the squeaky wheel!’
Actually we were happy to give the fitness equipment a try, and get fried in the 38 degree heat (no shade). And I had to find out more about the learnings, the frustration and passion of a squeaky wheel.
What makes you so keen on this stuff Sue?
I have a sports background. I’m a phys ed teacher by training, and played Australian women’s hockey. Sport’s in my blood! I first came across public fitness equipment on a holiday in Turkey in Istanbul. A woman in head coverings was using it, and so were people in all sorts of costumes. One of the things that impressed me was that it was accompanied by signs describing what muscles were used on a particular piece of equipment.
In Australia I saw it in Darwin at Nightcliff Beach. Everyone was using it. I started asking people whether they liked it. Then I saw some on the Gold Coast.
You seem to know a lot about it all.
Yes, I started taking note of forms, shapes, companies that make equipment. The best equipment around is ‘Fit for Parks’. That’s why I called the project ‘Fit for Nimbin’. Think about it … it’s a great title – just like ‘Fit for the Future’! (NSW local government amalgamation # ed note: squeaky wheels are experts, and know lots about the local government context).
I was ready to apply for money for equipment for our community, to get a group together who could see the benefits. We all know that council doesn’t fund things without matching dollars. We raised funds locally, for example the Rainbow Power Company, gave money because they wanted their employees to be able to exercise at lunchtime. We got money from Clubs NSW.
So how are things moving along?
Well, we weren’t successful with the local council. Their sports and rec area is more oriented to traditional sports. Yet research shows what’s needed is this kind of thing, which individuals can make use of at any time.
I was told that the reason the equipment wasn’t funded was because public exercise equipment was not in the 10 year plan! Of course I read the 10 year plan. It turned out there’s nothing in the 10 year plan for Nimbin other than a plan to improve some flat land with picnic tables. There is nothing active in the 10 year plan.
Still on the hunt for funds I started looking for the NSW government body funding sports equipment for older citizens. Yes, there was something! But it had been closed. The officer wasn’t sure it’d happen again.
So what’s the next step?
I find Councillors are more receptive to initiatives that come from the community than council officers. In my view, the 10 year plan needs community based equipment on council land which is regularly mown, and not currently used for anything. Our group has located a suitable area to activate, near the kids playground and barbecue.
There are many like us who want to exercise in their own time, at their own level of fitness. Equipment like this, that explains uses and safety, gives people the chance to be responsible for their own movement. We’re going to get some for Nimbin
So … the squeaky wheel … In the words of my research report, ‘Work with expert citizen members to realise the benefits of what they have to offer’ (Bolitho, 2013, p18).
Nominations for the 2015 National Community Development Award (Australian Regional Development Conference) close on Tuesday next week (15 July 2014). The key criterion? How does your project demonstrate innovation and/or best practice in the way your organisation does business or delivers services to your community?
What does innovation and/or best practice in community development mean to you?
Innovation is … :
According to this 2012 article ‘Community Development, reflecting on what works‘, a pithy summary of current leading trends:
1. ‘unprecedented collaboration’ – joining forces with other organisations and workers … to the max!
2. successfully using data which plays a key role role in analysis, programming and decision-making.
Is this what the CD awards are looking for when seeking innovation, and does this reflect your experience?