The round of annual parish meetings has started and I have been going along to deliver my ‘annual reports’.
I have not been to too many so far, but I have been struck by the declining popularity of these events in some villages. I will not name names, but some meetings that used to attract a good number of interested residents have shrunk to a few brave souls still keen to tell a few others about the activities of their group or association. Even the provision of delicious refreshments has failed, in some cases, to attract many attendees.
I find this rather surprising, and disappointing, given the increased emphasis on localism and the need to build the ‘community capital’ that councils are hoping to build on in times of financial austerity.
But is it really a sign that there is less ‘community spirit’ about, or are people just less inclined to turn out in the evening to sit in the village hall? I do not detect any overall falling away of societies and organisations. Indeed, I understand that the WI, following a long period of decline, is now picking up strongly once again. The success of Little Waldingfield’s quite recently formed History Society does not need repetition here. Book groups and other special interest groups remain popular, and the ongoing mapping exercise of community activity, currently being undertaken by the County Council is throwing up plenty of local activity.
Moreover, the decline of the annual meeting is not seen everywhere. The turnout in my own parish, Acton, was not too bad, although the event was enlivened by the appearance of the County Council's Richard Webster, who came to explain about the intelligent lighting system that the council can now provide. The meeting also however managed to get sucked into a protracted wrangle about power lines, trees and an obstructed footpath for which no one wanted to take responsibility. As the clock ticked past 9 p.m. I was reminded, perhaps, of why people might prefer to stay at home and watch Masterchef!
Nonetheless annual parish meetings generally include much of local interest, and they offer an opportunity to meet neighbours that you do not know. What is more (although this might not be much of an attraction) there is generally a chance to question and challenge your local councillors at every level.