Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday, March 30, 2015

Healthy Affordable Housing by Design


The  Royal  Institution  of  Chartered Surveyors has said this week that we are experiencing the lowest level  of housebuilding in England since the 1920's and that today's children face a lifetime of renting cramped accommodation in an increasingly unaffordable market.

Around 2.5 million children live in homes that are damp.
Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.

Housing is not one of our most successful services compared with our European neighbours. 16th out of 34 in OECD analysis, it nevertheless ranks way above education, skills, work-life balance and wellbeing - all of them in many ways affected by quality and quantity of housing.

100 years ago many millions of people who would have died early in their lives from infectious diseases due to, or exacerbated by poor housing, sanitation, lack of food and limited access to medical care survived and flourished due to a partnership between health and planning for housing and communities. Housing was a function of the Ministry of Health.

Post 2nd world war house building was a numbers game – successfully allowing MacMillan to build over 300,000 homes in 1955.

Housing completions these days neither reach the heady numbers of the 1950s, nor do  they respond to the health and well being imperatives as they did in the 1920's.

 There is currently no effective mechanism to engage affordable housing providers in the planning and delivery of homes that are not just a roof – but afford positive benefits. There is concern in the public health realm that it is not possible to get the right houses built in the right place for the right families.

In recent decades the health priorities have become cardiovascular disease, stroke, respiratory disease and mental and physical health. November 2014 Town and Country Planning journal in a joint issue with Public Health England focuses on the  need for better understanding of both the influence of the built environment on health and the role of spatial planning in shaping places that maintain good health.

Across a range of societal factors the home environment has a massive influence on child and young adult development. As MIND, the Mental Health Charity suggest, well designed home environments need to respond to the needs of occupiers – delivering positive assistive, uplifting home environments can often be as easy as building the wrong house.

Not a cost issue but a DESIGN issue.

Research from Finland confirms  the improved development of children that can be afforded by communal space that is well designed, engaging and safe.

Affordable Housing was always intended for the most vulnerable – by enhancing life and earning chances through positive design of supportive environments the future opportunities for the less advantaged can be improved.

We are uniquely placed to influence the lives of millions of people who live in our affordable  homes...

- affording children’s perceptive capability through good environmental design,

- affording cheap warmth by high grade insulation,

- affording old age community engagement through interactive technology.

43% of adults over state pension age are disabled. Based on responses from 222 English and Wales housing authorities, the charity found that a third of councils (32%) either did not mention disability at all in their housing plan, or mentioned it only in passing.

How many homes are capable of receiving a disabled person for short term remedial care?? The Lifetime Homes standard promotes a 1 in 10 policy for new homes – but there is a massive gulf between actual accessibility and the need. The cost of bed blocking from older patients unable to return to their own home because they cannot care for themselves, but also unable to be discharged to their family's home due to lack of facilities is significant.

It is considered axiomatic by many that health and housing are linked in that poor housing results in negative health issues. But evidence suggests that housing built to address health concerns could dramatically improve health outcomes, reduce burdens of the health services and social care and not cost much, if anything, extra to build if the homes are designed right in the first place.

The space standards for UK dwellings is significantly less than that for our European neighbours. Housing Associations either have to buy land at commercial prices, or buy ready built houses also at commercial prices. 1/3 of the price of a property is taken up in profit for the land owner or developer while huge tracts of public land are classed as developable brownfield but are not being released.

Housing Associations are facing both an identity and a structural crisis. The are not delivering for the least well off, they are not working with health agencies to provide sympathetic environments in which to grow develop and retire in supportive communities, and they are now being threatened by the double threat of profit making private businesses accessing government grants and loan guarantees to build one bedroom starter homes for sale or private rent on the one hand and a promised 'right to buy' for Housing Association tenants promoted as part of a successful Conservative  Party if they win the May 7th General Election.

The strong desire of the health and wellbeing community is for lifetime homes with low energy use and cost,  high utility,   permanent low cost to access and low maintenance and service charges

A focus on affordance – what the home can do for its occupants - together with a restructuring of tenure models so that low land cost can allow lower density with higher utility could transform both the lives of social tenants but also release higher residual income to be spent in the community to support economic growth without resort to payday loans just to buy food at the end of the week. Community Land Trusts offer one route to this uprated provision.

My research will be extending and integrating the many situational aspects of affordance, drawing from human computer interaction, social psychology, design, child development and ageing amongst others to develop a framework of affordances that might allow a translation or a correspondence between required outcomes and specific characteristics of the environment. This framework will be piloted in a Health and Wellbeing context.

We need is a mechanism to relate health issues that might stem from housing deficiencies and the solutions that are possible in the housing world.

A specific case might be the need to retrofit houses with electrical sockets higher on the wall so that wheelchair users can access them – this was a solution, and it cost money to retrofit. Now with wireless technology plugs that use existing sockets that can be controlled by mobile phone or tablet, allow disabled people to live in their own home but also (given other physical factors)  during a period of recuperation in their family's home without restrictions on their use of electrical devices. No cost to the built environment, huge savings in the hospital and care  sector due to reduced bed blocking (estimated to impact 61% of days lost due to wait for discharge to nursing home or care home).

Just this month government has begun to work in this cross cutting way, recognising the value of warmth on prescription piloted in Sunderland: joint funding from health and housing leading to a reduction in unplanned admissions. This initiative builds on the Decent Homes and Affordable Warmth initiatives that have seen a major improvement in air tightness and levels of warmth at lower cost that have made significant improvements in family health.

However,  increasing air tightness creates its own problems; In a 2014 study the high prevalence of asthma in UK compared with the rest of the world was considered in relation to improved energy efficiency measures in houses. The study authors concluded that energy efficiency may increase the risk of asthma in adults residing in social housing and that a multidisciplinary approach is needed to understand the interaction between energy efficiency and fuel poverty. The risk of asthma was doubled in houses where mould was present. Tightly sealed houses with double glazing have been reported to increase the incidence of damp and mould when their SAP rating rises above 71.

Tobacco is itself a significant housing issue not only degrading the housing stock of tenants who smoke but causing a third of all household fires and resulting in a third of all domestic fire deaths resulting from cigarette smoking. Yet increasing constraints on smoking in public places and the workplace result in the domestic house becoming the last – and as we’ve seen above sadly for some the final –refuge of the smoker.

Housing designed to address health concerns can dramatically improve health outcomes and reduce burdens on health, social care and housing budgets. The annual cost of falls of people over 60 in the UK is £2billion, and at one year follow up 20% of frequent fallers are in hospital, full time care or dead. Homes designed to minimise the likelihood of falls could make a significant inroads in to this major public health focus area.

But where is the conversation being had between health and housing at this level of design solutions that impact health and housing – there is little evidence that these conversations are happening at all. One reason is that there is no common language.

And thats what my research is about …... creating a mechanism – an algebra of affordances and appropriations - that allows health professionals to describe their hopes in their language, for housing providers to express their design options in their own language and for there to be a coming together of the two  that results in the  design of houses and neighbourhoods that contribute to greatly improved well being and health with little or no direct cost.

March 27th 2015

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Health Service background

I am really glad to be engaging with the emerging Fed-IP informatics body.

For the record here is a summary of my involvement with Health Informatics over the last 47 years....

I joined the NHS as a trainee programmer / analyst in 1967. My principal
qualifications were one year of a truncated Nuclear Physics degree and the highest score so
far in Wales in an aptitude test…..turned out not be a good indicator of programming skill,
but set me on a 40+ year technology people and buildings path.

In 1967 at the Welsh Hospital Board computers were used for payroll, accounting,
admin tasks - taking over from tabulators and sorters. But under pressure from very
enthusiastic clinicians and epidemiologists the emphasis shifted towards ‘scientific’
applications and I was extremely fortunate to be dropped straight in to development and
support of a wide range of non-admin applications. The key message here for today’s NHS is
that clinicians came knocking asking for help knowing that proper use of even 1960’s level
computer technology could make patients’ treatment better and management of clinical
services more effective; they were not disappointed.

After a 6 week course at ICT in London I was let loose on developing a computer based
Welsh National Cancer Register to take over from a card-sorter / tabulator produced analysis
of survival rates for each type of cancer. An online search today will turn up a 1985 paper
that suggests data was first collected in the mid 70s - my experience is that in the mid 1960s
dedicated researchers captured and published valuable reports albeit hindered by the
limitations of sorter / tabulators..

The internet seems to have assisted in the apparent loss of much early computing
evidence in the NHS. From the experimental hospital computer projects in the late 1960s
through laboratory automation and radiotherapy treatment planning visionary clinicians were
pushing the boundaries of computing across the UK. As well as the Welsh Cancer Registry I
was fortunate to be involved in many early excursions, and I will briefly stroll through the 10
years from 1967 to 1976.

1967 - The Welsh Hospital Board computer centre was in the grounds of the Velindre
Road entrance to the Psychiatric Hospital in Whitchurch, just north of Cardiff. (This pattern
of using spare land in the long stay mental hospitals was repeated, and in 1973/4 North West
Thames RHA opened their computer centre in the grounds of Friern psychiatric Hospital).
Another bit of the spare land at Velindre Road was occupied by the emerging Cancer
treatment centre first planned in 1947. Dr Ken Wong, (who was to become internationally
recognised for his work in computer security) was working at Velindre in 1968, and we met
for the first time when my manager allocated me to support a Fortran programme for 3D
treatment planning developed in Holland. Good time to learn Fortran!

1968 - Digico, the UK’s first mini computer company, established by Avo Hiiemae and
Keith Trickett, majored on medical applications. The Micro-16s was an NRDC backed
general purpose minicomputer that joined the Digiac, released in 1966 to process data from
mass spectrometers. See the Digico Working Group, a special interest group of the Computer
Conservation Society (CCS).
My work focussed on pathology laboratories, and we developed and installed systems to
capture and report on biochemical and haematology analysers at a number of UK hospitals
including Leicester and Kings College Hospital, Denmark Hill. The Kings College system
complemented the recently installed experimental computer project for real time online
medical records that was a world leader - Professor John Andersen was both the guiding force
of this first real-time online 24 hour per day on ward clinical and nursing records system and
the Chair of the first Medical Informatics conference, MedInfo 74 in Stockholm - those of us
who were there did not sleep much because during the day the best medical computing
practitioners presented alongside the creators of such computer languages as Algol, and at
night the first world computer chess competition was conducted between systems from US.
UK, Russia and others. (I recall Chess 4.0 from Northwestern played Kaissa from Russia in
the final marked by a massive shift in style when the programmers overseeing their computers
stopped being adversaries and started collaborating as they tried to work out why their
computer programs were making the moves they did. These were the 2 programs David Levy
played while on his way to winning his bet that computers could not beat him by 1978.)!!!

For a description of the Digico system see
J Clin Pathol. 1974 December; 27(12): 1005–1012.
Implementation of a British computer system for laboratory data handling
C. H. Gray, A. D. Hirst, P. J. N. Howorth, T. P. Locke, B. Mellor, and M. Walter

This system, and the paper, had a strong reference back to work at University college
Hospital by Flynn, supported by amongst others Michael Healey. Healey will return soon in
this history….

J Clin Pathol Suppl Coll Pathol. 1969; 3: 62–73.
Problems and benefits of using a computer for laboratory data processing.
F V Flynn

1969 - On 6th October 1969 a press conference held by the Medical Research Council
and the north-West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board reported on progress of a
combined district hospital and clinical research centre at Northwick Park, Harrow. Michael
Healey was announced as head of the new Department of Computing and Statistics. From
that point on, until the hospital opened in 1971 work proceeded to develop and implement a
complete end to end patient records system for all inpatients and outpatients in the 815 bed
composite hospital.

At Northwick Park, as it was at Kings College and Barnet General (see 1973-1976) the
digitisation of the Master Patient Index was a key infrastructure platform from which to
develop consistent and integrated patient records. I recall long nights scanning index cards,
and complex software designed to cope with multiple spellings of the same name ( at Kings
Roger Chalke deployed Kansas City Police Dept vowel and consonant stripping techniques to
normalise and codify decades of imaginative spelling - a technique I subsequently used on a
project in Saudi Arabia, and essentially the same process used in genealogical data search).

1969 - Tim de Dombal published with Hartley and Sleeman “A computer-assisted
system for learning clinical diagnosis” in the Lancet, January 18th pp145-149, this research
lead to diagnosis of acute abdominal pain being assisted by computer. clinicians were quick to
catch on to how computer technology could encode, store and share expertise among a wide
group of junior doctors, enhancing the initial diagnosis of acute abdominal pain and
hastening appropriate and effective treatment. Dr. Charles Hodes at Borehamwood published
“The Computer in General Practice” in The Practitioner, and continued to champion the
cause of computer screening procedures while I was in charge of medical computing at
North West Thames Region from 1973 to 1976.

1970 - Whipton near Exeter became the first GP practice to go paperless.

Preece JF,
Gillings DB,
Lippmann EO,
Pearson NG
. An on-line record maintenance and retrieval system in general practice. Int J Biomed
Comput 1970; 1: 329–337.Medline

The experimental computer project at Exeter focussed on community links, and by
1975 Ottery St Mary was integrated with the hospital systems.
Why general practitioners use computers and hospital doctors do not—Part 1:
incentives. Tim Benson BMJ 2002; 325 doi:
(Published 9 November 2002)

1971 - BUPA the private health insurer ran a diagnostic and multi-phasic health testing
facility in London. I was bowled over by the use of Microfilm players programmed to ask
medical history questions in the language of the patient, and to deliver comprehensive history
in the language of the clinician. The concept of multi-phasic testing, designed to catch
conditions early and pre-empt reactive and expensive interventions struck a chord with the
team at Kings College but the DHSS were firmly of the view that the NHS was there to treat
patients when they presented with symptoms, not to manage their lifestyles to avoid costly and
complex treatment later on in the development of conditions. The DHSS were also not up
for using a general measure of public utility (the cost to the nation of an hour extra waiting in
outpatients) as a justification for the roll- out of an outpatient management system that
WITH the savings to the nation would pay for itself in weeks; so much so that the

implementation was pulled just before go-live in a stark example of how IT was becoming
seen as a cost not a clinical benefit by the powers that be - this mindset blighted clinical IT for

1972 - I was asked by research clinicians to develop a quality control program to ensure
radio-immunoassay machines were working within tight ranges of accuracy. The integration
of quality control into automated processes in analysis was about to become a standard
practice, and I was again engaged with the implementation of similar processes at North
London Blood Transfusion working with BASIC on a Wang 2200, the forerunner of the

1973 - 1976 I was appointed to lead Medical Computing for the North West Thames
region. For 3 years we had a fantastic opportunity to investigate, develop and roll out
practical, groundbreaking clinical solutions in teaching hospitals, district general hospitals and
in public health. 3 projects stand out for me over this period.

1. Barnet General Hospital. With a strong clinical drive Barnet hosted a team that I was
fortunate to lead, made up of analysts, organisation and methods specialists and clinical staff
at the hospital. We documented everything, producing a comprehensive description of how
and why everything worked at Barnet, which was used to develop a specification for a
distributed processing network of Cogar System 4 microcomputers connected in a dual failsafe
ring network supplying optical character recognition for unique patient id that did not
require barcodes with their “I am not a number” negative connotation……how come
barcodes are STILL the norm?? The Cogar System 4 is acknowledged as a forerunner of the
personal computer and was supplied to us by Singer Business Machines as the Singer 1500,
later rebranded the ICL 1500 when ICL acquired Singer.

2. Working with the Regional Scientific Officer (Harold Glass) we developed a
standardised pathology laboratory automation and management system based on Data
General Nova computers and rolled out in a number of large and medium scale pathology
laboratories. Harold Glass was later cited

Harold Glass

"The Impact of PACS on Hospital Information and Practice", Proc. SPIE 1093,
Medical Imaging III: PACS System Design and Evaluation, 354 (May 25, 1989); doi:

3. I was seconded to the DHSS to investigate the total systematisation of the Supplies
Vocabulary throughout the hospital service. Using techniques pioneered in the UK armed
forces we worked with all the regional supplies officers ton develop a common codification to
both reduce inventory complexity and improve ordering and management of clinical supplies
across England. the re emendations were accepted and North West Thames region became
the processing centre for supplies catalogue management.

Over the last 27 years I have returned to engage with the NHS on a number of
occasions, latterly working in Somerset with Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust and
North Somerset Community Partnership. It is sometimes difficult to see how the fantastic
range of innovative and effective developments made by many dedicated clinical and IT
specialists in the 1960s and 1970s have in the main been lost, and the wheel re-invented many
times at escalating cost and complexity. It is encouraging to look at General Practice where
the early lessons were learned, and where there is now almost universal application of
comprehensive, compatible and cost-effective systems.

Let us hope that the recent resurgence of clinical leadership in Information Technology
will be allowed to deliver the systems and processes identified as valuable and deliverable 40
years ago……..otherwise the imminent ‘internet of things’ revolution and the ipad linked
personal vital-signs systems will grow in a vacuum to everyone’s detriment.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Doctoral Research into Affordable Housing in the UK

In November 2012 I was fortunate to be able to establish a part-time PhD research position at University of the West of England.

My initial research proposition follows, although I suspect over the next year or so it will change.

The Affordable Housing sector in England, and particularly Housing Associations have been influenced and impacted by several changes in legislation and policy over many years. It is intended to examine whether the sector has been effective in delivering the outcomes required to all the stakeholders in the English Housing market, and whether the sector is able to deliver the outcomes required over the next 25 years? What evidence from other housing geographies can assist in clarifying a way forward for affordable housing in England?

Outline of Study Objectives
1. Identify and classify the intended and unintended outcomes from the social housing sector since its foundation in the 19th century.
2. Identify the change in capacity, intended outcomes and actual outcomes from Affordable Housing.
3. Survey Housing Providers to assess their success in responding to the changed nature of housing provision since 1974
4. Survey residents and stakeholders on the current housing market and its effectiveness in delivering their outcome expectations.
5. Survey and research other geographies (Europe, Asia, Australasia, Americas) and compare expectations of outcomes and current structure of those markets with the English environment.
6. Develop a comparative assessment of the future capacity of the English housing market and that in other geographies to deliver the range of outcomes explicitly or implicitly expected of the sector.
Research Justification

The ‘housing market’ in England is a complex, ever changing mix of private ownership, private rental, social rent, shared ownership and leasehold with supply being delivered by different agencies working under different regulatory structures. Families and individuals in need of accomodation are drawn into one or other tenure state based on income, family situation, local supply and demand and a range of other factors.

In 2008 the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit said that 240,000 new homes would need to be built in England each year by 2016; in the 12 months to 2012 the number built was 118,000, in 2011 109,020, and in 2010 103,300. Capital funding for development is being severely squeezed by the continuing economic difficulties while the anticipated Universal Benefits revision in 2013 will affect a significant proportion of the population’s income (and potentially change the way Housing Associations’ income is assessed by lenders.

Housing Associations account for 10% of the 22m+ residential units in England. Tenants in Social Housing are twice as likely as any other housing tenure to have no formal qualifications, and 1/5 as likely to have a degree. The National Inequality Panel investigated the linkages between inequalities in economic outcomes and people’s circumstances (Hills et al. 2010). It found that housing tenure was important in reflecting and exacerbating inequalities, and in particular ‘growing up in social housing’ was more closely associated with poorer economic outcomes in adulthood than in

Councils can now force homeless people into the private rented sector under new laws which came into effect in 2012. The new rules mean local housing authorities can end their duty to homeless people by offering accommodation in the private sector without an individual’s agreement. Previously, a council would still have to house someone if they refused the private rented sector accommodation offered to them. Underoccupancy is intended to be assessed and ‘addressed’ in planned legislation. New houses are required at a rate determined in significant degree by teh number of ‘new households’ being formed in England every year. The implied need to use land that is currently not developed, and the need for sustainable use of limited resources potentially act as restraints on the options for effective response to the continuing housing need.
The availability, characteristics and environment of housing has a profound effect on health, wellbeing, educational attainment, social inclusion and equality. This research will provide another component on the evidence base that could be used to modulate the reshaping of the English housing market to meet changing requiremenst from stakeholders.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Save South Petherton Library

We all know times are tough at the moment. The government and local authorities are cutting non-essential services, reducing waste and making less go further. Unfortunately some services that many consider essential are also under threat; police, fire, social care, housing benefits, disability allowances and others. One of the services that is coming under pressure in many places across the country is the free local lending library.

400 libraries across the country are under threat of imminent closure - including ours.

National statutes require that Somerset County Council provides “a comprehensive and efficient” library service – this has been confirmed by the minister Ed Vaizey, who was approached by David Laws MP on South Petherton's behalf. Lending of books must be at no cost, although other facilities such as computer access, DVD rental and others can be charged for, and there is an income from things such as fines, and for sourcing books from other libraries.

Somerset County Council have announced that only 14 libraries out of the 34 across Somerset will stay open. The Council say the other 20 will close unless local communities take over responsibility and funding. South Petherton, Martock and Ilminster are all on the list of 20 to close. The visiting library bus service is likely to be reduced in frequency and coverage.

Many Somerset residents are deeply concerned about the loss of all local library services. Protests and campaigns are going on - in Glastonbury, where a film has been produced with nationally known local figures (Michael Eavis and others) – in Wiveliscombe where they are planning to check every book out of the library to show how used it is. The Facebook campaign Save Somerset Libraries includes many library communities like ours that are appalled at the prospect of not having a library. Possible legal challenge is being considered.

South Petherton have handed over a petition with over 700 names on it to the County Council Portfolio Holder, David Huxtable, and the County Council are well aware that there is a great strength of feeling in the village that the Library should stay. The question is how can we keep it?

I have been asked by the Parish Council to take the lead in working out what is achievable. I have visited library groups in Buckinghamshire who had to go through a very similar thing a few years ago and now run Community libraries. I have also had talks with potential charity and private funders who could make a significant contribution to the ongoing provision of a library in South Petherton. If local individuals are willing to take part in a volunteer group to help run the Library, this will form a very good basis for an attempt to develop a plan for the long term.

If the library closes there are other less effective and costly alternatives. We could travel to Crewkerne or Yeovil, the Library bus could visit every now and then, or we could operate a drop in and pick up service with no books on show. Before we accept any of those alternatives I think we need to consider the continuation of a 'proper' library first.

Providing a library service needs 4 key things – books (obviously), somewhere to house the books with good access for everyone, staff to run the library, and a way of adding new books and getting hold of ones our own library does not hold. Once these are in place there are other very useful facilities such as computer access and reference collections (local history for example) that are invaluable to young and old alike.

The Community Information Centre has been running for a year. When it was set up there was a strong desire to work together with the library. Creating a single place for the library, information centre, police post that also provides public toilets could be the most efficient way forward, especially if they are all located in the centre of the village.

The Somerset Library Service does not own our Library building. The lease has run out, so it is easy for them to stop the contract. This does mean that if the village aims to take over the Library we can evaluate which building would work best. If we add in the Community Information Centre, relocate the toilets from Prigg Lane and create links with the school then 3 options that have been proposed by various residents are all possible – the existing library (quite expensive to rent), the old Co-op (very expensive), and the ground floor of the Blake Hall (owned by the Parish but already in regular use for the club). We need to focus on the property issues very soon.

If the Community take over the Library volunteers could be asked to do a job now done by employed professionals. I have a big problem with this in principle, as I know other people do . We could plan to share qualified paid staff with other local libraries that are facing the same situation, and supplement their time with volunteers (as they do in Burton Bradstock).

The technology that allows books to be issued and given back to the library and access other books from the wider library network is not available to us if we take over the Library. A new, lower cost Broadband access service is under development but will not be ready until much later in the year. We need to agree with the County Library Service to keep on the current library until that technology is available so that we can take over properly.

The 2 libraries in Buckinghamshire have gone through this already, taken over their own libraries, and after several years are thriving with (if anything) too many volunteers. They have been very helpful, and we have fully developed business plans from them that we can base any future plans on. The key issues they suggest must be resolved are full connection to the library network, support from the County Council on an ongoing basis, a well managed and willing volunteer group, a building (Chalfont St Giles Parish Council bought the library building), and access to cash to make it all work.

Money, building, library network connection and people are the things we need to fix. Possible sources of money are to transfer the funding we already have for the CIC (for the next 2 years) to also support the library, find some private funding from individuals (I already have tentative offers), some substantial funding from businesses or charities (some positive discussions already underway) and contributions from both the Parish precept and the County Council.

The village has responded very strongly by calling on the Parish Council to increase the precept to support the library, resulting in £10,000 a year being allocated from the precept starting in 2011. That is separate from money that is planned to be spent on youth services, play, recreation, the Information Centre and toilets. Altogether we will have access to a quite substantial regular income to support the combined activities of library, information centre, publicly accessible toilets, IT suite and youth evening drop-in.

The newly appointed Parish Council will start in May 2011 and will oversee how this funding is allocated, as well delivering a whole range of other new facilities that will be funded by the precept and by money contributed by developers of major housing schemes at Lightgate and Prigg Lane. There is going to be a lot going on!

We have established a not for profit organisation to run the library, and held our first meetings. Unfortunately since then our numbers have dwindled and during the next few months it will be important to find 2 or 3 people willing to take an active role in delivering the library project and acting as trustees to over-see the long term operations. Anyone who is interested please contact me directly on 01460 249119 or at

The latest information we have to hand in mid-April (when this article is being prepared) is that the County Library Service will continue to employ librarians who will be allocated to Community-Supported Libraries at a commitment of 1/3 of the hours that the Library is open. We will pay the County Council for the services of a Librarian, we will not directly employ her. Our volunteers will work with the professional librarian and will receive full training during a 3 month handover period from April to June 2012 with a full-time librarian.

The important thing to do now is to build a fund of money to be used to prepare whichever building we ultimately occupy and to run the library effectively. Fund raising is not easy at the best of times, but when the whole country is having to tighten its belt its even worse. There is a big administrative and legal burden just to establish a charitable organisation, let alone use the money when we have it.

With the active support of the Parish Council we have arranged to work with Somerset Community Foundation who will act as our banker, and we will operate within their existing and very effective charity operation, allowing us to support gift-aided donations.

The arrangement with Somerset Community Foundation offers significant benefits for the Library and for our supporters. The legal framework and administrative support already exist. The charitable intent of the Community Foundation and its existing supporters is consistent with our aims. Somerset Community Foundation have an excellent network of contacts and a high reputation for projects such as recycling winter fuel payments from those that do not need them to those that do. This arrangement will ensure that funds are secure and properly allocated in line with the agreed aims.

Donations will be received directly by Somerset Community Foundation and individuals or companies need not be identified to the Library operation. This invitation is funded by the income from our first fundraising event held in March when we were privileged to be able to listen to one of the world's leading young guitarists Michael Partington. Check him out at

We are hoping for both one-off capital funding for building works or buying books and also for long term commitments of annual revenue funding to contribute to the £20,000 plus per annum we expect to have to fund every year. The funds collected by the Friends will be used to supplement Parish Council and any other grant or operational funding that we can arrange.

Please think very hard about whether an endowment or regular contribution to the Friends of South Petherton Library suits your views of how to support our local community. If you have any questions, want to volunteer, or want to find out more up to date information please come in to the Community Information Centre where I will create an information point for anyone to see progress.

I would like to thank those people who have already approached me both to volunteer and to pledge support. I would also like to thank the young lady who brought her daughter to the concert, apologised that she could not actually stay to listen but wanted to thank us for making sure South Petherton and its young people has the library it deserves – that sort of support makes it all worthwhile.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Best Strategic Partnership in the Country

On February 4th 2010 
South Somerset Together was awarded 
'Best Local Strategic Partnership'
at the Community Partnership Awards!!

Fantastic news for the many individuals and organisations who have worked so hard to deliver spectacular programmes of community change, innovation in service provision, and created a robust, enduring collaborative, non-partisan group.

I am proud to have been Chairman of the Partnership for nearly 4 years and to have worked with leaders from local government, police, fire, health services, voluntary sector, charities, climate change, faith and equality groups, national organisations such as the Environment Agency, Natural England, The National Trust and with local businesses.

For more information on South Somerset Together and our Sustainable Community Strategy have a look at our website

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Community Information Centre and Police Post opens in South Petherton

In December 2009 we opened the South Petherton Community Information Centre and Police Post.

Some years ago we arranged for a small room at the back of the David Hall (our spectacular performing arts venue) to be used as a Police Post. Volunteers and Somerset and Avon Police provided a valuable service to the local community dealing with issues, complaints and crime-reduction.

We built on that success with the Local Action Group which you can read about elsewhere in the blog.

Now the village has combined the 2, added a fully staffed information centre, and created a vital additional resource for South Petherton. Anyone who wants to know anything about pretty much anything, needs to read planning applications, meet their local Councillors, have private conversations with the regularly attending police and PCSOs and get involved with the multitude of activities in the village can drop in 6 days a week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change Action Day

I am delighted to share with thousand of others around the worl din blogging for climate change.

In South Somerset we are working to a corporate plan of zero carbon by 2020 - we may fail, but we are going to have a damn good try!

ZeroSom is our initiative, backed up by several active Transition Groups, a strong clinate change agenda driven by the Community, and a lot of individuals who are passionate.

Keith Wheaton Green
Joe Burlington
Cara Naden
Rob and Becky Cotterill
Vega Sturgess
Andrew Turpin
Kate Vanonvitch
Tim Rook

and so many others.

We are showing Age of Stupid in South Petherton  next Thursday, and have a 350 event planned with our MEP Graham Watson on the 24th.

visit breathe at

visit our South Somerset District Council's climate change agenda at

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

South West Charter for Member Development

South West Charter for Member Development
Hilton Hotel, Swindon
February 27th 2009

The Charter for Member Development requires councils to ensure that their elected representatives are able to manage large budgets, take difficult decisions for their communities with the necessary knowledge, balance conflicting demands, be aware of political differences and to show an ability to accommodate each other for the benefit of local communities. It is about developing and training councillors to a ‘benchmark level’.

Development means a mix of training, on the job experience and learning new ways of working, and this is what our councillors receive at South Somerset. What is most important is that we have been out delivering all the good things that we have learnt, and it is those things that make the difference to local people’s lives.

The message for me is that we were the first of many in the South West because of our long history of commitment to the member development philosophy.

Phil Dolan, Chief Executive of South Somerset District Council said "I am obviously delighted for staff and councillors that we are the first in the South West to gain this tremendous accolade but let’s not forget the reality of what this means; our councillors get some of the best training and development opportunities in local government for the sole purpose of better serving our residents. That’s the real good news”.

At South Somerset the induction process for new members starts even before the election with a Becoming a Councillor booklet available on line and sent to all candidates. Throughout the year events for young people and community visits by the Democratic Services team offer every elector the chance to appreciate the value of becoming a Councillor. Whether people start as a Parish Councillor or Town Councillor and then stand for election at District or County Council the underlying issues are the same, a need for true altruistic detachment, a recognition that there will be a lot of hard work, late evenings and short weekends and acceptance that being in the public eye means less privacy and often some interruption of 'normal' life.

After the election a comprehensive series of information and education training sessions on all areas of councillor business is organised. These cover everything from how to participate positively in meetings, make presentations, as well as the more typical financial regulation and planning training. Every new Councillor turned up after the 2007 elections, and some of those re-elected joined in as well for a refresher. One of the most interesting parts of the training is a bus tour of the District - I for one was quite daunted by the area covered by South Somerset and the totally different environments and communities we support.

South Somerset District Council’s commitment to joint development with partner organisations is actively demonstrated through seminars and training sessions – out of 49 development opportunities in a five-month period, 31 were provided externally. Our internal courses are open to other Councils when we can, and we look for ways to minimise cost while maximising the quality of training and support we give each Councillor.

Lyn Lockyer, Member Development Officer at South Somerset District Council says, “An important aspect of our councillor training is that people with little or no experience of local government are able to become a fully functioning councillor who is confident of their community role.

“Our 60 councillors go out into the community, getting involved in things, taking a leadership role. Last year we also held a Beacon event and many members came from far and wide to learn from their example. I am so pleased that their efforts to learn and develop have been recognised.”

Lyn must be congratulated for being one of the main reasons South Somerset's scheme has been so effective. Her boundless enthusiasm and commitment is known and admired by everyone.

Member Development is a perfect partner for officer development. Most of our middle managers have attended management diploma courses specifically designed for South Somerset and a number are continuing on to even higher qualification levels. Matching the officer and member development has lead to even more informed debate from all quarters with a wide range of members from all parties being involved in detailed budget examination through the review and scrutiny process.

Leadership is a vital part of Council group work. The leaders of both the party in control and the main opposition have attended the Leadership Academy and several councillors have achieved BTEC qualifications - some of them are here today to receive them.

One final aspect to discuss is mentoring. New councillors, whether young or old, and existing councillors taking on new responsibilities often welcome support from someone with specific expertise. Whether this is a local arrangement or through the IDeA peer mentor scheme there are great benefits to be had for both the Councillor and mentor.

I am delighted to be able to receive the Member Charter on behalf of South Somerset, but saddened by the reason our Leader and others cannot attend. Today is the funeral of Alan Cornelius who stood down in 2007 after 58 years of being a Councillor. Alderman Cornelius was the epitome of Councillors - unstoppable when working on behalf of a constituent, impartial and objective when chairing the Regulation Committee and unfailingly polite and supportive of officers. We will all miss him enormously and I would like to dedicate our award to Alan's memory as an example to us all.

Paull Robathan

Councillor Paull Robathan is ward member for South Petherton on South Somerset District Council. A former Leader of the Council Paull was Portfolio Holder for Finance and Member Development when South Somerset were assessed for the Charter. He is Chairman of the Local Strategic Partnership, Board member of Somerset Waste Partnership, a Governor of Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and a member of the Raglan Housing Regional Committee.

A Local perspective on the art of integrating sustainability

- Embedding Sustainable Development into the new
government processes & strategy for the South West region

Sustainability South West Conference, Weston Super Mare, March 2nd 2009

Sustainability South West have been a major contributor to the South Somerset Sustainable Community Strategy, their presentations to working groups and inciteful commentary on our working papers have lifted the work up to a higher level. I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk briefly about the local issues around integrating sustainability.

The trick is in the title - there is an art in involving and integrating the very local communities we find everywhere we look in the world. There may be scientific techniques and political processes, but the art is in the way the tools and techniques are deployed and the attitudes and aspirations of the people involved.

South Somerset Together is the local strategic partnership for the District of South Somerset - not a cute name, but the "together" says it all, sustainable worthwhile community development will only succeed if most, and preferably all, public, private and voluntary organisations deliver time, money and emotional commitment.

The road to commitment is long, and needs to be straight. One of the most difficult things for a body such as a District Council to do is to engender trust in long term consistency. This is due in part to the 4 year political cycle, and the potential for 180 degree shifts in policy and practice, but also due to the inherent distrust many residents have in local and central government. "They" are not expected to be doing things for the benefit of the community without a personal or political agenda that has self-serving components that may overwhelm the apparent social utility offered as the public face of any policy.

To counter the knee-jerk reaction to a policy announcement there needs to be a frame of reference within which to set the policy and evidence of follow-through - not once - not twice - but every time, and over a long period. The Gary Player adage of the more I practice the luckier I get holds equally true in this circumstance.

South Somerset has built the frame of reference of sustainability over many years. Even so we cannot rest on our laurels, and we have not done enough. Despite individuals' best efforts we are only scratching the surface of globally vital issues. We cannot succeed without widening the accord from District Council level - upwards to government and to transnational initiatives (including the South West Climate Change Action Plan 2008 - 2010 that has many specific short term actions to create a long term directional shift), but critically downwards to each and every person in our community and in every other community across the world. As a member of the South West Cohesion Steering Group I can confirm that excellent work is clearly being done at transnational level to address that strata of issues, but we need to work right down at the grass roots as well.

In doing so we need to see things from others' view point. In South Somerset we have a decade and more of tradition in enabling others to do, rather than doing to them.

The Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development was initially funded with a grant from South Somerset District Council and has grown itself into an internationally respected and self-sustaining leader in sustainable development.

Great Bow Yard, LangportImage by yellow book ltd via Flickr

The trustees of Ecos Trust (as it is now called) over the period since 2000 give a clear indication of how consistency plays a part, but also how having world class experts locally makes for a virtuous circle - Charles Couzens, David Gordon, Simon Fairlie, Julia Hailes and many others. My predecessor as District Councillor in my ward, Lucy Durnan, continues to be a resolute campaigner and advocate of sustainability. Its that consistency and commitment that provides the underpinning to a deliverable integrated sustainable strategy, but its only the framework. There needs to be a rich fabric woven from many many people's own efforts. Baroness Miller, a former leader of the Council continues to spearhead environmental issues nationally.

Within the Council we have been very fortunate to have expertise from Keith Wheaton Green. In 2005 the South Somerset HydroPower Group were recognised by the international Ashden Awards for their development of a collaborative micro hydro development down the rivers of Somerset and into Dorset - Keith deployed a few hundred pounds of SSDC money, but a huge amount of faith, commitment and effort. The Ashden Awards showcase UK and International projects - in 2005 SOLEC from India won an award for their very low cost small photovoltaic systems that have brought light to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Kanatarka, perhaps suggesting that our UK approach of high cost all embracing systems are self defeating compared with the affordable locally made units in India.

2005 was also the year that the District Council won the first of 3 successive Beacon Awards for community engagement "Getting Closer to Communities". It was when the tag line 'Enable Partner Deliver' was coined that has become the mantra for all of the corporate activity of South Somerset District. It is significant that the Beacon coordinator was Saveria Moss, who is now the Local Strategic Partnership coordinator and the senior manager from the District Council was Vega Sturgess, now corporate Director for Environment and lead officer for the new SSDC Corporate Plan. Consistency of intention and delivery.

The very close relationship between the Local Strategic Partnership and the District Council is cemented by Helen Rutter who is employed by the District Council as Community Development Manager and also dedicates about 1/3 of her time to overseeing the Local Strategic Partnership. From top to bottom, and throughout our many partners' organisations there is a commitment and a continuing follow through of intense involvement.

At the County Council through local community officer Vicky Breeze (who we first met when she championed the Biodiversity Action Plan) and on up to Lord Cameron, well known to environmentalists, and Chairman of the Somerset Strategic Partnership there is a commonality of purpose and a consistency of commitment.

Recent highlights are the completion of ratification of our Sustainable Community Strategy to 2026. The Local Strategic Partnership is being bold in its targets (even Charles Couzens thought so...) strongly supported by Joe Burlington of South Somerset Climate Change Action Group who when he joined us was, I suspect, a bit suspicious of being on the inside and losing his objectivity but I hope he does not feel that now!

Our strategy has been developed over 2 years. Most of that time was spent working up from the many Parish and Community Plans that have been painstakingly created by many of our 121 parishes and towns. There is no substitute for local involvement, but I am convinced the quality and level of engagement owes a lot to our continuing support for local community engagement, so that people really believe us when we say we are listening!

The Local Strategic Partnership has been running for about 8 years. It started by doing necessary projects and sharing resources and ideas with partners. We have evolved into a very tight knit group of 30+ senior people from public sector, community groups and the businesses in South Somerset - and the reason we all keep turning up is its worth our while. Each organisation puts in senior time, delivers support, effort in kind and money. The result is a self perpetuating group who give what they can and get what they need.

Examples of projects completed and work programmes under way can be found on our website

We are now entering a very exciting phase. The District and County Councils have consistent, interlocking Community Strategies, our District Council Corporate Plan is driven by the needs of the Community as expressed in the Sustainable Community Strategy and there are a number of projects under way with a very sustainability feel about them. Partners use the Sustainable Community Strategy as an evidence base for their internal plan developments.

The local business association is undertaking a green business initiative educating and mentoring 80 South Somerset businesses in Waste Management and Minimisation, Energy Efficiency, Water efficiency in manufacturing processes and Green management systems and environmental policies. The aim is for the organisations to take specific measurable steps to reduce their carbon footprint and improve environmental conditions as a direct result.

The Local Strategic Partnership will run a major local event at the Yeovil Innovation Centre in the summer. This event will publicly launch the South Somerset Sustainable Community Strategy by raising awareness of the sustainability agenda with everyone in the district. It will provide information and practical expert advice on what can be done individually and collectively about the “big” issues including Climate Change mitigation and adaptation through reducing CO² emissions, generating heat and power from renewable sources, further reducing waste to landfill, sourcing food and products locally, etc. The event will be geared to the general public, with presentations, information and activities suitable for all including children, families, businesses, etc. In another example of long term joined up thinking our unique Somerset Waste Partnership now delivers a higher percentage of waste for recycling than anywhere in the country - after a 10 year continuing programme of development.

One of the major avenues for action on sustainability is the Transition Town movement. Both Somerset County and South Somerset District have made commitments to Transition and in South Somerset specifically our Corporate Plan requires officers to provide active and substantive support to the growing number of local Transition initiatives. The Transition Town movement exemplifies the local involvement but international significance of sustainability. Ever since Rob Hopkins and his students in Kinsale kick started local social consciences a wave of mainly young people has risen up (at least in South Somerset) who are passionate about the environment and want a better world to live in for them and their children.

In 1992 I was very fortunate to be involved in a Club of Rome inspired program that culminated in a 'Declaration of Barcelona', whose key message was "there are underlying and growing fears about what may result from changes underway in European society. Many individuals are afraid of losing their jobs, fearful of losing their freedom because of the loss of confidence in current political institutions and frightened of losing their identity" - that message was an echo of Kurt Waldheim's 1975 address 'The international system of economic trade relations which was devised 30 years ago is now manifestly inadequate for the needs of the world community as a whole. The charge against that order is that in the past it worked well for the affluent and against the poor. It cannot now even be said it works well for the affluent."

Who would disagree in 2009 that the thoughts of 34 years ago and 17 years ago are any less true today? At every local point in the world there needs to be a commonality of purpose to transition to a new model, one of lower consumption, higher social conscience, non-destructive food production and alternative sustainable fuel supplies. We need to embed sustainability into everything we do, and government both local and national have a fundamental role to play.

What are my does and don'ts?

Do involve every willing person at every level, but don't force them into a one size fits all model. Let people contribute in their own way.

Do arrange meetings and events at different times of the day or evening and in different locations and settings.

Don't assume anyone understands acronyms, national policy or even why local decisions have been made

Don't judge or criticise individual comments - give them all due weight in collective research

Don't give up

But above all take advantage of opportunities

- like the one the recession is giving us. If Airlines are willingly cutting 10% or more of their flights from the schedule lets fight to keep them cut.

- if insulating homes can create work for local installers lets reduce the % heat lost from our homes to such an extent that Nuclear Power is not necessary

...and I am sure we could all add our own. Lets make sure we do.

Paull Robathan

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