I get about three or four cases a week either from someone approaching me in the community or via an email, phone call, or at the surgery we hold in the library on Saturday mornings. I smile and say ‘how can I help?’. What happens next tends to fall into one of these categories:
The Easy Ones: These are ones that I can answer immediately, they are standard questions. E.g. Can I have a larger recycling bin (yes), can you write off my parking ticket (no), is there any money for organising community events (yes!), can we have 24 hour CCTV pointed at my house (really?). There are the people who want to go on the Housing Register or oppose a planning application. The people who want a controlled parking zone. The people who don’t want a controlled parking zone. You get the drift.
The Frustrating Ones: These can take forever to sort out, e.g. where enforcement are busting a gut to catch the person fly tipping, have deployed the CCTV cars, are working during the night, and have almost got enough evidence but I can’t let you know all the work they have done in case it jeopardises the investigation… It could be months until it is sorted and all I can say to you is ‘thanks for passing on the details, we are looking into this and I will get back to you ASAP. ‘ Argh. Some take years to get to the bottom of, recently I met with someone who had previously communicated with Cllr Paul Brickell, and before that Cllr Conor McAuley! But we will get there in the end (or that is what I keep telling myself!)
The Downright Bizarre Ones: These are my favourite. E.g. when someone came to my surgery because he had accidentally fallen in to his recycling bin. Luckily no harm was done.
The Exciting Ones: When I was covering the Mayor’s surgery a few weeks ago there was a great example of this, a brother and sister came to discuss an issue in the community and their idea for solving it. It was a great idea and their passion filled the room, all they needed was some support, perhaps some room in a building. Sorted.
The Tricky Ones: These generally come in Tesco carrier bags. The bag is upended on the table, out flows hundreds of letters generally with the council logo at the top and my heart sinks. This is often linked to housing e.g. among the paperwork is details of their housing application, where they are on the housing register, letters from the doctor and hundreds of photos of damp. They need a lot of patience and unraveling but a real sense of satisfaction and relief for everyone when the issue is resolved.
The Upsetting Ones: Then there are the truly harrowing and upsetting cases, I always have tissues in my bag for surgery and luckily don’t need them very often but there have been people who have visited me to talk about their experience of rape, domestic violence or homelessness. Sometimes I can help but sometimes there is little I can do apart from listen. And sometimes that’s enough.
The Bigger Issue Ones: This is when people come to talk about policy decisions. To be honest this happens very rarely, I can probably count these on one hand. However, there are the ones which are about policy decision but they don’t feel like that to the individual. For example, I get about three people on average at surgery but when the welfare reforms came in last year it wasn’t uncommon to get nine or ten. In addition, sometimes a case will highlight an adverse consequence of our own policy or practice – these result in adapting it to ensure it doesn’t affect anyone else adversely. For example, a woman who fled a violent relationship came to see me because as a result of moving her Housing Benefit claim had become very complicated. We were able to support her and sort it out while also changing the policy so those experiencing DV don’t have to worry about how their change in circumstances might affect their Housing Benefit in the future.
The Ones Where We Won’t Agree: These also tend to be the result of policy decisions. Except these were not adverse consequences but the intended consequences. For example, I had little sympathy for the incredulous guy who came to complain because the council had rehoused the family living in his shed and taken enforcement action against him. These cases don’t happen very often either but if I don’t want to (or can’t) help you then I will be honest with you from the beginning.
And finally, the Ones I Feel Damn Proud About: These often start off as Upsetting Ones. They are the few cases that I will never forget, where I know that I have changed that individual or family’s life for the better. They will never leave me and they keep me going through all the others.
Not everything we can solve, some of it we can solve together, some of it is signposting to a more helpful organisation, and some of it is being honest about what we can achieve and what we can’t. But most of them are small things which can easily be sorted making life a little easier for the resident.
So, do you have any issues? And if so, how can we help? 🙂