Cllr Joanne Platt explains how the ‘Wigan Deal’ is working alongside the Eco-School programme to help transform the Borough and bring communities together
In Wigan there is a Wigan Deal between the people and the council. We realised early on that we could not carry on with the way that we were working and took a different approach in how we deliver key services. This is how ‘The Deal’ was established and was used to form an informal agreement between the council and everyone who lives and works in the borough, including our partners, such as schools, health and other public services.
We undertook to keep the rates down in return for different kinds of support direct from members of the public. We negotiated ways in which the community can work differently too. Fundamentally, The Deal signals a positive approach for individuals and communities that encourages self-reliance and independence through an equal partnership.
People are trying out new relationships with the Council. And there are children all over Wigan who know they can make a difference too – who are experts on everything from food waste to CO2 emissions. These children are part of a Borough-wide army of change agents. Their schools are signed up as Eco-Schools, an award scheme coordinated by Keep Britain Tidy in England. With nearly all of the Borough’s schools registered for the scheme (98%), Wigan is ranked third in the country for participation, whilst an impressive 22% of Wigan’s schools have achieved the top Green Flag award.
Wigan Council now offers support to all schools that need help with their application process and deliver education to help achieve awards. Once registered, schools can then work towards one of three awards – Bronze, Silver and Green Flag. The Eco-Schools programme is extremely varied, covering nine different topics: Litter, Energy, Water, School Grounds, Biodiversity, Healthy Living, Waste, Transport and Global Citizenship.
Becoming an Eco-School not only encourages the whole school to work together, but is also a brilliant way to get everyone in the wider community involved to create a cleaner, safer and greener borough. The participating schools benefit as well. OFSTED found that behaviour is often better in Eco-Schools, whilst by taking part in the programme schools can reduce costs through reducing waste disposal costs and energy bills. Eco-Schools create good assertive environmental citizens who, in turn, encourage those at home and in the wider community to behave in a more eco-friendly way.
How will the Deal make the most of these young activists inside schools? Sending out information to all head teachers is a vital step. But sometimes running an eco-schools programme is down to just one enthusiast and the Senior Management Team have other more pressing issues to deal with. The eco champions’ messages may not get beyond the school gates.
To counter this, Wigan schools are kept up to date about Council (and wider) initiatives via a termly Eco-Schools newsletter, twice yearly teachers’ network meetings and an annual Eco-School Conference. Open to all schools, the conference brings together different environmental projects and groups that schools can engage with, from Wigan Borough in Bloom to birds of prey and minibeast initiatives.
Guests can also learn more about the Wigan Deal, and how their school can get involved, whether helping to renovate local grot-spots, linking with local community groups or carrying out their own awareness raising campaigns. Support is available for these activities from across the whole of the Council services. Last year’s conference was a huge success, with guests particularly praising the opportunity to network with other schools and organisations.
The Deal for Children and Young People recognises the centrality of schools, particularly primary schools, which are often at the heart of our communities and best sourced to offer universal services for that area. The Eco-Schools project is an integral part of the ‘Deal approach’ offered and we are already seeing how our schools are connecting with the wider community as they manage and nurture their surrounding environment alongside other partners that have signed up to the Deal.
With cuts, many boroughs have seen their service delivery break down into fragments or silos. In the current challenging financial climate, it’s really important to recognise that it’s not just about one service: this changed relationship approach has to go across all services. It’s really important that we have full buy-in from all stakeholders involved in our schools, as workforce reform is key.
I am really happy that our education services will be taking this positive message out to all school governors across the borough, highlighting the positive work that the Eco-Schools project is doing for our children, creating resilient individuals who are connected to their communities, and making effective contributions as well informed and responsible citizens.
This is an intergenerational collaboration between citizens of all ages. In Wigan children have a voice for change.
Cllr Joanne Platt is the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People’s Services on Wigan Borough Council