How I'm setting up a West Midland's Pastoral Care initiative to try and change the party's culture.
Diversity is in the spotlight ahead of Spring Conference in York and there are many discussions taking place around the best way to get progress in the party. Much of the focus is on the party’s representative bodies and selection processes. However, we need to remember the culture changes and improvement still needed at grassroots level.
With the passion that our members and supporters show for campaigning and democracy, it is easy, at an organisational level, to forget a crucial fact. Our party must also be passionate about people. About recruiting them, investing in them and taking care of their wellbeing.
Just a few years ago the party was headed for calamity with regard to recruitment. This was turned around by reforming how membership recruitment should be fundamental to campaigning. Those who led the charge to change attitudes and implement structural incentives, should be congratulated. We can all see the difference and the morale boost that this has given to everyone.
Now it is time to do the same with the latter two actions.
Work has already begun on investing in our activists. It is really heartening to see skills auditing of our supporters has become a bigger focus. Training is becoming a two way conversation. Even initiatives such as the highlighting of career progression through pay banding for staff in the party’s election review report is a really welcome step on this issue.
However, there is still considerable work to be done on looking after our activists’ wellbeing.
Many of us are dismayed and angry every time we hear or read about another activist receiving less than ‘liberal’ treatment from other party members. I know that calling other member’s views you don’t agree with ‘illiberal’ has been criticised recently, and on certain issues I agree. But I will not apologise for calling prejudice, bigotry, bullying or harassment illiberal, because it is.
Here in the West Midlands, we want to show our activists and supporters that we are committed to making political activity a safe and enjoyable past time. No we can’t do anything about rubbish weather when delivering leaflets, or silly comments from opposition supporters on the doorstep. But we can provide people with a listening ear and support should it ever be needed.
In any organisation involving people, there will always be disagreements, or problems individuals may be facing that they don’t feel comfortable disclosing to a group. This is why I have been tasked by our regional executive (West Midlands) with setting up a Pastoral Care Team for the region. I am working with Jeanne Tarrant, the party’s Pastoral Care Officer at HQ, and we hope that this can strengthen support for members and volunteers who come across any problems.
Cambridge local party have already lead the way by setting up a similar initiative and I know there are members in other regions, such as London, who are looking at how to do this. It is this kind of grassroots change that will make the party a more welcoming space for people from all walks of life.
If our region can set this up successfully, it can be a template for this to happen across the party. Many of us have been wanting concrete progress on the issues around support for members who face discrimination or barriers due to health and social issues.
If enough people help, donate and share this link with others who may be able to help, we can effect lasting, meaningful change in the Liberal Democrats and really support volunteers when they need it.
If anyone would like more information about this project to take back to their own region, please do get in touch!
This post was also published on Lib Dem Voice here