Building relationships within the community

Julia Thorley, member of the Kettering Green Party, recently spent time reaching out to new members of her local party. Reflecting on the experience, she considers the value of investing in relationships within regional parties.

Local Green Party
Local Green Party
Julia Thorley

I’ve been tasked with getting in touch with new members of the party here in North Northamptonshire, for no reason other than to say, ‘Thank you for joining us’. It is, to use the hackneyed phrase, a courtesy call. Many people are surprised that I have no ulterior motive and that I’m not asking for money, or for their signature on the latest petition. Indeed, some can hardly believe it.

Sometimes my call will coincide with a specific piece of news or information that I want to share, this giving a further reason to ring. Perhaps the local AGM is coming up or maybe there’s a Green social event on the horizon, these are useful conversation starters. However, there is so much to be gained from ringing up folks just to say hi, and ask how they are. Lots of people have told me how grateful they are for the contact, especially at the moment, when, for many of us, just getting through the day is a huge challenge.

They have, too, welcomed the opportunity to respond to my question, ‘Are there any specific interests or concerns you have around Green matters in the broadest sense, especially locally?’ It is a fine feeling to give someone the chance to get something off their chest, and even better if it turns out you can do something about it, whether that is giving the council a nudge in the right direction, or something more practical, such as installing dog-poo-bag stations at strategic points around the park.

Other times, people don’t have anything in particular that’s bothering them, just general concerns about the state of the nation, as it were, and this is also useful to hear. Of course, some members simply want to pay their subs and be left alone, and that’s fine, too. Either way, most people sign off by thanking me for the call and offering some further comment of appreciation.

Now, it must, of course, be said that this isn’t entirely altruistic. In the short term, these phone calls give an indication of who might be a good person to call on for help with this or that project. In the long term, it’s all about building relationships within the community and spreading the message that the Greens are the only ones who can bring about change on the national – dare we say global – stage. Finding out what matters to people locally is a weathervane pointing to wider concerns, and also provides background information that will be useful in planning the campaign strategy for the next elections in due course. There can be little doubt that our success in the town and county-level elections in 2021 was down to in-depth knowledge of what mattered here; and, of course, a successful campaign needs an army of willing volunteers.

However, at the heart of all this is a sincere concern for our county and the variety of towns and villages it comprises. In the runup to the local elections last year, we circulated leaflets that were of genuine interest to residents, with good-news stories about local characters and, at the height of the pandemic, useful links to sources of help and suggestions on how members of the community could support each other. Yes, it was a campaigning tool, but it was seated in a real desire to make life a little better for our neighbours.

It is crucial to maintain a positive profile all the time, not just when you want something. This can mean taking part in the town carnival, shopping in the growing number of independent stores springing up in the high street, running litter picks (and supporting those organised by other groups) and being seen to be involved in the local arts scene. It sounds a bit cheesy, I know, but generating and maintaining the feel-good factor is important – and it works.