Not everyone is confident about using their local democracy to achieve change.
This is a resource for groups who wish to let their elected representative (Councillor) know about their worries or concern for their Community Group and to ask for their help.
Cornwall is what is called a Unitary Authority this means there is one main Council that looks after most of our services – Children and family services (now called Together for Families) is the section that covers the Family Hubs, Health Visiting and what has commissioned (bought in) services from Real Baby Milk to help offer specialised training, supervision and support to Breastfeeding Peer Supporters.
When it comes to encouraging the people who make decisions about a service to look at their decisions again, there is nothing more powerful than contacting your local elected Cornwall Councillor. The letter below is a suggested outline of how you might open up a conversation with your Cornwall Councillor if you have concerns about the continued running (viability) of your Breastfeeding Peer Support Group.
The letter deliberately doesn’t mention what sort of peer support your group offers in the title – this is because, unfortunately, the word Breastfeeding still carries some embarrassment and/or judgement for some (but not all) of the generation who are/have become Cornwall Councillors! So gently does it…. as we want them to get past the first few lines!
The letter then invites them to meet with you group’s volunteers as this can be the most effective way of connecting with your Councillor on a human level – you want them to understand how you feel about the challenges you are facing. This might seem a bit scary, but Councillors are only people and they should treat you, their voters, with respect and understanding especially when you take the time and trouble to contact them!
It might is a good idea for volunteer groups to coordinate so that one named person is in charge of communicating with the councillor they are contacting.
As with all of the content – you can change or add anything you feel is relevant about your group of volunteers – this is just a suggestion
The sections in [italics] are explanations of what you might want to include if relevant to your group or why including a particular phrase is suggested.
The outline letter is broken down into smallish phrases or paragraphs which will make it easier to read by your Councillor – dense text is trickier and can be less likely to get your message across.
You can copy the text into a word processing document (Word or open office) to allow you to alter the content to how you want it.
Dear Cllr ………
[you can find who your Cornwall Councillor and their contact details via this link – you just need your postcode].
Re: …………(area) Volunteer Peer Support Group [Subject heading for your letter/email]
I/we are writing to you to set up a meeting with you to talk about some (serious) challenges which our group of volunteers is facing.
Our Peer Support Group is part of Cornwall Council’s services for families which are really important in those early days, weeks and months around becoming a parent (for the first or subsequent time).
We are all volunteers who have attended Accredited Training to help us support mums, babies and families with breastfeeding and responsive feeding and caring for their babies. Each year we give our time to making sure that our knowledge and skills are kept up to date in addition to running our community group.
Some of us attend further Training to help mums in the postnatal ward at RCHT Treliske. Often mums who find support at a group go on to train as a volunteer Peer Supporter making it a really good example of ‘paying it forward’.
Our volunteering supports the work of busy midwives, health visitors and family workers and helps to reduce the isolation and loneliness that can sometimes be part of becoming a new parent.
[You can then go on to talk a bit about how long your group has been running, how many there are of you and where you are based.]
[You might like to add]
- How many volunteer hours (no of vols x number of hours your group takes to set up and run your group, social media page/group support via your group) provides to your Councillor’s (name) community
- Try to include all of the types of support you offer to mums and families.
- Stressing it is the Councillor’s community brings it back to a personal thing – your Councillor has normally decided to become a Councillor because they care about their community and want things to be better for it.
- Remembering this very human and personal motivation will help you connect with them – it’s a bit like establishing that relationship with a mum when you meet at group for the first time!
[This next bit should be a summary of your (group’s) worries – these might be….]
We are worried about….
- Too few trained volunteers to keep the group running every week
- Not enough Meet and Greet volunteers to help make sure that mums feel welcomed to the group – particularly when they visit the first time
- Not enough support from ……
- Anything else which is relevant to your group (venue, setting up/keyholding etc).
[To finish…. you want to repeat your invitation to meet up to discuss these concerns face-to-face as this is the best way to reinforce your concerns and to get your Councillor to help shape the change you want to see.]
So, you can see that we are worried about our ability to carry on volunteering/ being effective as volunteers so would like to arrange to meet you to see what you can do to help us.
Please let us know what date you can make as we are anxious to get the conversation started – there is no time to lose. [This last sentence is subtly assuming that they will meet you – and will hopefully get a quick response – of course there is the General Election happening at the moment but perhaps this will help them to be responsive to their voters!]
Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.
Kind regards/yours sincerely
[Finally sign off the letter with your name(s) and if not emailing, how to contact you to arrange a meeting. It is very powerful if there are several people who are putting their names to the letter/email.]
[If anyone wants to discuss this outline letter or needs help with contacting their Councillor please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org with your phone number and we will do what we can to help chat through any worries.]