What motivates community members to make change?
March 7, 2017
“I wasn’t expecting thanks – I did it because I’m a Downdie. My work in the town and for the community has always been so we can stand up with pride in Central Scotland”.
This was the poignant sign off from Ian Tennant who formally stepped down after many decades of voluntary service and leadership in Whitburn. He was singled out for praise on his efforts to develop the Miners Memorial during the first exchange visit between town representatives from Whitburn, West Lothian and Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire involved in Carnegie’s #TwinTownsUK programme.
Both former mining towns have long high streets full of vacant shops. Both feel the social and economic impact of industrial decline, ageing populations and austerity. Both have unusual names for their townsfolk; Downdies vs Gobbiners.
I was struck by how much Ian’s passion and modesty resonated with the crowd in Whitburn Library. The room was full of people who want to make a difference and see #TwinTownsUK as a means to achieve change for their communities. Despite the driech weather, over fifty folk had come together for ‘The Gathering’, to introduce one other, share stories of town life and swap aspirations and ideas about how to reverse the economic decline that hampers the growth of their towns.
The diverse crowd showed just how many local folk wish this project success; from the school pupils serving coffee to local MSP for the constituency (and Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs) Fiona Hyslop, to local councillors, local authority officials, and representatives from the Whitburn and District Community Council and Community Development Trust.
A rare encounter
As an evaluator, I was there to observe the exchange between towns and introduce the role of evaluation in the programme. Contrary to the wary or self-conscious reception I sometimes encounter, leaders from each project warmly embraced my presence and understood the need for evaluation from the start. They perceive the value of evidence about impact and want an account of the challenges and barriers they experience from an independent perspective. No glazed or fearful eyes on show in Whitburn!
My colleagues and I look forward to working with these Twins, who have bold ideas and recognise evidence as a tool for change. In the months ahead we will develop tailor made evaluation tools for each project and keep in touch over a series of interviews to assess the development and impact of the pilot.
 Colloquial term for a person from Whitburn, Scotland
 Colloquial term for a person from Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire