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People Power - Your Views Can Change Lives
Saturday 22nd January, 2005

People Power - Your Views Can Change Lives
Top Read: Residents now get the news and views on council issues important to them thanks to the Citizens' Panel-inspired Borough Life.

Wanted: 500 people who care about life in our borough and want to help shape the future of the services that affect us all.

It’s one of Wigan Borough’s most influential groups and proof positive that anyone can have their say and opinions matter.

The council–backed Citizens’ Panel has been helping to make big changes in the borough over the past few years. It has had a big effect on how the council and other organisations providing services to residents do business.

Now the team behind it is looking for more residents with something to say to get involved.

Membership of the panel is being updated and invitations are currently going out to a random selection of people in a bid to recruit 500 new members.

The 1,500–strong forum was set up more than three years ago. Its membership is drawn from all parts of the borough and from all walks of life.

Members are asked for their views on services and how they think they can be improved in the future on a regular basis.

People living in the borough who get a letter inviting them to join are being urged to think seriously about the chance to have a real impact on the shape of public services.

Panel organiser Tracy Bennett said that since it began, it has brought about real change and helped introduce a number of new ideas that are making the borough a better place. Tracy said:

“The Citizens’ Panel has played an important role in many areas. For example, the panel gave us its view in 2001 about how members liked to receive information about the council through the letterbox. We spoke to a group of them about setting up a residents’ magazine and their views helped us develop Borough Life.

“Each year we ask the panel what it thinks of the magazine and how it can be improved. We make improvements based on this feedback."

She added:

“The panel has helped us develop a long–term plan for leisure in the borough including plans for a new look and new locations for libraries, to offer free swimming for under 16’s and proposals for two new swimming pools.

“The panel has given its views on important issues such as plans for children’s health services, which will be fed into Greater Manchester-wide consultation this summer.”

Members of the panel are asked for their views at least four times a year through a postal survey.

Each survey asks for their thoughts on at least four different services and takes between 30 minutes and an hour to complete.

There are also discussion groups and telephone surveys from time to time and members are kept up to date on how their comments are used through a regular newsletter.

Some typical reasons people have given for joining the panel in the past include:

“I wanted to make a change.”

“I wanted to have input into what goes on in the community.”

“I had serious issues that I wanted addressed and thought this would be good in some way.”

“I thought it could help in some way.”

Tracy said:

“You could be a student or you could be retired. You could be born and bred in Wigan borough or only recently made it your home, we want to hear from everyone.

“This year we especially want to hear from people aged 18 to 24 or over 75 and from people from ethnic backgrounds.”

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