Why don’t we just…
start building regional democracy ourselves?

Founding members of We Share The Same Skies on how to shape devolution for Yorkshire

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Well, why not? If we don’t, no one else will do it for us.

But what do we mean by regional democracy? And how do we build it?

To us, regional democracy is an evolving concept that has been slowly revealing itself ever since a group of people in West Yorkshire got together in November 2015 to organise the What Kind Of Region Do We Want To Live In? event in Manningham, Bradford. Building on the basis of those that went before, a collaborative group called We Share The Same Skies was formed.

We believe that regional democracy is about meeting the devolution coming down from above with our hopes and self-organisation from below. This is about engaging people in region-building and not just resistance, cynicism or scepticism. We believe the bottom line is that a centralised UK has failed us and that the idea of regional democracy represents a positive opportunity – if we actively try to make it so. This month, the group will launch a book asking the same question as the Manningham event and bringing together different elements of the idea and practice of regional democracy.

Over the last two years, we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff

It also includes pictures that we have taken at our events around the many markets of West Yorkshire. Over the last two years, we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region.

We discovered that children would often be attracted by the colourful maps hung around our stall and adults with them would want to look at others’ ideas and share their own thoughts on their home region and its future. Together families sat down to draw and chat. They drew maps of the city or town itself and also the many other towns and villages around it from where people will travel for a good market.

It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw parks for playing, canal paths for walking the dog, community centres with things going on like sports clubs, libraries, shops and post offices, and bus stops with regular services taking them to places like the market itself.

People also talked a lot about schools and also expressed concern about things closing locally, like libraries, or services being reduced, such as street lighting).

Some participants also expressed concern about the UK being Londoncentric and that the vote to leave the European Union was in part a reaction against this.

Over time, we have been building up a picture from below of the things that are valued most by people across West Yorkshire. The things that they want to keep, to protect and to develop. The things that exist in some neighbourhoods and that others would like for their own part of our region.

We are building a map of good stuff as the basis for what we in the communities of West Yorkshire want our regional democracy to help preserve or develop.

Alongside these images and descriptions, you will find articles written by people with strong connections to West Yorkshire giving their hopeful ideas for the future of our region.

The articles reflect the views of individuals who have written them. They include a range of views and may not agree with each other. But we are proud to be associated with all of them and believe that they all contribute in one way or another to the future of regional democracy in West Yorkshire.

We are hoping that the book will give people space to think about where they live and perhaps become inspired to get involved in building regional democracy wherever they are.

The book What Kind Of Region Do We Want To Live In? will be launched at a free event on 17 April at Colours May Vary (Munro House, near the bus station) in Leeds from 6pm. All welcome. After the event, the book will also be available as a download from the collaborative blog We Share The Same Skies (@SameSkiesBlog)

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