“When people come together to pool their ideas, experience and energies in a common cause, there’s very little they can’t achieve. Nottingham provides the evidence.”
Peter Bradley, Director SCT, Nottingham Evening Post, 26 February 2008
Every local Speakers’ Corner project will be different. But here’s a simple step-by-step guide which signposts some of the issues you should think about and which we hope will help get your project under way.
Don’t be daunted by what follows. We’ve tried to answer all the questions you might have but some will be more relevant than others and you won’t have to address them all at the same time. What’s more, with a little help from your friends, starting a Speakers’ Corner project will probably be easier than you think!
As suggested below, more detailed information on a number of the topics is available in other guidance notes on our SCT UK website.
Try to put together a small group of like-minded people who will contribute ideas and share the burden of the early planning stage.
Explore the Speakers’ Corner Trust website and debate and develop with your colleagues a vision and a model to suit local circumstances.
Discuss with your colleagues the geographical area you want your project to cover. There’s no harm in thinking big but, at least early on, focus on what you think you can manage. It could be the whole town or city or perhaps just your neighbourhood – it’s not the size that counts but what you’re able to do with it…
You don’t have to create a Speakers’ Corner as a public space in the early stages and in many smaller towns and in rural areas it may be difficult or even inappropriate to do so. A Speakers’ Corner initiative is not dependent on creating a Speakers’ Corner but if you do plan to do so, you will have to consider some important issues such as where it should be, whose permission you will need, who might be affected by your plans, with whom you should consult and, how it should be designed and how, in due course, it should be funded.
But experience has shown that creating a Speakers’ Corner as a public space really does attract public support. People like the idea that there is a space in their town or city centre which represents their rights as citizens, even if they never use it.
Clearly you should seek and may need the support of the local authority and the police as well as others with a direct interest in your proposals including commercial or residential neighbours and amenity and interest groups. But again, our experience has consistently been that Councils, police and others have been very supportive and getting permission for a Speakers’ Corner has not been complicated.
Whether or not you establish a permanent space, you may want to create a mobile Speakers’ Corner which can be used there or elsewhere. It helps to be able to be seen and heard and to see and hear and speakers like a platform and audiences like a stage.
SCT’s guidance note Speakers’ Corner Protocols provides more detailed advice.
As your planning develops, you may need to recruit supporters with different skills and backgrounds and, perhaps, with contacts and networks of their own. This will not only help your planning but also the project’s credibility.
You should consider consulting with and developing support among key local organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors. If they feel that your plans are serious, well thought-through and non-partisan and if you can demonstrate growing support for them, many will be prepared to provide at least ‘in principle’ support and that will do to start with (even if practical is always better). Where possible, start with people you know.
Local authority involvement is not essential but it is certainly a big advantage. If you don’t have a contact at the Council House, approach your local Councillors or your Parish Council. Though the support of local politicians can be very valuable, seek to ensure that it so far as possible on a non-party or all-party basis.
Try to ensure too that even if you receive enthusiastic backing from the Council, your project remains and is seen to be independent of any particular organisation or interest.
You must judge when the time to seek local press coverage is right. If you try too early your plans may not be sufficiently developed and you may set off in the wrong direction. Ask yourself whether you’re ready and, above all, whether and how publicity will help your cause. In the first instance, try to talk to the editor or a senior reporter: the seriousness with which the paper takes its first report often sets the tone for the future.
Have a clear idea of the article you’d like to read or hear (though don’t expect it to turn out quite like that!) The media like hooks on which to hang news stories so try to provide the right one: perhaps you’ve won the backing of an important organisation or an influential individual or you may be launching a consultation on your proposals or organising a public meeting to discuss your initiative.
Your story is a good news story! It’s about an initiative by and for the local community. Make sure there are enough positive elements to talk about and a range of different people prepared to say supportive things about it either in a press release or perhaps at a briefing meeting with a local reporter.
But remember that the media also like controversy and conflict so, on the basis that that is not what you want, try to ensure that you don’t provide it for them. If you anticipate that the involvement or support of one organisation or individual will provoke the open hostility of another, either avoid them both or bring them both on board.
Be canny: you may be able to involve the local paper or radio station in your project either as a sponsor or by holding out the prospect of many good stories to come. If the editor knows that your project has community support, the paper is more likely to be supportive.