Town leaders preparing for cultural revolution and new ways of working post Covid

John Crockford-Hawley

Cllr John Crockford-Hawley. - Credit: North Somerset Council

North Somerset Council has had to find new ways to keep vital services running during the pandemic - with meetings held online and staff and councillors working from home.

While many of the council’s operating procedures will resume when we emerge from the pandemic, some changes could be here to stay. 

John Crockford-Hawley, councillor for Weston Hillside, spoke to the Mercury about the ups and downs of homeworking and how Weston has the opportunity to reinvent itself after the pandemic.

He said: “One of the things that I have found working at home, is that you don’t get the essential camaraderie that you would get going into the office and bouncing ideas off one another.

"There’s no dynamic with other people and I’m missing that and I’m sure many of my colleagues are as well. 

“Meetings where I’ve met three to four people in teams can be very effective online. I do find that very good and hope that will continue.   

“But what I’m concerned about is the larger meetings. When we are sitting in front of our own cameras talking into a screen, rather than debating and discussing in a large chamber with a lot of people, the dynamic is far less positive and you end up with people making statements rather than engaging in conversation.

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"I’m finding these meetings very unproductive. I’m sure lots of people are.   

“It’s also very difficult to enthuse anyone via camera. There’s an element of theatre where you have to convince colleagues to your way of thinking or vice versa and you need to be with them to do that.   

“At the end of a long meeting in the town hall, it normally ends with us all having a convivial drink and that’s an essential part of understanding how people think as well.” 

Zoom meeting of North Somerset Council

A Zoom meeting of the full council last month. - Credit: Archant

The council has confirmed it wants to ‘harness the positives’ that have come out of the new approach, including holding some meetings virtually to reduce unnecessary travel. 

Cllr Crockford-Hawley added: “A lot of people seem to think we are going back to normal. We will be going back into a different working environment.

"I expect we’ll be in a hybrid environment, with more home working. I think technology is going to play a greater role than it used to.” 

The council has launched a number of new initiatives during the pandemic, including a scheme to improve Weston town centre - to reduce traffic, provide more cycle routes and better access for pedestrians - and the North Somerset Together network which enables volunteers groups to help vulnerable people in the community. 

Weston’s Placemaking Strategy has been approved, which will boost regeneration and economic development, and the authority has also improved its network of cycle routes across North Somerset. 

Cllrs Crockford-Hawley and James Tonkin cycled the district's routes in July to find out how they could be improved. John has now become a green travel convert and regularly cycles around the district.

Cllrs John Crockford-Hawley and James Tonkin on their bikes in Axbridge. Picture: John Crockford-Haw

Cllrs John Crockford-Hawley and James Tonkin on their bikes in Axbridge. Picture: John Crockford-Hawley - Credit: John Crockford-Hawley

He said: “Covid has forced us to look in greater depth at issues which might have been on the back burner before, like cycling.  

“We are going to have major problems, as every town is going to, with the challenges in retail shopping, but I tend to think that’s not Covid, I think it has exacerbated the situation.  

“We are living through an age where we are seeing quite a revolution in the way we shop. We can’t stop the changes that are inevitable, it’s how we embrace it. 

“I think there's an opportunity for Weston now to almost rebrand itself, not try to be what it isn’t. But try to show how we can offer what we have got to the wider audience.  

“Weston is on the brink of a cultural revolution. There's a national reawakening of what towns have got to offer and I think Weston is ready to offer a lot more than it has in the past.

"I think we are on the brink of being able to discover a brighter future for Weston.”  

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