I ask Ron what he thinks of Shropshire Council.
We’ve been chatting for 20 minutes when he says; “I might be a building worker but I love poetry and I love crime thrillers”. I look at him with a question, I hadn’t realised when we sat down that we both like words and stories; fact or fiction, heart-warming or heart-breaking, problem solving or challenging.
He explains; “I don’t think the Council realise how much can be learned from little stories”.
Ron has an interesting story, which he tells with a sage like quality that shines through; “I’m in my late 60s now, and Sue (my wife) and I look after our daughter who has a learning disability”. “We love our daughter to bits but life has not been easy. We are always thinking about her even when she is away from us on something like respite”.
“That’s our life but we carry on learning and rethinking as we get older. So I say to people – you can’t be me, you can’t stand in my shoes, but you can listen to me. That’s all I want. I want a council that listens, is honest and also progressive. A council that is human facing. They are moving in the right direction but I still get information or messages that are in ‘office talk’. I say to people, what do they mean by this? I don’t get it. Eliminate the frustrations, be clear in what you say and then make sure the services that you do offer, work properly”.
“I’ll do my bit. I always do. I’ve been a volunteer with a charity helpline for years. Locally I put the bins away for the people in my street every week. I keep the lane out back clean and tidy, and I often plant flowers too. There are plenty of unsung heroes like me”. (He laughs at the idea of being a hero, and goes on) “There’s a bloke who comes round our way and picks litter up. He just wants a good neighbourhood. You know money isn’t everything”.
I see what he’s saying. We’ve all got a part to play in this story.
“So, what could the council change?” I ask.
He sits back and thinks, arms folded in a very Ron like fashion. He starts with a few things he likes, such as the move back in to Shirehall and having facilities in a central place and then he throws out suggestions; “what about… helping me address the work life balance of being a carer… and ‘anxiety dealing’ sessions… or showing possible pathways for my daughter’s future, where she might live?… even support to take her out… perhaps a carers assessment and a follow up. Yes, a yearly call to ask ‘how are you getting on’? That’s something that would be great from my council”.
I listen. Ron’s ideas are not really radical. They are not even really costly. Some are already in place. Some are new. We go on chatting about what our Council does and what we do too, talking about possibilities and choices.
Later, as I mull over his words I notice something important. In the course of his tale, Ron has moved from talking about ‘the Council’, ‘they’ and then ‘you’, before starting to identify ways forward for his council. He uses the term ‘my council’. Ron is part of the answer, he has ideas and like the rest of us he wants to be listened to. He wants something that he is part of. Something that is his, mine and yours too. Let’s remember - this is not just about services, this is about a better life for Ron, Sue, their daughter, you, me and everyone we know in Shropshire.