South of the River – Improving Incrementally

Compass-SouthWhat have hot pants and washing your hands got to do with making the world a better place?

I covered the meeting discussing how council housing should be run in the city earlier this week. I was heartened by the emphasis people put on involving tenants in the management of their homes. Ten years ago I was working a housing association helping tenants to get more involved.

We had some notable successes including kick-starting the association’s approach to anti-social behaviour. But there was something of a glass ceiling. To be fair, the association was one of the first to have tenants on its board, but they weren’t “board members” they were always “tenant board members”. There was something slightly patronising about how they were treated.

Now tenants don’t have to be housing experts. Their strength is that they live on the estates and they know what people want. It’s for officers to work out how to make it happen. The council seems seem to have picked up on this, but of course it still only works if people step forward and say what the problems are or describe the services they would like to see.

I was struck by one phrase I heard at the meeting:

“Be more engaged tomorrow than you were yesterday.”

I like this. There is so much wrong with the world once you start looking. So much that needs fixing. Climate change, government cuts, litter, poverty, the list goes on and on. The danger is that you either think  “I have to change everything. And quickly” or you flip flop to “There’s no point in trying to change anything.”

Ed Carlisle explained that he’d fitted solar panels to his house as part of a process of small steps. Recycling, cycling more and driving less, getting an allotment. None of these actions on their own will stop climate change, but as more people do more of them, we move towards a solution.

My daughter calls it mosquito tactics and likes to quote this phrase:

“If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”

One of the most effective calls to action I heard was asking people to drive to work less. I wasn’t asked to stop ever driving to work, I was asked to not drive once a fortnight. Cycle, take the bus, or work at home. The incentive was that the reduction in rush hour traffic during school holidays is just 10%, but isn’t the journey easier? So if everyone left the car at home once a fortnight, we could drive like that all year round as well as reduce our carbon usage.

The point is it’s do-able. And it can make a difference.

The technical term is “incremental improvement”. Make small improvements. The more you make the bigger the change. If it sounds fanciful, just remember that this how Team GB won so many cycling medals at the Olympics.

This is where the hot pants come in and I don’t mean the 1970s fashion trend. Cyclists warm up before races, then they wait for the start and while they wait their muscles get cold again. Answer – heated pants to keep their muscles warm. It means they get away from the start a fraction of a second faster. Teaching athletes how to wash their hands properly seems laudable, but hardly the coach’s job. Except that washing your hands reduces the chance of picking up infections, being ill, missing training, being a fraction of a second slower in final race.

All these fractions of a second add up. So do the solar panels and so do tenants asking for what they want from their landlords.

Jeremy MortonSo do blogs posing questions to the council and the community – that’s why we’ve now got a group that’s going to save Stank Hall Barn. Bring us your questions and South Leeds Life will try to raise them with the people who have the answers.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.