Ian Martin: How you can help us build the case for Yorkshire devolution and help county reach for the skies

Can people power deliver Yorkshire devolution?
Can people power deliver Yorkshire devolution?
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AS the UK battles with Brexit, we want to invite fellow citizens to join us in an alternative approach to politics.

It’s time to build regional democracy. It’s time to sort things out for ourselves instead of ‘doffing our caps’ to London. If we don’t, no one else will do it for us.

This week, We Share The Same Skies will host a free event in Leeds where we will be launching a book imagining hopefully what our regional democracy might look like in 2040. 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.

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. It is about all the people who live in the region, no matter where they were born.

We believe the bottom line is that a centralised UK has failed us and expecting the London hegemony to do something different will bring about the same failure yet again.

To us the London hegemony means the dominance of a way of thinking, doing and being that is most closely associated with a specific region of the UK and which is exactly the same place where overwhelming political, economic, cultural and media power is centralised – London and the Home Counties.

We believe that the idea of regional democracy represents a positive opportunity to challenge that hegemony and build something better for everyone in our region.

The last four years of grassroots campaigning has included creative sessions, viral campaigns and other events. The book includes pictures that we have taken at our market events in Keighley, Bradford, Castleford, Halifax, Leeds and Huddersfield where 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. At the launch, people will be able to see some of those maps.

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, 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 ‘London-centric’ 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 and/or to 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.

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.

We Share Same Skies will launch its book at a free event on Wednesday at Colours May Vary on Duke Street, Leeds, from 6pm. All welcome.

Ian Martin is a devolution campaigner from Leeds and a founder member of We Share Same Skies.