Keystone Hayley: “Can my love of St Neots offer us lessons for wider community engagement?” SPOILER ALERT – yes!

Keystone’s Hayley Williams reflects on the love of a town, and highlights why a commitment to a place is a community engagement opportunity to be harnessed…

When I meet people for the first time, especially in and around St Neots where the Keystone office is based, I will near enough always say that I love to live and work in the town. That’s because I really do.

St Neots has been my home for nearly 17 years. A town that I arrived at as a (much more fresh-faced) young adult to buy my first house with my soon to be husband. A town that has now seen us call a number of houses home. A town that has helped us meet treasured friends and the town that is now home to my children too. And I’m not only a resident, but I’m also an active member of many community groups; as well as a local employer. The core Keystone team all live in the town and many of our clients and suppliers are based in and around St Neots too.

But this isn’t a story about me. And my story isn’t necessarily any different from anyone else’s. Lots of people are in the privileged position to love where they live – and to have deep-rooted connections to that place they call home. And aren’t we lucky! But this reminder of good fortune also got me thinking.

Can a love of the place in which we live mean we are the perfect people to engage further with that place if we are given the opportunity or are asked to?

I’d like to think so. But is the opportunity being fully explored or harnessed by those that see community engagement being central to their work? I’m not sure…

In Keystone’s world, we are hearing more and more about Place Marketing – defined by the Local Government Association as “telling the story of your place in a way that works for everyone”. But isn’t telling a story only communicating one way? What about living and breathing the story together? For us, that’s community engagement.

It’s hugely important that organisations and statutory bodies:

  • remember and appreciate the valuable perspective their residents can offer
  • know how to connect with individuals and groups in a local area
  • be proactive in their outreach activity across their communities and stakeholders

That’s why Keystone has developed a bespoke community engagement tool. So local Councils and not for profits with community focussed purpose can benchmark their current community engagement position – and put plans in place to improve or enhance where needed. We’ve used our direct experience of building messaging and activity to deepen community and stakeholder engagement to develop this key assessment tool. Curious? Drop us a line as we’d be happy to share the tool with you!

And I’d also recommend a trip to St Neots if you haven’t visited before. Yes, I may be biased, but I like to think the town has quite a lot to be proud of. And we’d always put the kettle on at Keystone HQ. Here’s to my next 17 years here.