I initially wanted this to be a personal compendium of the lessons that I learnt during the just concluded LGA training for BAME councillors that I attended at the University of Warwick, Coventry from the 21st to the 23rd February. I later thought that it might be beneficial to share my thoughts with every other councillor across our country as regards why I highly recommend the LGA training.
The usual experience with training events is that you attend a training like this, get seriously excited or motivated and then after a little while return to your usual ways of doing things. I certainly didn't want that to be the case for me, so I decided within myself to act based on the amazing things that I learnt over the past few days during my LGA training. Putting my thoughts into writing is one sure way to start that deliberate process of execution.
Organisers: First is the entire LGA vibe. From the moment I first received an email from Grace to the moment I arrived at Scarman house, it's been such an all-round positive experience. Grace Collins, the leadership adviser for the LGA must be one of the loveliest humans that I’ve ever met. Nothing is too much of a bother for Grace. I was initially quite indecisive about my choice of workshop, so I emailed Grace multiple times, choosing one workshop, then changing it again at the last minute. Grace made us councillors feel so welcomed in Coventry and I'm so grateful to her. I also met Cllr Mehboob Khan who also worked alongside Grace to ensure a smooth running of the training event. He was so positive and encouraging from the way he interacted with everyone. It is also inspirational to learn that he was the first Muslim council leader in Kirklees. Cllr Khan kindly said some encouraging words to me on the last day of the training. Something in the line of ‘I’m so excited for your future’. Those are the sort of positive words that I will remember for a long time.
Venue: I didn't initially realise that scarman house was within the University of Warwick, after all I’m more of a northern girl. As my taxi drove through the campus and I looked out into the academic environment, I just muttered ‘wooow’ to myself. Little wonder that this university is one of the best in the country. The university also reminded me of the University of Nottingham where I’m an alumnus though Nottingham campus was way smaller.
Well, as you get into the reception area of the scarman house, you get the impression that the next couple of days on the LGA training will be serious business. Well done to the LGA for choosing such a fantastic and exquisite venue for their BAME leadership training. I learnt that this same venue is used for their other LGA trainings. The neatness and professional outlook of the venue was one point but the food was on another level. I had no choice but to forget my weight loss targets for the weekend. The food was well cooked, neatly presented, healthy and delicious.
Our training rooms had an unlimited amount of water and that was quite impressive. The room was very hotel-like, quiet, simple and very neat. The buffets were simply one of its kind and I can only compare the quality of the food to the ones I had whilst I was on holiday in the UAE. So as you can imagine, you can go on the LGA course to unwind and learn simultaneously.
Scarman house looked like it was at one end of the campus so the entire venue felt like a retreat center, very relaxing. I enjoyed observing the inspirational quotes on the walls within the venue.
Training: On Friday, we had a reception, a dinner where we all had a chance to meet other participants of the training, other councillors and I can't quite forget Cllr Alift Harewood and Cllr Randy in a hurry. They both have a lot of councillor experience and they were very pleasant. By the way, Cllr Alift Harewood is in her early eighties and she has such an energetic, fearless personality. Inspiration dosen’t get any better than that.
On Saturday, we had the welcome address and introduction led by Cllr Mehboob Khan and Grace Collins and then we had a presentation titled ‘What is leadership, what's important in relation to BAME elected members’. This was by the famous activist, Lord Simon Woolley of 'Operation black vote' and it was chaired by David Weaver.
Later that day, we had an interactive session titled ‘Personal leadership, understanding leadership styles and the relevance to you and your context’. This was also led by David Weaver.
We then moved on to a question time panel session where the following councillors were panel members:
However, don't let the long list of trainings scare you, we had lots of comfort breaks all through the day and councillors were able to move in and out of the room for short breaks during the course of the day.
So on to the final training day, the major way that I can describe the quality of the training that we had that day was with a wooowww (A simple ‘wow’ will simply not do that day any justice, so it was definitely a wowwww!) The trainers were fabulous and most of them particularly got most (if not all) of us councillors very emotional.
The first training was titled ‘Is perception more powerful than reality’. This was led by Cllr Mehboob Khan and Cllr Asher. The session was very interactive and fun because every councillor in the room participated well.
The next session that I attended was one of three training sessions. I finally chose to attend a session titled ‘Communication with conviction’. This was presented by Kolarele Sonaike, founder of the great speech consultancy. I was initially indecisive about which of the three training sessions to attend and that was because the three training sessions looked equally fabulous and useful. The training was really fun and it also gave us a chance to get to know each other better as colleagues. The trainer, Kolarele was such an intelligent gentleman who delivered such a world class quality training quite synonymous to quality of training that CEOs receive. I have a decade experience in enterpenuership so I can identify a great trainer when I see one. I picked up a lot of positive ideas from Kolarele's training.
Our final training was like the icing on the cake. I felt that the trainings were all excellent but I was in for a pleasant surprise when our last speaker (certainly not the least), Onyi Anyado opened his mouth.
Onyi is a UK based global leadership speaker and writer. Onyi got all of us very emotional and I have to say that it isn't every day that you sit in a training event where you experience councillors pouring out their heart in such a deep, vulnerable way. That session reminded me of one of my favourite TED talks, titled ‘the power of vulnerability’ by Brene Brown. I had to control the tears when some other councillors stood up to talk. Onyi is a very gifted speaker who certainly had a rare gift of moving his audience to tears. What can I say?
The LGA training beautifully execceded my expectation and I’m very determined to utilise the knowledge and ideas that I gained during the training to improve the quality of my councillor duties and hopefully this will positively impact the life of my residents in my Parr ward and St Helens. I feel so elated to be part of a cohort of councillors who are very driven, hardworking and determined to make the world a better place.
The video below is the video that I referred to above. I recommend that you watch it if you can.
Councillors: The first thing that you will notice about the councillors who attended the BAME leadership training is the diversity of our political affiliations. The three major political parties were represented and we also had some independent councillors as well.
I enjoyed the brilliant networking opportunity and I also had the chance to pick up some best practice ideas from chatting with other councillors. All the councillors were very friendly and I really don't know how the LGA made this happen. A lot of the time, everyone interacted not just as councillors but as humans so there was a cool 'down to earth' vibe all around. From every corner of the room, you will see each councillor beaming with positivity. Each person was so keen to talk to the other person and that was so refreshing to observe.
How can I forget the beautiful songs that Cllr Alift sang to some of us? She has such a beautiful voice. Yes, the training was very intense but my councillor colleagues and I still squeezed in time for some banter!!! The entire atmosphere was filled with such supportive positive vibes. I exchanged contacts with most of the councillors and I can tell that I have made some good friends for life as well.
Written by Bisi Osundeko
Councillor for Parr ward
Chairperson for the Environment, Regeneragation, Culture, Leisure and Housing scrutiny panel (ERCH)
St Helens council