Assembly Members travelled to The Nest in the snow, for the first day of the final Deliberation & Recommendations weekend. Everyone showed their negative Covid tests, signed in and then grabbed hot drinks from Awesome Coffee and breakfast muffins/bars/biscuits/fruit from Gloria & Lils before setting down in the Space of Possibilities where Susan and Andy from Mutual Gain outlined the programme.

Saturday began with two final speakers and then moved into intensive deliberation sessions – with groups mixing to ensure everyone got to discuss with everyone else.

Deliberation sessions were structured so that Assembly Members reviewed all their various takeaways from the Learning Sessions; revisited their thoughts about their perceptions of Coventry’s problems from the first time the Assembly met; and made sure they were addressing the Assembly question “How will arts, culture and creativity shape a better future for Coventry?”

Our speakers for Saturday were requested by Assembly Members to fill gaps in their knowledge, or to contribute something that had not already been discussed. Sandra Godley, from BBC CWR was the first of these. She spoke very powerfully about how moved she had been on a recent school visit, to hear a year 7 student speak strongly about wanting to divest themselves of the weighty responsibility of being black, move beyond initiatives such as Black History Month and work towards true integration. This opened up a fascinating discussion around the responsibility all of us have to hear, and share, the stories of those marginalised or discriminated against, and explored various ways that families had, or might be able to more openly, explore these stories inter-generationally, to allow healing and inspire integration.

Alice Weston, from Coventry band Paradise of the Titans, spoke powerfully about the way that existing gigging and open mic systems (probably unintentionally) exclude those who might not feel safe coming out of a venue alone at 11pm and having to find some kind of transport home. The discussion also opened up suggestions around formulating feelings into poems and how open mic opportunities can really help improve connection, confidence and mental health.

Andy and Susan presented the data from the Polis poll, which had gathered opinions on the Assembly question from other Coventry residents, and gave the Assembly an idea of what the opinions might be outside of the room. It was pointed out that it was a small sample size, but even so it could be seen as giving a useful indication.

From the main space, the Assembly moved into breakout rooms. Discussions in the seven rooms were very different, but equally thoughtful. One room in particular spent a long time discussing the issues raised by Sandra’s speech, linking it back to the story Alan Lane had told in an earlier session, and the identification of racism as one of the issues in session one as a current problem in the city.

Listening in on discussions throughout the day, it was clear that every single Assembly Member felt a keen sense of responsibility to the others, and to the task in hand – to our city. At one point, when a group was feeding back, an elderly Assembly Member stood up and said that he was “still trying to find out what art and culture is all about but I’m getting there – I’ve discovered that we are all creative as individuals and we can bring something to our communities and a great sense of belonging. I’ve lived here for 75 years am still am not fed up with the place! We have a lot to offer & there’s so much going on. Our creative thoughts and actions can make a tremendous difference.”

Over lunch [vegan ratatouille or vegan chilli supplied by Gloria & Lils] Derek Nisbet & Amy Kakoura performed some of their music – including from Talking Birds’ Walk With Me tours – in front of The Whale.

The afternoon session began in the Space of Possibilities [the main room], where Susan briefed the Assembly Members on their next task – to compile a visual summary of their assessment criteria for the future recommendations. She impressed upon the Assembly Members that the quality of their recommendations would be improved if they could include:

  1. Their aspirations for the Coventry they would like to see, using their visualisations from the first Assembly session.
  2. Realism – to create a better future she told them that they must address the problems Coventry faces that they talked about in session 2.
  3. The information and inspiration they have received from the different expert speakers which they feel is important (and which meets points 1 & 2)
  4. Any information and points of view from the public from the Polis results that they thought was useful.

Whilst the Assembly Members were busy collating their assessment criteria, our Resident Artists Julia O’Connell and Liz Mytton were also hard at work. Assembly Members had brought in their stitching homework, and Julia stitched all day to assemble them. Liz spent Saturday writing a poem to evoke the process of the Assembly, and form the script of the documentary film.

In true democratic fashion, the day closed with a couple of rounds of voting. To begin with, the Assembly voted to select the themes for their recommendations. Did they want to write their recommendations to the themes originally selected in Session 1, or did they want to use themes (that were not altogether dissimilar) arising from the work they had done today?

The Assembly voted for the second set of themes, ie: Education, Sustainable Environment, Economic Opportunity, Integration, Communication & Engagement, Mental Health, and Funding.

The second vote was to enable each Assembly Member to select their 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice of theme to work on for all of Sunday, with those votes to be counted overnight and working groups thereby assigned.

We closed for the evening with Assembly Member Ian showing his peers an amazing 19 foot long doodle he created during lockdown.

To find out more & get involved:

Follow the arrow links below to find out more about the Citizens’ Assembly, and to have your say about arts, culture, creativity and imagination.