Your Voice Your Choice events will distribute £20,000 in grants

Four Church of Scotland congregations are taking the lead in an exciting new project which will allow parish residents to decide how government grant funds should be spent.

Highland Council participatory budgeting event
Local people cast their votes at a Highland Council participatory budgeting event held in the Pulteney Centre, Wick, on 21 November 2015. Voters chose 13 of 20 projects to receive funding. Photo: Highland Council

Your Voice Your Choice is part of a Scottish Government initiative which aims to involve communities in decisions on where tax money should be spent.

The churches taking part are Carrick Knowe and Old Kirk Muirhouse in Edinburgh, St Andrews in Arbroath and Cranhill Parish Church in Glasgow.

Finlay Buchanan, session clerk at Carrick Knowe Church said church members have taken flyers to every house in the parish.

“I think it is a great chance to get people involved with things happening in the community and how grant money is spent,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to miss out on this great opportunity.”

Each of the churches has invited community groups in their area to apply for up to £1,000 from a total of £5,000 available for each parish. Applications closed on Friday 17 March.

Each church will then hold an event where community members aged 10 (Primary 6) and above can vote.

Originally piloted in Brazil, Participatory Budgeting, to give it its formal name, has been praised for bringing communities together and instilling a sense of ownership and trust.

Since 2014, the government has been working with 20 local authorities across Scotland to try the approach. And last year the government created a £2 million Community Choices Fund which will work through community groups and public bodies to reach some of Scotland’s most deprived areas.

Rev Stephen Emery, the minister at Old Kirk Muirhouse, said applications have been rolling in from a range of community groups.

“Most grant funding involves larger amounts of money and the applications are very complicated. These applications are very simple so it is easy for small community groups to apply.”

“So far we have one application from a youth group whose premises suffered damage and they are looking for money to help with repairs, for example. Another is from a youth group looking for equipment. It’s about real down-to-earth issues that groups are trying to deal with.”

Susan Macfarlane, a vocations volunteer working with Rev Martin Fair at St Andrew’s Parish Church in Arbroath, said Your Voice Your Choice is creating a lot of buzz on social media and in the street.

“I am hearing a lot of excitement about having the opportunity to vote on what’s going to happen in the community and about being able to take that lead,” she said.

“It is great that the whole community will be coming together at the event. People are making new contacts and that is fabulous.”

Rev Muriel Pearson, minister at Cranhill Parish Church said everyone will get five votes and must use them all on different projects.

“People are quite surprised by how simple it is. We are letting children as young as 10 vote and it’s drawing people from different parts of the community together.

“We’ve had quite a few applications already and we hope we are going to have a good event.

“Sometimes it’s the little ideas that make all the difference.”

The Cranhill Development Trust, which is managing the particpatory budgeting effort, will try to help everyone who applies, the minister said.

“If you have good ideas, come forward with them. We’re going to do our best to help people make them happen, even if they don’t get funded.”

The Events

Old Kirk Muirhouse: Saturday 25 March starting at 10am

Carrick Knowe: Saturday March 25 10am-12.30pm

Cranhill Parish Church: Saturday 25 March 3pm –6pm

St Andrew’s Parish Church Arbroath: Tuesday 28 March 7pm

Find out more about Participatory Budgeting in Scotland