STAR ROUNDTABLE: Sheffield TARA groups 'need to be brought into digital age' if they are to survive

Roundtable discussion on the future of TARA groups. Pictured are Mick Daniels, Winnie Smith, Derek Smith, Matthew Lawton, Demitri Rhonstantiniois, Janet Sharpe and Bev Mullooly.
Roundtable discussion on the future of TARA groups. Pictured are Mick Daniels, Winnie Smith, Derek Smith, Matthew Lawton, Demitri Rhonstantiniois, Janet Sharpe and Bev Mullooly.
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Tenant and resident associations in Sheffield will only survive if they are brought into the 'digital age' to help get more young people involved in tackling community issues.

That was the key message from leaders of several city TARAs, an action group and council bosses who attended a Star Roundtable meeting earlier today.

Pictured is Bev Mullooly.

Pictured is Bev Mullooly.

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Fears were raised that interest in the groups has dwindled and an erosion in community spirit has contributed to the closure of about 15 TARAs over the last decade.

There is concern that the groups - which serve an important role tackling a myriad of neighbourhood issues - could be fazed out all together unless the next generation takes them on.

The meeting heard that TARAs and action groups need to be making better use of technology - and in particular social media - to get young people involved.

Dimitri Rhonstantiniois - a young man who recently became a committee member of the Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group - said: "I have lived in the city centre for ten years but didn't know anything about the SCCRAG.

Pictured is Winnie Smith.

Pictured is Winnie Smith.

"I found it by accident while looking for something else on Google but I decided to get involved because there are a lot of concerns, particularly about anti-social behaviour.

"Communication needs to improve so people are aware about these groups, such as on Facebook and a lot of young people use Instagram now. There should also be a survey asking young people how to engage them in community issues."

He urged young people to get involved and added that community groups "can get things done."

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Matthew Lawton, a committee member of Gleadless Valley TARA, agreed more needs to be done to publicise the work of community groups.

Pictured is Demitri Rhonstantiniois.

Pictured is Demitri Rhonstantiniois.

He said: "New council tenants should be told who their local TARA is, where they are based, how to get in touch and what events they have on for the next month or so.

"There is a bit of detail in a pack you get when you move in, but it's not enough."

Mr Lawton added that TARAs have to recognise that the demographic in communities is always changing and an effort needs to be made to bring ethnic minorities into the fold.

He said: "At a previous TARA I was with we added several new languages into our newsletters and this helped to get more people involved.

Matthew Lawton.

Matthew Lawton.

"Off the back of it we held an 'international food day' where people got to taste food from all over the world. It was great."

Mick Daniels, aged 69, chair of Brushes TARA in Firth Park, raised concern that council tenants are being 'left in the dark' since the council's In Touch magazine - which used to be delivered to about 42, 000 tenants - was axed in January 2017.

He also said the authority used to list contact details for all of the TARA groups on its website, but now only features about three or four.

Said Mr Daniels: "There just isn't as much information out there as there used to be and there are not as many attending meetings.

"The average age at meetings is about 55 to 60 so we need to address that if the groups are to continue."

Winnie Smith, a member of Arbourthorne TARA for 15 years, claimed they often don't get feedback from the council on issues they raise and called for this to improve.

Mick Daniels.

Mick Daniels.

She said: "I remember there used to be meetings in a big auditorium in the Stoddard Building where the council leader would answer your questions. And if they didn't know, they would get back to you later on.

"But now we often don't hear back at all."

Janet Sharpe, director of housing and neighbourhoods services, and Bev Mullooly, head of neighbourhood services, said they would take the issues raised back to the council to discuss how TARA groups can be better supported.

Ms Sharpe said: "Admittedly we are slightly older so when it comes to using social media we should speak to younger members of staff to see how we can use this in the best way."

Ms Mullooly added that the council has recently launched a funding scheme where groups can apply for £250 to help them be more digital savvy.

She said: "This money and training will enable groups to develop their websites, help with social media use and to be better connected."

In addition, they added a new quarterly e-newsletter - replacing the defunct In Touch magazine - will be launching in September.

They also pledged that council officers will try and attend more local forum meetings to get to grips with community issues.

Ms Sharpe said: "There are challenges, sometimes one TARA is set up and two end up closing.

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"But they do some fantastic work and are so important to communities."

For advice on how to set up a TARA visit https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/home/council-housing/tenants-residents-associations.html