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Mark Clarke: Social Action Programmes and CF - Making it happen

Mark_clarke_1 Mark is standing for CF Chairman

Patrick Sullivan and Dominic Llewellyn have both written excellent pieces about the importance of Social Action or Community based programmes. I strongly agree. As a Chairman candidate, let me say share some practical examples of this sort of thing in action, and more importantly address what we should practically speaking do to make it happen.

When I left University I took a step back from active party politics and instead immersed myself in voluntary and charity work. At that time I was living in Newcastle. I decided to set up a organisation which would go into local schools and teach communication skills. This would encompass interviewing, listening, debating and public speaking skills. I approached other people in my company for assistance in running and approached an inner city Newcastle school, Heaton Manor School, to run the programme. Our first meeting had only six people. But within a term we had forty people turning up after school for two hours a week. Over time, we took some pupils for mock interviews and on university visits.

I knew we had had a real impact because of the many pupils who personally told me that they had chosen to go to university or stay on at A-levels as a direct result of the aspirational experiences that the course offered them.

At that time I had never associated this programme with anything party political. But with the benefit of hindsight it was. Firstly, it was real politics - making a difference locally. Secondly, and entirely co-incidentally, all of the other trainers are now involved in Conservative Party politics – although I never knew at the time that any of them were Conservatives at all.

However, the most striking element I found recently when I went back to Newcastle as part of my campaign trail to become National CF Chairman. The first person I met there was a CF copy writer who remembered me. He had been one of the students on the course that I had run. He quoted back to me a variety of stories and advice that I and others had given him – we had clearly had an impact on him beyond that which was originally intended. A one off I thought. But no, at the next event I met two other CF people who had also been on the same course. As well as similar stories from this course they also told me that they had recently got married, having first got together on this course some seven years ago.

So this small programme, which I started on a shoestring, ended up giving new skills to young people, influenced the life approach of them and even acted as a dating facility! And, unknowingly, it was run by Conservatives and the alumni are disproportionately Conservatives in an area where apparently we have few Conservatives.

My journeys around the country have already shown me that many Conservative groups are doing just this already. For example, I was in Wirral recently meeting up with the CF there and they recently had a programme to clean up the local beach. Conservatives getting stuck in locally and making a difference – even in places where you would not expect to find a strong Conservative presence.

As you would expect from a National CF Chairman candidate, I have also looked overseas to find best practice. The Young Republicans hold an annual event called the Young Republicans Community Service Day. This sees over 250 events held country wide with initiatives including running soup kitchens, helping out at a blood drives and Charity fundraising activities.

I want next year to see CF doing more Social Action work because it transforms lives and communities and helps build strong CF branches. If I am elected then the NME will have a member responsible for Social Action and a sub committee dedicated to supporting branches develop local Social Action programmes around the country. We will have Social Action activities and trainings at the Training Conferences which CF organises. We will explore whether the US model of a Social Action Day could work here.

I will take a close personal interest in this project.


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