Darlington: using pies and pints to harness the power of community action

Darlington Cares—an organisation bringing together Darlington Borough Council with local businesses keen to undertake corporate social responsibility within the borough—has been organising ‘Pick Pie and Pint’ days since 2017. These are fun and engaging events, which enable the community to practically contribute towards enhancing the appearance of their town.

The challenge

With local authority budgets facing sustained pressure, councils are increasingly finding that they no longer have the budget to maintain services at the level the public has come to expect.

Having been forced to cut back on streetscene maintenance, Darlington Borough Council found residents raising concerns over the appearance of the town’s historic centre, yet the council lacked the financial resources to address the problem directly.

The solution

Instead of accepting the reduction in maintenance as the unavoidable, Darlington turned to their greatest resource: the local community.

Darlington Cares, a local organisation formed with council-support in 2012 to help focus the corporate social responsibility efforts of Darlington-based businesses, began running a regular series of ‘Pick Pie and Pint’ days. While these events have a practical purpose, there is a deliberate effort to make them a fun, social occasion, such as through running themed events, and at the end of an hour’s work every participant is rewarded with a free pie and a pint, paid for by a local business.

The impact

Rather than accepting that fewer financial resources mean poorer services, Darlington’s efforts have shown that with the right approach, residents can be engaged in a way which not only helps to maintain service levels but brings the community together. With local businesses paying for refreshments, the whole approach comes at no extra cost to the local authority.

Lessons learnt

Darlington has shown that the community can be effectively engaged to help improve their local area, if done in the right way. ’Pick Pie and a Pint’ focuses on a priority identified by the community itself and consequently something people are more likely to be interested in contributing their time towards. By making the events fun, they not only increased the likelihood of an ongoing commitment towards the days but have helped to make them an act of community development.