Saturday, 29 June 2013

Nottingham Citizens Founding Assembly 2013

Nottingham Citizens, that most wonderful of local social justice organisations, recently held their Founding Assembly – and it was as inspirational an event as BFTF has come to expect from them.

The Story of Nottingham Citizens
In 2010 a group of leaders from across Nottingham gathered to consider the potential of community organising, as pioneered by CitizensUK, for Nottingham. A number of groups took a risk, took a chance, that by working together they could achieve something wonderful and so with financial contributions from the Anglican Diocese, Nottingham Trent University, Unison and Unite, Muslim Hands, Karimia, Himmah, Trent Vineyard Church, the Christian Centre, Grace Church and St Nic's, an organiser was appointed and work began.

In the years to come, Nottingham may come to realise the debt it owes to those institutions who took that initial leap of faith and brought community organising to Nottingham.

There are now thirty eight due paying organisations in Nottingham Citizens – and they were present in some considerable numbers for the Founding Assembly.

Each member org introduced themselves on stage -
here is a student from Bluebell Hill Primary School doing just that
(click to enlarge any picture)

Representatives from all the Notingham Citizens
member organisations on stage

Far from being a starting point, the Assembly was a waymarker in a journey that had seen a great deal of research into what issues were important to the citizens of Nottingham. Three themes emerged from this – that Nottingham wants to be a city that is safer, healthier and more prosperous.

Nottingham Citizens has already challenged local government and other institutions to deliver specific actions that aim to improve the social fabric of Nottingham:

Nov 2012 saw a series of challenges being put to prospective candidates for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner.

July 2012 saw the release of the Hope and Homelessness Commission Report, which looked at the injustices faced by people seeking sanctuary – and asked local government, G4S and UKBA to undertake specific actions to improve the situation.

As Konnie Lloyd from the Refugees Forum pointed out :

"By working together we have achieved improvements to the lives of people seeking sanctuary"

More recently, there have been lobbying efforts to show local politicians how important a Living Wage is to the people of Nottingham and a community cohesion event at the Kashmir Centre.

The Founding Assembly was an opportunity to celebrate the growth, efforts and achievements of Nottingham Citizens; to see what progress had been made on past issues; and to challenge local government and others to move further forward on the road to making Nottingham more safer, healthier and more prosperous.

The Calvary Family Church dance troupe
providing a break from proceedings.

Progress on previous challenges
Paddy Tipping and his deputy Chris Cutland came onto the stage to state what progress had been made in delivering the commitments made at the PCC Accountability Assembly.

They had delivered on the commitments to :

Spend time with Nottingham Citizens to develop a working relationship.

Provide a contact point at The Forest to improve security there

And were working towards fulfilling the commitments to:
Improve security for children along the main school bus routes - Paddy stated that the intelligence on school routes and the incident reporting system had already been improved.

Improve the implementation of "Stop and Search" (which disproportionately targeted BME communities) and introduce receipts to "Stop and Account" – Paddy stated that a report on Stop and Search would be published on Jul 15th and that the Police recognised that "we've got to make major changes" to ensure that "all sections of the community are treated with respect".

Match funding to implement a system of CCTV in citycabs to protect both passengers and drivers – Paddy explained that the money for this was available and that discussions on how best to implement the system, which was likely to be voluntary, was ongoing.

A musical interlude came from
the Bluebell Primary School who sang 'Sing'

Good to see a significant Muslim presence at the event

New Challenges
The Nottingham Citizens member organisations and strategy teams had identified a series of issues that aimed to move Nottingham along the path towards being a safer, healthier and more prosperous city. In each case, Nottingham Citizens was offering to work with local government to achieve the aims of the proposal.

Powerful testimonies were presented to give examples of why change was needed.

Lisa, a victim of domestic violence, described the trauma that she had survived:

"I grew up in a home filled with domestic violence. My dad was a cruel man. He used to eat my mum Michelle. He would beat me and my brother Tyrone and we would take turns to stand in front and take the worst of it.

I was seven years old when he murdered my mum. I watched it happen. I saw him kill her.

I grew up thinking that was the norm…All us women in my area experienced it. It's not just my dad. I know two other men who've killed their wives. I mean I actually know them. When we used to go out you'd meet up on a Sunday and one of us would have had a good hiding. We'd laugh about it – but people were scared."

Jason explained how mental and physical health problems had affected him and his family:

"My childhood was unhappy. My parents observed a strict religious doctrine and forbade me from associating with others…My home life was also violent. My parents would burn and beat me and my younger brother who I tried to protect.

At 15 my parents cast me out because I refused to accept their beliefs. I was homeless for a week and after finding accommodation I slowly became involved in the world of criminality.

Meeting my wife to be Wendy changed my life. On becoming a father I decided to leave my criminal life for good. The birth of our first daughter was swiftly followed by the birth of her sister. Two daughters and a wife and the desire to provide for them meant hard work. Honest work is hard work and for years I worked eighteen or twenty hours a day. I ended up working in all aspects of gardening, work I really enjoyed at last.

By 2006 I began to feel an intense pain in my joints. The pain could make such simple tasks as making a sandwich or turning the pages of a book impossible. I went to hospital and was diagnosed with a condition that meant I would probably never work again.

In a short time I had gone from a strong and healthy provider to a pathetic burden."

Jason described how he tried to find a way out by taking an overdose of sleeping pills, but was fortunately found by a neighbour before it was too late. He added that :

"Soon after I began to self-harm, finding relief in cutting myself or striking my joints with a hammer to exact revenge upon them. This is probably pretty hard to listen to now long after the event, imagine my wife and daughters desperately trying to engage professional help and support. I was in a terrible state, angry, confused and distressed, but it took months of being dismissed by my GP and offered more pills before I was finally referred to the mental health team. Even when I finally met that team getting real lasting support is proving incredibly difficult.

I know I will never be the man I was but I owe it to my family to be the best man I can. I need help to deliver that commitment."

Peter Wright (ex. Boots) and Carol Star (Unite) explained why a Living Wage is needed:

"We want a Living Wage. £7.45/hr. An independently calculated figure based on the cost of living. The real minimum needed to raise a family. It is wrong to subsidise big employers up to £1,000 per person in tax credits when they choose to pay their cleaners, cooks and security staff less than it costs to live. The Living Wage campaign was launched by our sister organisation in East London in 2001. As Citizens UK we've won more over £200million for over 100,000 hard working people."

The "Asks"

"Safe" Proposals (put to Paddy Tippping)
1 : That the Women's Aid hotline for victims of domestic abuse have its funding increased (as it cannot currently respond to all the calls that come through to it. And that a programme teaching about "Healthy Relationships" be given to every primary school child to try and break the cycle of abuse.

2 : A CitySafe Pubs and Clubs Charter be set up to make nights out safer.

3 : Interviews be allocated to 35 BME candidates identified and prepared by Nottingham Citizens

Paddy was supportive of all the proposals and pointed out that extra funding had been allocated to the hotline. Regarding increasing the level of BME participation in the Police force, Paddy said that it would take decades to address the issue at present trends and that he was keen to go further than the proposal on BME recruitment, adding that he was getting a lot of support for this from the black churches.

"Healthy" Proposals (put to Cllr Alex Norris)
1: That the Health and Wellbeing board ensure that clinical assessement forms assess mental health and social history as well as physical health.

2) That the NUH and Notts Healthcare boards appoint a lead for mental and for physical health.

3) That the chair of the CCG spend a day with Nottingham Citizens and that the registered nurse have their time increased to that of the registered doctor

Cllr Norris was supportive of all these proposals.

"Prosperous" proposals (Put to Cllr Graham Chapman, Cllr Alex Norris and Cllr Diana Meale)
1) That major public and private sector employers pay a living wage

2) That the City Council reduce its rate on care cost loans to 1% over base rate (currently 8%) and that the Money Shop improve their practices in line with their Canadian subsidiary

3) That national government supports jobs with inward investment to Nottinghamshire.

Incredibly, Cllr Chapman (for the city) and Cllr Meale (for the county) committed to ensuring all their staff were on a living wage by Apr 2014 and Jan 2014 respectively, although Cllr Chapman warned that this would have consequences elsewhere in the city's budget. The County Council went further than the "ask" by also commiting to asking their suppliers to support a living wage, support apprenticeships and to favour the use of local labour.

Wow!

Cllr Norris was unable to commit to the reduction of interest below 8%, saying that the rate could be negotiated with families on a case by case.

Cllr Alex Norris being challenged to commit to Health 'asks'

Some clever organisation at work here
during the section on creating a prosperous Nottingham

The MP's
Local MP's Chris Leslie and Lilian Greenwood were present at the Assembly and made some very supportive comments at the end of the programme. The two MP's offered to engage with Nottingham Citizens and agree an issue which they would try and get debated in Parliament – and also an issue on which they would try to get a meeting with the relevant minister. Good stuff.

Chris Leslie MP and Lilian Greenwood MP

Related Links:
Nottingham Citizens
Interview with Milton Keynes Citizens
Hope and Homlessness Commission Report
Tips on Community Organising

Are Banks causing more jewellery burglaries?

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