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'

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.


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'

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


Nottingham Citizens for Sanctuary released their report on destitution in Nottingham at a packed event held at St Nicholas Church in central Nottingham in Jul 2012.

Entitled “Homelessness and Hope”, the report summarises the work of a six person commission who surveyed the extent of destitution amongst those seeking sanctuary over a three month period. The report was based on over 100 interviews with destitute asylum seekers and received dozens of expert testimonies.

The aims of the commission were twofold : to ensure that vulnerable people did not suffer unnecessarily and that tax payers money was used effectively by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS )

The Commission report identified three main areas of concern, which are listed below, together with a relevant testimony and some of the reports recommendations :

The state of Asylum Support Service accommodation provision.
“On March 20th 2012 G4S won the contract to provide NASS accommodation in Nottingham and across the East Midlands. The details of the contract specify high standards of service, while at the same time the total value of the contract has fallen significantly…“There has been some excellent work done, particularly by the local authority, yet we have identified instances where the service has been woefully inadequate - little better than a taxpayer funded giveaway for shoddy landlords.”

Testimony : “The house was virtually uninhabitable. There were fluids dripping from the bathroom coming directly into the kitchen cooking area. . . the stench from the fluids made me sick...after a year our housing officer explained that the landlord had refused to undertake the necessary repairs”

Recommendations : Frontline personnel should receive training to ensure they have an understanding of the asylum process from the viewpoint of the client.
A welcome service should be set up to orientate new arrivals.

The extent and severity of destitution in Nottingham
“We were shocked then to discover 26 children currently living destitute in our city, 22 of whom were receiving no support from Nottingham City Council’s Children’s Services.”

“74 of the 105 households had been destitute, those households that are or had been destitute contained 69 children “

Testimony : “At that time the conditions we were living in were terrible - I was surviving with my two children on £5 per week - we could only afford bread, sugar and tea. I could manage on one slice of bread per day, my oldest son on two. For my youngest son I used to boil the bread in water to make a porridge so that it would last longer.”

Recommendations : Unused or undesriable property should be made available to those who are destitute in the city.
A protocol should be defined to ensure that Childrens Services deal with destitute children appropriately, thus saving indirect costs.

Problems faced transitioning to normal life after receiving leave to remain.
"If individuals receive a positive decision they are given 28 days before the termination of NASS support in which to arrange their transition and integration into mainstream British society, if the decision is negative this period is reduced to 21 days...It is currently recognised by most public authorities that “transition is not being got right”"

Testimony : For one month I was homeless. With no support I had to sleep outside: I tried to sleep in the mosque and was refused, I slept in a park outside Broadmarsh Centre under the bridge or spent all night in the bus station. There was nowhere for me to wash my face and I had to wait till the shops opened before I could go to the toilet. There was nowhere for me to shower for over two weeks.”

Recommendations : Relevant agencies should, as a matter of urgency, develop a pilot comprehensive transition process for those receiving positive decisions.

The launch of the Hope and Homlessness Commission Report

The event at St Nicholas’ was attended by Gail Adams, from the UKBA and Jules Bickers from NASS accommodation contractor G4S, both of whom were asked to make a series of commitments by the commission.

What was surprising to BFTF was the extent to which UKBA and G4S accepted the proposals for improvements made by the commission and the way in which they shared many of the aims that the commission had - to provide a sufficiently good, efficient and timely service to those seeking sanctuary and to ensure that taxpayers money was not wasted. Both agreed to provide written responses to the commissions questions within 2 months.

Gail Adams commented positively on the fact that she had been involved in the work of the commission, saying that "Progress is best made when we work together."

Commenting on the commissions proposal for a "welcome pack" for new arrivals, Gail commented that "todays turnout is testament to how supportive you are in Nottingham to such a proposal."

She also mentioned that the "Regional Strategic Migration Partnership" was a good place to discuss many of the proposals being discussed, as key stakeholders were already a part of this organisation.

Regarding the quality of accomodation, Gail stated that "the tax payer does not pay for poor accomodation... but we need to know where [poor housing is]".

Jules Bicken, from G4S was also postive about the way the commission had conducted itself, commenting that, "we have appreciated the tone of the meetings we have held". He also appeared keen to ensure that G4S moved forward in terms of the quality of its service, saying "we hope we will, through our actions, show a committment to improved performance".

The whole event was a real testament to the power of community organising and the way in which meaningful dialogue can be undertaken with statutory organisations. It was particularly encouraging to see that UKBA and G4S were happy to agree to many of the committments that the commission asked them to sign up to.

BFTF looks forward with interest to seeing how the engagement develops over time.

In closing, one of the commissioners suggested that it listeners had been shocked by some of the testimonies they had heard, they should use their democratic rights to hold their elected councillors and MP's accountable for the way people were being treated in Nottingham.

The HOST project, where people lodge one of Nottinghams destitute people on a temporay basis was also mentioned as a project people might want to particiapte in.

And lastly, a number of volunteers are required to resource some of the initatives that the commission wish to set with UKBA and G4S.

The Commission was supported by a wide range of organisations including NNRF, NAT, the Red Cross, The Anglican Diocese of Nottingham and Southwell, the UNISON East Midlands Region, St Barnabas Catholic Cathedral, Himmah, Faith Action Nottingham and Refugee Action.

You can find the report here :

Update 10th Nov 2014:
It seems to BFTF that the debate on immigration is often presented either by those on the right (who ignore the UK's obligations, the fact that conflict drives refugee migration and that there are many injustices in the way the system works) and those on the left (who ignore that fact that some people lie when claiming asylum). This can make it hard to participate in the debate if ones position is somewhere in the middle ground.

An interesting contribution has been made by Roda Madziva, Vivien Lowndes and Saul Becker at the "Making Science Public" blog. In two posts (here and here), the team investigate many aspects of the "Go Home Now" immigration vans used by the Home Office in 2013, including the history of migration controls in the UK, the reaction to the vans by other stakeholders, and the effect they had on those seeking asylum.

Something that struck BFTF while reading the posts was the question of why these vans had only been used to persuade failed asylum seekers to hand themselves in, why were there not also similar vans going round the richest parts of London suggesting that tax evaders should also 'fess up or face the prospect of doing some bird?

Or indeed a van parked up permanently outside the Houses of Parliament with a big sign urging MPs not to lie to the electorate.


Earlier in Mar2012 Nottingham Citizens for Sanctuary had launched a commission into the accommodation needs of people seeking sanctuary in Nottingham. The project, called “Homelessness and Hope”, was outlined at Friends Meeting House this week in an event attended by representatives from a number of organisations including local government, the UK borders agency (UKBA) and charities working in this field.

In addition to Nottingham Citizens for Sanctuary, the other driving forces behind the project are the Nottingham and Nottingham Refugee Forum, British Red Cross, Himmah, Faith Action on Poverty and Homelessness and the Church of England.

The commission will focus on the situation faced by asylum seekers and refugees, particularly those who have no recourse to public funds and aims to report by the end of June, with “comprehensive and practical recommendations” to the City Council, UKBA and G4S (who have the contract for asylum seeker accommodation in the Midlands).

The need for the commission was amply illustrated by the testimonies of a number of people who had spent time in the UKBA system. In particular it was hard to hear the stories of parents whose children had never had a bed they could call their own, or had slept on the floor of a caravan so that they could stay in Nottingham to sit their exams.

The Rev Karen Rooms who began the proceedings, recognised that, economically, these were “tough times” and emphasised that the project wanted to get “value for money for taxpayers” and also “common sense solutions that will work for everyone”.

Liz McGuirk, from Citizens for Sanctuary talked of the need to ensure that the commission took advantage of best practice that had been developed elsewhere in the country, in particular mentioning projects in Manchester and Leeds that were worth studying. She also described how the team wished to work with other organisations, including the G4S and UKBA in developing the final report.

Sajid Muhammed, from Himmah, related the story of an elderly gentleman called Ahmed who had been tortured in his country of origin and was seeking sanctuary in Nottingham. Ahmed had not been able to provide the correct documentation so the Home Office had rejected his application and he had since been living rough (at the time he was staying in a shed). Sajid wondered “how this could happen in our city”.

A number of speakers, including the YMCA and UKBA recognised that the sudden removal of much welfare support when a person takes up paid work, even at the minimum wage, makes this change very difficult for people and that some kind of phased transition would be a helpful step forward.

Gail Adams, from UKBA expressed support for the project and commented that the UKBA had “moved a long way in the last three to four years”, pointing out that the long backlogs of cases that were usual have now largely been eliminated. She committed to providing information to the project and to meeting with the project organisers to discuss its findings after its publication and urged the commission to “be specific about what is wrong” so that problems can be fixed.

Andrew Hall, who works in the field of social health, described how substandard accommodation has a significant adverse effect on health, with resulting illnesses such as respiratory complaints costing the NHS some £1.5 - £2.5billion per year. He also commented on the strong correlation between poverty and the prevalence of ailments associated with poor accommodation.

Jon Collins, leader of the city council, pointed out that the council had to work within a legal framework but added that “some aspects of it that are degrading and sometimes gratuitously so”. He also pointed out that homelessness is an issue for a number of communities in the city and that, currently, there simply was not enough social housing available to meet demand.

UPDATE : 12 June 12
BFTF has recently received permission to add one of the, very moving, accounts given by the asylum seekers. The first accounr is from Yusuf, who is a refugee from Dafur in Sudan. The second if from Amina and Saleem, a couple from North Africa. All names have been changed.

Yusuf's testimony
My name is Yusuf and I come from Darfur in the Sudan.

When I was given status in 2010 I had to leave my NASS accommodation 3 weeks later. I had lived in NASS accommodation for 6 years and had a TV, small fridge, DVDs and my computer which I had to throw away because I had nowhere to store them.

Housing Aid told me that they only give accommodation to people who are sick or disabled. For one month I was homeless. With no support I had to sleep outside: I tried to sleep in the mosque and was refused, I slept in a park, under a bridge outside the Broadmarsh Centre or spent all night sitting in the bus station.There was nowhere for me to wash my face and I had to wait till the shops opened before I could go to the toilet. There was nowhere for me to take a shower for the first two weeks, so that my clothes began to smell.

I didn't know where I could get any money. All I had was the money I borrowed from a friend, so for the whole month all I had to eat was dry bread and chips, except for the few days when the Refugee Forum fed me.

What I missed most was not being warm. I was lucky that it did not rain a lot.

Why, I asked myself, having finally got status, am I on the streets?

I often felt degraded and that I was nothing. I also suffered from nightmares.

Amina and Saleem's testimony
AMINA: "Good evening, my name is Amina and this is my husband Saleem and our two twin daughters. They're two and a half. In 2001 my husband and I were living in (a North African country), he was working as a security guard. One evening he caught a gang of thieves stealing from the warehouse. He caught them and called the police. To his relief they arrived quickly. They got out their cars and came over to my husband who they put in handcuffs and bundled into the back of the van.

The criminals had connections that hard working families like ours didn't. My husband was taken away and thrown in a cell while the criminals went free. Needless to say that night my husband didn't come home. I stayed up all night, I stayed up for the following four nights while my husband rotted in a cell. He was released on bail and we fled. He'd made enemies and was wanted. In 2002 we arrived, terrified of being sent back and not knowing the law we didn't claim asylum. We came to Nottingham and moved into a one bedroom apartment rented by Saleem's brother and his wife.

In 2004 my husband was caught without a visa and detained. He was released and on the advice of his solicitor went to claim asylum."

SALEEEM: "I will never forget that interview. I sat down opposite a man who went on to abuse me, call me a liar, aggressively tell me that I was a cheat and had come here to get my hands on benefits. I've worked my whole life, I'm an honest man. It's because I'm honest that I was forced to flee my country. With all this intimidation I left the office, without having completed an asylum claim. I returned to Nottingham and began regularly reporting.

Again I was detained, this time I made an asylum application only for it to be rejected within 72 hours. 72 hours? They made this decision about me, about my life, about the fear I live in of returning to (North African country) in 72 hours. I appealed and was released and once again returned to Nottingham."

AMINA: "Two years went by. By this time we had been living in Britain with my husband's brother for seven long years. I was getting older and with no idea how many more years the Home Office would make us wait for a decision on the appeal. I got pregnant and in 2009 our two twin girls were born. They are my joy and my whole world. Together with our two twins we returned to my brother in law's one bedroom apartment where he, his wife, and their daughter were also living. There were now 7 of us in a one bedroom apartment. It was then, that through the post we learned that our appeal had been rejected. We were considering what to do when we received another letter from the Home Office inviting us to claim legacy and so we did in June 2010 and lodged an application for NASS support. Twelve months went by. My daughters took their first steps. They spoke their first words. All in a run down one bedroom apartment together with 5 other people.

By May 2011 my brother in law had to move. He'd supported us for 9 years in that terribly overcrowded one bed apartment. He'd fed, clothed, supported and sheltered us but he had to leave the city. We received notice that our legacy claim had somehow been refused the same week we were turned out onto the street, homeless. Can you imagine what it's like to take your two twins into the street while your husband runs down streets looking for someone he knows to ask for shelter? Social services had been to see us the week before. She knew we were about to be left on the street and refused to help us.

Fortunately a friend was able to shelter us for a time. A lawyer in London suggested we make a Human Rights claim and filed it in October. Having now had several other opinions it turns this was a total waste of time. New evidence of the consequences we face in (North African Country) had emerged and we should have been helped to make a fresh claim, instead this cowboy lawyer led us down the wrong path. I am relieved to say we have now, finally after 9 years in this country, been given access to legal aid with a reputable solicitor who is helping us prepare a fresh claim.

I you all to understand what we have been through, particularly in the last year. Since May 2011 we have moved ten times. Always on the edge of homelessness. A single phone call away. We spent two months living in a friend's place, we had four hours notice when we had to leave. I was at the refugee forum in the city centre when I got the call from my husband. I had no money for the bus and I remember running home crying and screaming because I had no place to take my daughters. One of my girls came down with a fever, she was so distressed we thought she'd stopped breathing. When the ambulance came to collect her I had to give my other daughter to a friend for the night as we had no place to go. Imagine that. Imagine having to give one of your children to someone else's care. We have had to beg everyone we know, one time after we'd been made homeless our solicitor's friend sheltered us for the night. Only on one occasion, having already been made homeless 6 times with two young girls did Social Services help us. They gave us 7 nights in a Bed and Breakfast. I can tell you, we were grateful for the bed but we got no breakfast. At the end of that stay we were turned out on the street, I waited in the cold with my daughters while once again my husband ran around the streets of Nottingham asking anyone he could find to shelter us for the night. For two years we have been in this state, while the border agency holds our applications, with no support whatsoever except for those seven days and nights. My twins have never slept in their own beds. Their whole lives all four of us have had to share a bed. Sometimes a single."

One of the team at Notts Refugee Forum mentioned a more positive incident relating to Amina:

"I recently met up with Amina and was horrified to see that, only having a single push chair, she had carried the other 2.5 year old twin across town. I remembered a woman who came to the Launch offering to help and so I rang her and asked her to try and locate a twin pushchair. She offered to pay for it if she found one. She did find one a day or so later and with money from another source Amina was able to purchase the twin pushchair."

Back in Mar 2012, BFTF wrote down a few key points of community activism, garnered from a variety of sources:

Be SPECIFIC about the action or change you want.
What specific change do you want to make? If you don’t know what you really want, how can the other party know what they are supposed to be agreeing to?

Make it SIMPLE
This applies to pretty much everything in life, and community organising is no exception. It is better to aim for a simple, clearly understandably change than to try and achive complicated changes all in one go.

Aim to achieve a target that is actually WINNABLE
Take what you can get, live to fight another day.

Aim for a COMMON GOOD solution
The strength of organisations like CitizensUK lies in their broad make-up and the number of people they represent. Campaigns need to be on issues that matter to many groups, not just one.

PERSONALISE the argument - organisations make bad targets.
Find out who has the power in the company / state body to make the change you seek? Then email / phone / meet with that person. Find out what is important to them and where common ground might lie. Use power mapping to see where the power lies in the organisation you wish to engage with.

Personal TESTIMONY is very important
The testimony of people who are at the receiving end of unfair practices (e.g Abdul Durrant) is a powerful way to demonstrate the real world effect that those policies are having.

Consider the SELF-INTEREST of the other party.
What is in it for them? Sustainable solutions only come about when both parties feel they have achieved something. Don't be unprepared like the charity collector in the clip below.

Don’t spend too long talking, instead of DOING.
When having internal meetings, it is easy to spend all your time complaining about what is wrong or talking about what ought to be done without being specific. Make sure meetings end with clear actions to move things forward.

Sometimes it is better to TAKE WHAT YOU CAN GET, rather than what you would like to get.
One of the London Citizens groups had jumped through a number of hoops to get a meeting with one of the borough mayors. Then, the day before the meeting, the mayor’s office called to say that the time allocated for the meeting had been reduced from one hour to just thirty minutes, and the number of people that Citizens were allowed to bring was halved. The Citizens group attended the meeting and, instead of presenting a shortened and pressurized argument, used the time to build a relationship with the Mayor and arrange a meeting a few months down the line so that the dialogue could continue later

Be aware of people who can MAKE CONNECTIONS
Some time ago, a very interesting article was published by the New Yorker magazine entitled
“Six degrees of Lois Weisberg” which described how people who move in many circles and have loose connections with many different groups, can be powerful agents of change. With the advent of social media, this has become an area that has received a lot of research coverage (see here)

Be IMAGINATIVE In your campaigns
One example of this concerns a campaign that one of the London Citizens groups undertook against a government agency that was not giving a good service to some of the people using it. After being repeatedly rebuffed by the centre management, Citizens decided to get their information in a different way. Winningly, they obtained testimonies from many people by the simple expedient of stationing a burger van in the Car Park and talking to the people who used it.

Now any ordinary burger van would have been removed promptly by security.

But this was no ordinary burger van.

It was staffed by Nuns.

The security team simply could not take the chance of being seen to manhandle nuns off the premises. Let’s just pause for a moment to think about the conversations that were happening in the security department during this time.. . .

And the end result? Hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent in improving the service the centre offered.

A burger van can be a force for social change. . . when staffed by nuns

Change Agency(Australia) - lots of good stuff here
History of Community Organising in the UK
A list of Community organising resources
The Citizens Handbook

Image Sources
Earth, March, Complexity, Ken Clarke, Map, Wembley, Table, Kevin Bacon, Van


Back in Nov 2012, Nottingham Citizens (who are a broad based alliance of Nottingham based community organisations) held an event earlier this week to challenge the prospective Police Crime Commissioners to commit to specific actions aimed at addressing issues of concern to Nottingham's citizens.

Called a “PCC Accountability Assembly”, the event was attended by almost 1000 people from over 30 community groups including trade unions, faith groups, schools and universities (together representing tens of thousands of Nottinghams Citizens) who came together to challenge the candidates to commit to implementing four “Asks”, which had been debated by the Nottingham Citizens groups over a period of several weeks and voted on in a gathering of over 170 people on October 17th.

The candidates had been given the “Asks” some weeks before and had been invited to discuss them with Nottingham Citizens in the intervening period and, at the event, were given 7 minutes each to tell the assembly their response

Some of the nearly 1000 citizens at the assembly

The “Asks”

Safer Schools
Every week in Nottingham, schools receive an average of four “alerts” from Police, informing them of incidents where schoolchildren, very often girls, were approached by adults in an inappropriate way around schools and school bus routes. These incidents can cause real and long lasting trauma to the children concerned, leaving them fearful when walking to school. It was particularly sad to hear how parents who had had once of their children go through such an incident became overprotective of their other, younger, children, in an attempt to ensure that theydid not suffer something similar - or something worse.

The "Ask" was for the Prospective PCCs to commit to ensuring that there was a PCSO at least once a week on the core 6-8 bus routes used by children in Nottingham for a 12 month trial period and to help develop a Nottingham Strategy for School Children.

Sensible Stop and Search
A member of Nottingham’s Black community came to the stage, wearing a hoody, and described how fumbling for his car keys had resulted in him being stopped and searched by Police. He then removed his hoody to reveal that he was Bishop Paul Thomas. Bishop Thomas pointed out that Black people were nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites, while Asians were four times more likely. He acknowledged that stop and search was a valuable tool, saying that if he matched the description of someone who had just commit a burglary he wanted to be stopped in order to protect his neighbourhood. But like all powers, stop and search needed to be used intelligently.

Bishop Paul added that, whilst a receipt was given for stop and searches, there was no receipt given for “stop and account” incidents, and that this was an injustice.

He also described how difficult these incidents made it for him to teach youngsters to respect and co-operate with the Police, a comment which brought home just how counter productive excessive stop and search actions were.

The “Ask” was for the Prospective PCCs to commit to retaining receipts for Stop and Search, detailing the individuals age, ethnicity and the purpose of the stop - and to introduce receipts for Stop and Account. Also to make the resulting data available to the University of Nottingham and NTU so that proportionality can be reviewed.

When wearing a hoody, Bishop Paul Thomas is a candidate for Stop and Search

A Safer City Centre
A citizen living close to Forest Rec described how, soon after moving to the area some 20 years ago, his neighbours were blessed with a lovely baby girl. He happened to see this same girl, now a young adult, recently and asked how she was. She replied that she has recently been the victim of a violent attack whilst crossing the Forest Rec in daylight. The citizen pointed out that it was sad that he had been almost relieved to hear that she had not been the person who had been viciously attacked after being 20p short of her bus fare.

The Citizen went on to say that, not long after this conversation, his wife was injured in an attempted burglary on Forest Rec and that the PSCO who attended said that the Rec should be a no-go area.

A No-Go area? In central Nottingham? In daylight? In the 21st Century?

That cannot be right.

Anna Priestly, from NTU continued the theme, adding that it was unacceptable for Nottingham to be a city where it was unsafe to walk home.

The “Ask” was for the prospective PCC’s to commit to creating a contact point for the Police in the Forest Rec and encourage use of it during Friday and Saturday nights, to work with Nottingham Citizens to address other concerns relating to the night time economy and to ensure that PSCO’s working in the area have the equipment and training needed to do their jobs safely.

Helen Black, from UNISON, addressing the assembly at the start of the event.

CitySafe Cabs
The assembly heard from Mohammed Ali, a cabbie who had been violently attacked by a group of men and had his cab - ie his livelihood - severely damaged. Sajid Mohammed, from Himmah, provided some statistics as background, pointing out that in just one week, Nottingham’s cab drivers suffered 1,900 incidents of abuse, 180 incidents of vehicle damage and 166 assaults.

The “Ask” was for the prospective PCC’s to commit to £80,000 match funding to introduce CCTV into an initial 400 taxis, and a further £10,000 to a charitable partner to administer the scheme.

Lisa Davis, from the Bestwood Estate, described how the community there was suffering there because the relationship between the people and the Police had broken down. She described how, when the Police informed her that her brother had died in an accident they said that she should call the hospital before going in case there had been a communications glitch and the Police had got it wrong. She added that perhaps 95% of the residents in the area were law-abiding but the Police sometime made people feel it was the other way round.

The “Ask” was for the Police to be accessible and open to meeting when one was requested; to give access to the draft Police Crime Plan in January and meet to discuss it before it is submitted to the Crime Panel, attend the Annual Nottingham Citizens Assembly to make yourself accountable for the promises you make today; to identify a person whom complaints can be directed to and to spend a day with Nottingham Citizens in the next six months.

Dr Chandran, Mr Roberts, Mr Spencer and Mr Tipping.

The Responses

Dr Raj Chandran
Dr Chandran, who was the only one of the candidates who had not responded to Nottingham Citizens request for a meeting prior to the Assembly, said that he was supportive but that the cost of CCTV for cabs and providing appropriate kit to PSCO’s were items he could not commit to unless the auditors found a “pot of gold” that could be used to fund them. He added that he could not commit to PSCO’s on bus routes.

Tony Roberts
Mr Roberts committed to all of the “Asks”.

Malcolm Spencer
Mr Spencer committed to all of the “Asks”, wih the exception of the PSCO’s on bus routes as this was something that was not within his remit, as it was an operational decision for the Chief Constable. He added that he was supportive of this ask and would raise it in his first meeting with the Chief Constable. Regarding Stop and Search, Mr Spencer pointed out that a similar scheme in Leicester had resulted in a 50% reduction in BME Stop and Search.

Paddy Tipping
Mr Tipping committed to all of the “Asks”, although he also made the proviso that the PSCO’s on bus routes was an operational decision for the Chief Constable.

Some Final Comments
It is perhaps worth ending this post with two comments. The first is from Dean, a member of Nottingham’s Black community, who recalled being shot in the chest as an innocent victim of gun crime and finding that he was prevented from reaching the ambulance that came to his aid because the Police insisted on questioning him first. Dean commented that “experiences like that make moments like this worth every single second”.

And the second is a comment from Jesse Boot, who said that “Common hopes, common sympathies and common humanity bind us together; and whatever fosters this happy union is valuable”