Community power: from collaboration to action

Faith Lydiard shares how coming together as a local community has inspired positive change.

a person giving a speech to a room full of people
From in depth listening and working together, big changes can follow. Image: Tyne & Wear Citizens

I can't remember a time I was not interested in politics. I wrote to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when I was 11 about the dilapidated state of my secondary school and I was forced to deliver my dad's Ecology Party (now Green Party) local election campaign leaflets. However, I've never been a member of a political party. I was turned off by the adversarial nature of party politics, the seeming impossibility of working together for the common good, and the misogyny. I only briefly flirted with single issue campaign groups because I couldn't help seeing how everything is interconnected and interdependent.

Then in January 2014 I went to a conference in Newcastle upon Tyne about tackling inequality. It included a talk by the Executive Director of Citizens UK, Neil Jameson of Westminster Local Meeting. This was the politics I'd been looking for all my life: collaborative and solution-focussed coming from powered action.

Deciding on action

From that 2014 conference, with perseverance and tenacity, Tyne and Wear Citizens was born. Citizens UK chapters are made up of faith groups, educational organisations, trade union branches, community groups and more in a specific locality. Actions are agreed following in depth listening within the member organisations and careful research to identify key power holders and decision-makers. Newcastle Quaker Meeting became a Founding Partner by making a significant financial contribution towards funding the salary for a community organiser to co-ordinate the creation of Tyne and Wear Citizens and train local community leaders.

The 2017 Tyne and Wear Citizens Launch Assembly was a gathering of a diverse group of nearly 1000 local people holding their decision-makers to account. Northumbria Area Meeting was one of the member organisations at the launch. At that assembly:

  • a public transport company director agreed to work with the Muslim community and allies to develop a hate crime policy and appropriate training for staff.
  • a representative for the Chief Executive of the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust committed the trust to taking part in a Tyne and Wear Citizens Mental Health Commission to inquire further into mental health service provision.
  • schools, local authorities and catering providers were asked to ensure that children in receipt of free school meals get the full daily allocation to which they are entitled.

Celebrating successes

Since then, we've won a Living Wage for staff at the University of Sunderland, access to green space for a community in North Shields including 350 trees being planted by the council and returning £20,000 to children on free school meals who were having their lunch money change withheld due to a flawed IT system, to name just three of our campaigns. Most importantly, hundreds of community leaders have been trained in organising to take action. This means we are always building capacity to make even more and even bigger change.

Quakers have been part of the Leadership Group and all the Action Teams since the start and have turned out in good numbers to assemblies. Newcastle Local Meeting taking that one action to become a Founding Partner has meant that all the other work since could happen. Starting from listening to the community and seeing everyone as a potential leader is in line with our testimonies to truth and equality.

My motivation is to see communities rediscover their power and take an active part in local, regional and national decision-making and shaping their communities and wider society for the common good. From being part of Citizens UK, I've learned that if you start small, you can create big changes.

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