A guest blog from our new associate partners for 2017, Citizens UK.
At the beginning of this year, to mark Donald Trump’s ascendance to President of the United States, Citizens UK joined hundreds of people and organisations around the world, dropping banners from bridges to send a simple, hopeful message: we will build bridges, not walls in the face of hate, fear, lies and division.
The action followed divisive and discriminatory comments by President Trump, and his plans to build a wall on the US border with Mexico to halt migration.
The action was a sage reminder that Citizens UK’s civic leaders have been building bridges between communities for more than 28 years now – engendering peaceful, pragmatic and humanitarian resolutions to the challenges facing us all.
Global problems are bringing huge issues into the heart of our communities, many of which are already challenged by poverty and poor housing. There are no easy solutions, but there are solutions. Understandable fears about migration, and deep concern about the impact on progressive communities of war and famine in the developing world demand that we seek innovative and humanitarian solutions that stretch boundaries and require much bridge building.
Along with our many partners from faith groups, churches, communities and campaigns, we are committed to finding sustainable, shared solutions to contemporary issues, forging agreements within disparate communities where we share common goals.
We have several projects already underway including:
- The UK Community Sponsorship of Syrian refugee families when they come to the UK
- Safe Passage – helping 1000 refugee children (so far) get reunited with UK families
- The real Living Wage – pressing employers (3,000 so far) to pay the real Living Wage
- The Community Land Trusts, making urban home ownership affordable for local people
- Community Action – supporting communities to make changes locally
- The Citizens Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life will report in the summer of 2017
We encourage practical actions to tackle local issues to improve family life – safer streets, better wages and cheaper houses, and have attracted some recognition too for our work with refugees through Safe Passage.
Our success has rested on getting communities to help themselves, teaching people and institutions how to take power in alliance with others, and encouraging powerful groups to assist those who are less powerful, especially child refugees or those on low pay working for less than the real Living Wage.
We also work to build robust and diverse alliances that are powerful enough to play a significant part in the governance of their neighbourhood, region or the UK itself.
We have been especially challenged this year by the government ending the child refugee transfer and rescue programme created by Lord Dubs. We believed we had an agreement to transfer 2000 children already registered to come to the UK, but now that has been cut to only 350, leaving many to fend for themselves in Italy, Greece and France. We know some of them are living on the streets.
Through Safe Passage and partner organisations we are working to ensure the safety of as many child refugees that we can. We are also organizing the Community Sponsorship of Syrian refugees, who without this may not be allowed into the UK. We have also published a step by step guide for communities or individuals who wish to sponsor Syrian refugees in the UK, Welcoming Syrian Refugees.
Another major problem facing citizens everywhere in the UK and especially in London is the shortage off truly affordable housing. Over many years we have been working to bring the model of Community Land Trusts (CLT) to urban communities, and this year will see our first CLT homeowners move into London CLT properties bought for less than one third of the market value. The properties are priced on local earnings, and if subsequently sold again, the prices must again reflect earnings not market value, keeping them affordable in the longer term. The model is now increasingly popular and we await news of more planning consents-and gifted land, so the model can expand nationwide.
It is twenty years since Citizens UK was founded under the banner of The East London Citizens Organisation [TELCO] working for the ‘common good’.
Since then there have been five Prime Ministers – John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and currently Theresa May – and three London Mayors – Ken Livingston, Boris Johnson and now Sadiq Khan. We’ve had the aftermath of 9/11 and 7/7. We have Brexit. We have a new President of the United States, and we have the challenges of climate change, migration and changes to the world order. And now a snap General Election, too.
The world has changed, politics has changed, the way we communicate has changed. But despite this, some basic issues remain: poverty, poor housing, inequality, war and famine prevail. To tackle these issues, Citizen UK continues encouraging a new generation of hundreds of civic leaders to hone the patient craft of politics and organising, to make life better where they can.
We look forward to seeing you at this year’s Greenbelt and are proud to be partnering with this wonderful Festival – together working for the common good.
That’s what Citizens UK is all about.
Neil Jameson, Executive Director, Citizens UK
We are delighted to be working with Citizens UK at this year’s festival. Not only are they helping us to bring key theological voices to the festival to explore their agenda and its overlaps with the Common Good (like Luke Bretherton and Anna Rowlands), they will also be hosting a day of community organising workshops, sharing their methodology so that we all might return to our communities and be the change we want to see.
For more on Citizens UK, visit their website here.