I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that as part of our City Safe work in Brent we are working with all the other London Citizens boroughs to launch ‘100 Days of Peace’. It’s a campaign to make the streets a safer place to be in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics. It comes from the Ancient Greek tradition of laying down their arms to allow the solders to travel safely to and from the Games to compete. We are going to revive this tradition but giving it a modern context to tackle the gang violence on the streets of London.
So to launch the 100 Days of Peace we are going to host huge City Safe celebrations of our work to build relationships with shopkeepers and get institutions taking care of their neighbourhoods. There are three City Safe zones developing in Brent – Wembley Park/Neasden which is being run by Ark and Crest Academy, Queen’s Park which is being run by the London Interfaith Centre and the Al-Khoei Foundation and Willesden High Road which is being run by New Testament Church of God. This week Ascala and Josephine, from New Testament went to join 50 others London Citizens members to discuss and plan June 9th.
As well as the City Safe Day of Action on June 9th, we are running a leadership programme for young people from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish tradition. The aim is to build better relationships across the different communities through shared action over the summer. Four Al-Khoei students are part of the planning committee for the 100 Days of Peace Summer Leadership Programme. Lamise, from the Al-Khoei Foundation chaired the last planning meeting and I’m really excited about their wonderful ideas around interfaith work, local community action and using sports to bring people together. It’s still early days but this will become a fantastic opportunity for young people from diverse backgrounds to train together and work collaboratively on local issues that affect their communities. We are now looking to organise the 100 people from communities across London who will part of the scheme.
Today we had our Crest Litter Action! It was amazing. The students have been working really hard in the build up and taking a real role in the organisation and delivery of the action.
40 students gathered at lunchtime today to be involved in our ‘Litter Pick’. We held a briefing (not the best briefing in the world as we had to do it out in the car park which was too noisy) and divided up into teams. The Youth Forum girls had organised for each team to be given a specific location, some giant bin bags, gloves to protect their hands, a litter-picker and some leaflets about the work of London Citizens and the upcoming Mayoral Election.
The teams, dressed in their bright green North London Citizens t-shirts and Crest Academy jackets marched down to Neasden shopping centre to clean up the streets. It’s all been part of our campaign to make the streets a safer place in Neasden and boy was this litter collection necessary!
In just one hour the students filled TWENTY big bags full of litter. It was amazing, that in a stretch of just one kilometre we were able to pick up so much rubbish – we found beer cans, vodka bottles, fast food packaging and crisp packets. Some of the litter was covering people’s front gardens, it was throughout the lane by the school that students use everyday and it was all over the Neasden shopping centre. This is one big step for these incredible students in their mission to build community respect and make the streets a safer place to be.
We walked back to school, carrying all the bags of rubbish that we had collected and disposed of it in a school skip. It was a triumph of young people making a visible difference to their community. It was also a chance for the Crest Academy Girls who were mostly Y10 to work side-by-side the Crest Academy Boys who were mostly Y8. Through our shared work, we have now increased the size of the North London Citizens at the school because young people felt so inspired in their work together.
This week we had Paul from Icarus to come and visit Brent Citizens. We organised for him to spend some time with the Ark students, the Al-Khoei students, with Ms. Jaffar our star Y2 Al-Khoei teacher who is leading on the City Safe work in Queen’s Park. Paul also came and met with the Crest girls to evaluate the work they have been involved with and he is going to Pastor Wayne at New Testament Church of God for a one to one meeting.
It’s great to be able to show the work we are doing in Brent. I think it makes a huge difference to actually come and meet the people, to hear their stories and learn directly from the people themselves about what they get out of North London Citizens. The next opportunity will be the London Citizens Mayoral Assembly where we will be doing some real politics on stage in front of 2,500 people who are passionate about making London a safer, better housed, better paid and more opportune city.
Three years ago when the financial crisis hit our country, it made people stop and think about the things that need to be different.
In London Citizens, before Brent Citizens was born, we ran a listening campaign to understand how the financial crisis was affecting our communities. One of the most prominent concerns was the lack of financial literacy in our institutions. So, with funding from some of the big financial sector organisation, we launched our Money Mentors programme for leaders of London Citizens to learn about financial literacy and to acquire the tools to pass on the knowledge through their own networks.
Pastor Wayne Brown, the pastor at New Testament of God in Brent, is really concerned about the impact of the debt on his congregation and so are many of the leaders in the church’s North London Citizens team. So, Promise and Josephine, who have recently completed London Citizens 2 Day Training took a stand on behalf of their community and signed up to become Money Mentors.
Next week Money Mentors will begin it’s four week course for 15 North London Citizens to learn about debt, interest rates, how to best invest your money and how to avoid high interest legal loan sharks! At the end of this course, Promise and Josephine are going to work with Pastor Wayne to find a date when they can teach the wider church about financial literacy and Sheilla Patel, the London Citizens organiser running Money Mentors, is going to support them. It’s a great example of teaching chains and shared learning. Really impressed about the commitment of Promise and Josephine, who are both in their 20s, to see this as a serious issue and to want to educate their community about money.
It’s hard getting people to commit to training because it can be such a big time commitment but when they do it’s always a fantastic experience and makes such a difference to the work locally. When Ian came back from 6 Day Training he was fired up to get things going in the church and so he led and organised our first small team meeting at New Testament for 2012.
We have decided that there are two great opportunities in the calendar around which we can organise and mobilise the congregation to take action. The first is the election of the Mayor of London on May 3rd so we have agreed to do a big voter turnout drive on April 1st. It will allow us to get the wider church involved and to increase the voter turnout in Willesden which is one of the lowest turnout areas in the whole borough. Democratic particiption is so crucial and we have an opportunity to make sure everyone gets involved.
The other opportunity we identified was June 9th 2012 when London Citizens will launch the 100 Days of Peace in the run up to the Olympics. It’s an old tradition from ancient Greece when the soldiers would lay down their swords to allow the solders to travel safely to the Games where they would compete. We want to revive that idea and make it about creating safer streets in the capital 50 days before and 50 days after the London 2012 Olympics.
We went out on a little practice City Safe walk to speak to local shopkeepers about their hopes, fears, experience of the police and how we could make life better for them too. I paired up with Josephine and we went to five or six shops and most felt it was a pretty safe neighbourhood. Until we met the shopkeeper who runs the Off-License, his experience was totally different. He said during the daytime it’s a safe community but after 6pm when all the other shops have closed he starts to experience trouble. He told us one harrowing story of being knifed in the arm in a fight over the cash in the till and although it happened in January 2011 he is still waiting for his insurance company to refund the money. Despite the police station being around the corner, they take so long to come, he has stopped bothering to call them. It was a really important story and when we evaluated our practice walk we realised that we definitely need to build up Willesden High Road as a City Safe zone.
So, the New Testament Church of God team is taking on City Safe. After the election we are going to do a big push to raise the profile of our work but in the mean time, we divided the high street into sections and the 12 team members, in pairs, took a section where they would go in and speak to shopkeepers over the coming month. We are going to meet again on March 20th to evaluate and plan for our Stand Up and Take Charge voter action on April 1st.
There is so much energy at the church but Ian now has the tools to galvanise and organise that team so they can maximise their impact in the local community.
Citizens UK training is one of the most important elements of our work. Training and development can happen in some many different ways; in the classroom at school, from the pulpits in church, at Friday Prayers or in one to one conversations. But nothing is more powerful than the Six Day residential training run by Citizens UK. This training was being led by myself and Sebastien Chapleau as we are the senior organisers within Citizens UK leading on the educational work of community organising. I love training and learning with the trainees although it’s a really tiring week!
In February during the half term we held a very special six day training with a focus on people involved in community organising in schools or with youth groups. 50 people committed to giving up a week of their time and staying in Birmingham for one of the first out of London Citizens UK trainings. We were in the NASWT conference venue in Longbridge with one of the most diverse training groups I’ve ever seen! We had Jewish leaders from north London, teachers from secondary and primary schools including The Willow on Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, ex-gang leaders from Brixton, priests from Hackney and a whole lot more. Ian Turlunch, who is the Youth Minister at New Testament Church of God and a teacher in Watford, came from Brent Citizens.
The training began on Sunday afternoon with giant rounds so everyone can introduce themselves and then we run a role play to teach about power, our stereotypes of the powerful and understanding how to negotiate for the change we want. On the Monday we unpack a lot of Community Organising concepts about power, organising around self-interest and throughout Monday and Tuesday we push people to understand how to build relationships and develop the power of their organisation. On Wednesday we went to watch one of the first big meetings of the new CitizensUK Birmingham. It was a really exciting chance to see how to develop a broad-based organisation and some of the trainees offered messages of support for the growing teams of leaders in Birmingham getting organised. On Thursday, the teams started to develop plans and Thursday evening was a wonderful series of storytelling, singing, sharing and I could the genuine bonds that had formed over the week.
Ian had a great time and we were able to spend time together making a great plan for the future of North London Citizens at New Testament Church of God. I’m excited about how he will be putting all these skills into practice.
On February 2nd, HRH Prince Charles was spending the day with the Bishop of London. As part of his visit, he was invited to spend time with churches who are doing good work in their local communities and the Parish of Old St. Pancras, a member of North London Citizens in Camden was selected as a key institution making a difference. Fr Philip North, the church vicar, decided to invite North London Citizens to be the showcase for the Prince’s visit. So, Aliya Al-Yassin, who chaired the North London Citizens Assembly and Mrs. Azam, Aliya’s teacher and great leader at the Al-Khoei Foundation in Brent joined two of the commissioners of the Citizens Inquiry into the Tottenham Riots, to meet Prince Charles and tell him about our work. They were really excited and had a great time impressing the Prince with their incredible work in Brent developing the capacity of young Muslim women to take a lead in their community.