Tyne & Wear Citizens launches listening campaign
by Barry Knight
In December 2018, Barry Knight attended Tyne & Wear Citizens AGM, describing it as the ‘most remarkable meeting he had ever attended’. A year later, he attended the 2019 AGM. This is his report.
‘It’s been a brilliant year,’ said Chris Hughes, co-chair of the meeting. He described how the organisation has gone from strength to strength, completing 17 different actions in four campaigns: the living wage, just change, mental health, and safer cities.
The actions have achieved real gains. For example, there has been a 42 per cent increase in living wage employers in the region, including 791 people employed at Newcastle University where the AGM was taking place. Two schools are taking part in the ‘just change’ campaign, in which school pupils are reimbursed for the meals they miss rather than the money being retained by the school, thus saving £17,000 for the children concerned. Several headteachers are now promoting this approach, which could lead to net gains of £88 million for school children across the region were it to be universally applied.
A growth in membership, with five new organisations joining, means that a total of 27 institutions now belong to Tyne & Wear Citizens. As a sign of its growing power, the new North of Tyne Mayor met with leaders from the organisation on his first day in office.
These remarkable displays of citizen power are achieved on a shoestring. Finances presented at the meeting show that the budget for the organisation is £100,000 per annum.
The listening campaign
Not content to rest on its laurels, the meeting agreed that more is needed. Having completed a cycle of ‘research, action and reflection’ in its first three years, the organisation now begins a second cycle. This starts with a ‘listening campaign’ to hold conversations with local people to find out what their priorities are. The framing question for these conversations is ‘what is putting pressure on you and your family?’
At the meeting, we were asked to split into pairs to ask someone we didn’t know this question. I talked to a young student at Newcastle University who said that his biggest problem was the high-priced substandard accommodation. He hoped that Citizens would address this.
Following this exercise, member organisations were tasked to pledge how many conversations they would have to listen to what people wanted. In total 16 organisations said that they would hold a total of 1,941 conversations. Everyone who pledged to hold conversations was photographed with a number allocated, and they will be held accountable for achieving that number in the coming year. These conversations will decide what the organisation will do in the next three years.
As readers of Rethinking Poverty will be aware, there is a social movement called #ShiftThePower, based on the idea that local people are competent and can do things for themselves, while authorities need to be responsive to their demands. The Tyne & Wear Citizens AGM for 2019 was a clear example of how to do this in practice.
Want to keep up-to-date with more articles like this? Sign up to our newsletter.