Tyne and Wear Citizens shows the way
by Barry Knight
In all my years of working with voluntary organisations and community groups, I have never been to an AGM like it. The room is packed, the energy high, the participants diverse, the pace fast, the contributions short, the mood upbeat, the relationships convivial, and the action accountable. Although I am something of an outsider, I feel at home here. These are my people.
This is the AGM of Tyne and Wear Citizens, which took place on 6 December. Together with six other concerned citizens, I helped to bring this organisation into being some years ago. As director of the Webb Memorial Trust I supported it with a start-up grant.
Tyne and Wear Citizens is a chapter of Citizens UK, one of the most successful community-based initiatives we have ever seen. Over the past two decades, Citizens UK has shown that if you want to address structural change, you need organised people and organised money to pursue action to confront power. Citizens UK prioritises personal relationships, membership of institutions rooted within the community, and a pragmatic approach to influencing people who hold power in government, business or public life. The legitimacy of the method derives from being driven by a diverse group of trained community leaders from schools, universities, hospitals, mosques, churches, synagogues, charities and other community groups working for the wider public good.
In the three years of its existence, the action of 25 member organisations of Tyne and Wear Citizens has:
- Trebled the number of Living Wage employers in the region from 30 to over 90
- Developed a ‘Fair Change System’ to bring back £60,000 to young people in receipt of free school meals – an initiative set to be rolled out nationally
- Won a ‘Hate Crime Charter’ on public transport – jointly signed by Nexus, Arriva, Stagecoach and Go North East
- Launched a ‘Citizens Commission on Mental Health’, listening to the testimonies of 300 people, and held an assembly of 450 people to consider its report, leading to new agreements with statutory and voluntary services
More detail is given in the annual impact report, which can be found here.
One of the most striking features of the financial account presented at the meeting is that Tyne and Wear Citizens’ income of £87,500 in the last financial year enabled the employment of two community organisers. This shows how much can be achieved on a shoestring. Just think what they could do if they had more?
I left the AGM feeling upbeat. I am convinced that we need to get behind Tyne and Wear Citizens if we want a society fit for our children and grandchildren. They see a world of hope, dignity and respect for all.
Contrast this with the bleak prospect that our failing political system offers us. Unless we think and act differently, we face a future based on hate and fear. Populist parties have more than tripled their support in Europe in the last 20 years, securing enough votes to put their leaders into government posts in 11 countries and challenging the established political order across the continent. Closer to home, it has recently been revealed that Tommy Robinson (aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) is receiving financial, political and moral support from a broad array of non-British groups and individuals.
Tyne and Wear Citizens shows a different way. The message is that we must organise if we want to get the kind of society we want based on fairness and equality.
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