Marching Towards Justice in Keighley: Top 5 Community Organising Tips

Guest post by Lt Ben Cotterill

After one year of Salvation Army officership (leadership), I’m barely off of the starting blocks! With a background in international development within The Salvation Army I decided to make the jump, together with my wife, to our movements two-year leadership training programme in London. As novice preachers, rookie pastors, and enthusiastic community organizers we were sent to serve an unsuspecting congregation in the Yorkshire town of Keighley, (Northern England).

Our new responsibilities include the operation of one of the largest Salvation Army-run food banks in the country. We were encouraged to assess the effectiveness of the food bank from various people, including our ever humble and helpful predecessors.

11973734_10156072047735473_600779632_oAnd so began a process that resulted in a dream to be ‘beyond a food bank’, the same dream pursued by the Army in the 1889 dockers’ strike in London as described in Marching Towards Justice (p8).

With this dream I would quickly have to cut my teeth at community organization. And so, here are my top 5 tips for community organization (other than praying and reading my bible you understand!).

1) The Salvation Army can win nothing on its own (p11)

Inspired by a project called the Leeds Poverty Truth Commission (thank you Andrew Grinnell) together with the lack of agency partnership in the town we decided in March 2015 to set up the Keighley Food Poverty Action Partnership (KFPAP – The Partnership hereafter).

The aim is to bring the community together to address the root causes and response to food poverty in our town. On the group are business leaders, clergy, social workers, community leaders, a doctor, police, project leaders and other members of the community.

2) Give affected people a platform (p11)

A guiding principle adopted from the Leeds Poverty Truth Commission was to enable people directly affected by food poverty to be central to the life and direction of the group. They use the powerful slogan ‘Nothing about us, without us, is for us’.

One particular individual who had been in food poverty became a key part of The Partnership bringing their invaluable life experience. Overtime, this person began to identify themselves more and more as part of The Salvation Army, and we realized we were even more legitimately fighting issues because “we have people in our ranks who were affected” (p11).

This was evident as we intentionally hosted a lively election hustings (caucus for my American friends) and gave people affected by food poverty the platform to question our prospective candidates!

3) Work out where power lies (p19)

We launched The Partnership with the then Mayor of Keighley, a practising Catholic and strong supporter of The Salvation Army. One day the Mayor lamented to me how he regretted not being able to raise more money for us (in truth he had already raised significant sums).

Once money was off the table, we realizeben mayord the greatest resource the Mayor had, was right under our nose – his influence – and so The Partnership idea was born. The Mayor would use his influence by publically fronting the group and by so doing draw key people to the table. At that point he was content to allow us to lead and direct the vision for the group.

Knowing the Mayor would soon retire from public office, but was willing to continue as chair in his retirement, we decided NOT to ask a leading publically elected person (MP or Mayor) on to the Partnership. The reason being that we thought we would have more public impact and influence by having somewhere to go with our concerns and appeals.

4) Be willing to risk public reputation of the Army (in pursuit of what you think is right) (p11)

One of the decisions we made at the food bank was to draw a limit as to how often people could come and receive a food parcel. We didn’t take this decision lightly and I can testify to several sleepless nights where I wondered if we were doing the right thing.

Owing to the specific dynamics of our food bank we had to really hold our decision in tension with what appears at a first glance to be conflict with scripture. But after deep reflection we decided that love would be greatest served by focusing on people in crisis and not long-term sole food assistance.

We were worried that the reputation of The Salvation Army would be damaged but felt convinced we were doing the right thing. Of course at the same time, we would concentrate on building deeper relationships outside the context of purely food assistance and enhance the quality of assistance.

5) Have a process when engaging with an issue

This is actually my number 1 tip but it sounds far too boring to headline! Although seasoned pros and intuitive community organisers will instinctively know how to go about understanding and acting upon issues, we used a process to help us called faith-based facilitation (FBF).

This process helped us structure our thinking and exploration with tried and tested methods with which people in the public and private sector would be familiar. However, crucially it allows faith and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be integral to the process. I recommend you check this out if you are in a quandary over an issue you face (please click here for more info on FBF).

So that’s it, my top 5 tips for community organising!

I am no expert and I do not for a second pretend to have it all sorted. But please feel free to comment and constructively engage with my tips which resonate with much of what is written in the Marching Towards Justice pamphlet.

 Lt Ben Cotterill is a corps officer in Keighley (UK), loves sport and travelling!







6 thoughts on “Marching Towards Justice in Keighley: Top 5 Community Organising Tips”

  1. Hi Ben,
    Love your post, we are attempting to address the issue of food distribution in the Australian Eastern Territory. The comment about once you got to the point of no funding, was when you where able to realize communities greatest asset, people working together, to address the underlying issues that keep people in poverty and despair. I would like to hear more about how Salvationists responded to that and how you addressed it.
    I would be interested in hearing more about your comment “holding in tension what first appeared a conflict with scripture”. This is another issue we are dealing with.

    Thank you

    Ronda McIntyre

    1. Hi Ronda,

      Thanks for your message.

      As a corps we have been able to build quality relationships with other services in the town such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, children’s services and addictions services. Together we have been able to provide more tailored help that attempts to address the ‘root causes’ of crisis which are often not the presented issues. Our ethos is building deeper relationships with people who come in too. Our volunteer key workers and staff all sit down with people in café environment where normal conversation about life and faith can happen naturally.

      In terms of your second point if you read Luke 6:30 the message is to give to those who ask. However, often the need for food is symbolic of a person in crisis. Whilst we might help the person at the point of their crisis it’s important to seek to help them move away from the place of crisis to face the realities of their situation (as seen in the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32).

      Some people we help may struggle to manage specific areas in their lives. The boundaries we set may be part of that struggle as we discern what is the best way to support someone, which might include advocating on their behalf. But we need to constantly reflect on the boundaries between the harm and good our help produces.

      Ben Cotterill

  2. Working with community partners is where I believe TSA should be and in many ways we are well positioned to bring those partners to the table. So kudos to Lieut. Ben. I do have a concern about statement # 4… be willing to risk the Army’s reputation. The Army’s reputation or brand built over so many years allows us to do what we do with the public’s support. On one hand we have great freedom in the Army to do “what we think is right”, but at the same time we are representing the brand and our actions can negatively impact the brand to a larger degree than we think. I have seen how one person’s actions have resulted in months/ years of work to undo the damage. I would suggest that there has to be more involved in “risk management” than I know it’s right even though the Lord is confirming the approach. We owe to ourselves and the brand to engage in more evaluation and analysis. Great work you are doing, and I don’t mean to discourage it in any way, simply a thought that comes to mind based on my own experiences.
    God bless your ministry.

    Neil Watt

    1. Hi Neil,

      Thank you for your encouragement and wisdom. I completely agree with you about the need for caution with regards to our decision making and protecting the reputation of the Army. I am in constant dialogue with our divisional headquarters and corps folk as we think and pray about how best to respond to situations. So I really endorse your sentiment about there needing to be more involved in “risk management” than “I know it’s right”. Thank you for that clarification.

      As I get older I am realizing that life is also more about ‘yes/and’ moments rather than ‘yes/no’. I came across this quote from General André Cox at the International Conference of Leaders in 2014:

      “We should not be primarily concerned about the Army’s reputation, but about the integrity and effectiveness of the mission of The Salvation Army. I pray that God will protect us from any sense of complacency.”

      I think the reality is a ‘yes/and’ moment as we take on board the essence of what the General is saying coupled with your words.

      Ben Cotterill

      1. My reflections recently have brought me to the conclusion that the only Salvationist reputation worth having, and worth protecting is a reputation of risk-taking. Not taking risks seems to me to be a bigger risk to our reputation! Of course, risks are meant to be made using wisdom, discernment, good judgement – but they are risks nevertheless.

        I suspect risks that have resulted in damage are due to the absence of wisdom rather than the presence of risk. I guess this is where Faith-based Facilitation comes into its own – thanks for pointing to that, Ben.

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