By Sam Tomlin
Where in our society do you see, on a frequent basis, Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics and atheists, young and old, people from all different social backgrounds choosing to come together to share common experiences and desires, despite all our differences? The answer is somewhere on the narrow spectrum of rarely to never. In a world which appears increasingly divided and suspicious of those who are not like ‘us’, the significance of such events should not be underestimated.
On Wednesday night, the South London chapter of Citizens UK met for its Delegates Assembly at the Salvation Army training college in Denmark Hill to do just this, albeit on a larger scale than your average monthly meeting. Nearly 250 people were packed into the main meeting hall, representing the dozens of institutions that make up South London Citizens. Four Salvation Army institutions were represented: William Booth College along with Southwark, Camberwell and Nunhead corps – and Major Mark Rose, Business Services Director of WBC, welcomed all at the start and was part of the event organising team.
The purpose of the evening was firstly to show solidarity and a sign of the power that we have grown over the past years, represented in numbers present – power in community organising is defined as the capacity to act, something that is inherently relational (see ‘Marching Towards Justice’ p.18). In this context it was also to review the listening campaigns that the different borough groups have been conducting over the past months and years and share what the most important issues in our local communities are. Finally, we are building towards the London mayoral elections next year and in particular the accountability assembly in April when the main contenders to be mayor will be held to account by what we hope will be 6,000 people from all four London Citizens chapters, the largest ever Citizens UK assembly.
Unsurprisingly, housing was the main issue for the majority of those who came on Wednesday. We heard moving stories from various delegates on issues of housing, including a number of primary school children who shared the experience of a friend of theirs who had been living in unacceptably poor conditions because of a bad landlord. Intimidation, leaks, bad wiring, immediate rent hikes, having to leave areas people have grown up in because of high rents and house prices – all frequent experiences of members of our institutions.
All London Citizens chapters have been gathering such information and developing a collective response to bring to the mayoral assembly. South London Citizens voted to accept three main responses (which still need to be ratified by the other London chapters): the launch of a London Living Rent (along similar lines to the Living Wage campaign) – a campaign to set a truly affordable level of rent involving tenants, landlords and councils, a Good Housing Charter to ensure good quality, genuinely affordable housing is built in our communities, and finally a Rogue Landlord Taskforce to stop inattentive and opportunistic landlords from exploiting vulnerable tenants.
The evening finished with a representative from each institution coming forward and pledging a number of delegates from their institution who will come to the mayoral accountability assembly in April. Altogether South London Citizens institutions have pledged just over 2,000 people to come, an ambitious and exciting commitment.
We have a lot of work still to do as an alliance, but roll on April!