While hustings might be quite familiar to Salvation Army involvement in public life, we’d really recommend reading this explanation of a Citizens UK assembly.
20 years ago there was an organiser called Neil Jameson, who had to have as many one to one face to face meetings as possible in East London. There was no hidden agenda this disciple of Civil Society and Democracy was carrying with him. He was all about getting the East End organised. “Organising was what East London needed most in those days as it does need it now” says Bishop Paul McAleenan, who was a local priest at St. Scholastica’s in Clapton 20 years ago and now the Bishop of the Diocese of Westminster. Bishop Paul was there 20 years ago at the founding assembly and he has once again come back to join the 1000 strong delegates to celebrate the 20th year anniversary of The East London Citizens Organisation (TELCO).”
TELCO (The East London Citizens Organisation) yesterday celebrated 20 years of community organising and social justice campaigns to improve living standards through higher wages, increased employment opportunities, and pioneering affordable housing schemes. TELCO is the founder of the now national movement, Citizens UK.
TELCO’s 20 year highlights include:
- Founding and sustaining the Living Wage campaign with marches through London’s east end in 2001.
- Demanding as far back as 2004 that ‘The People’s Guarantees’ be incorporated into the London 2012 bid, guaranteeing Olympic Living Wage jobs, a pilot Community Land Trust, and an Olympic legacy of affordable family housing, construction skills training, and leisure and health facilities.
- Pioneering urban Community Land Trusts to secure truly affordable renting and home ownership for local people.
- Starting the Good Jobs Programme with apprenticeships for local 16-19 year olds, with nearly 100 so far benefitting from jobs or training through the programme.
- Creating the Refugee Welcome programme which began as ‘Strangers into Citizens’, with local communities helping refugees resettle into their area. This is now a Citizen UK national programme.
From marching with thousands of locals through the streets of the east end, pressing for the dignity of a Living Wage, to pioneering genuinely affordable housing via Community Land Trusts, TELCO has driven change nationwide. The model of community organising established by Telco, has been replicated throughout the UK, under the umbrella of the Citizens UK network.
Citizens UK executive director, Neil Jameson, said:
“TELCO brought together across east London, a wide and diverse grouping of congregations, schools, community groups, and local associations by reviving the tradition of community organising in the East End. This formed a new civic organisation that encouraged members to act as one on the issues and concerns they shared. One of the most pressing issues was the low pay of many local people who, although working full time, were trapped in poverty and poor housing. Their wages made it impossible to make ends meet. Poor housing too was and continues to be an issue around which diverse community and religious leaders feel able to organise together, with a shared vision for better provision.”
The efficacy of the organising is evident through TELCO’s shaping of London 2012 into the ‘First ethical Living Wage Olympics’. Their pursuit of ‘dignity through a Living Wage’ since 2001 has now spawned 3,000 accredited Living Wage employers, lifting more than 150,000 people out of poverty.
TELCO continues today supporting local communities and refugee families, and urging London’s wealthy football clubs to pay all staff the Living Wage. Its dogged pursuit of land for housing, and its use of innovative models to help accommodate lower paid Londoners, is bearing fruit through the Community Land Trust initiatives which are now spreading throughout the capital and elsewhere.
Emmanuel Gotora, Lead Organiser for TELCO said:
“In 2004, our members backed the bid for London 2012 on condition that it delivered a true legacy for the people of east London. Our demands ranged from paying everyone a London Living Wage to including a genuinely affordable housing legacy through the pilot Community Land Trust at St. Clements.
“TELCO’s legacy is one of local people coming together to make a difference in some of the most deprived areas of the city and winning change despite the odds, to create the change they wanted to see.”
Fr Michael Copps, priest at St Francis Church, has been part of the campaign since 2004. His Parish is barely a mile from the first Olympic development at Chobham Manor. He is now pushing to get started on a bigger Community Land Trust project on the East Wick and Sweetwater development. He said:
“We were asked to forgo CLT homes on Chobham Manor so we’re very pleased that the London Legacy Development Company have included a requirement that at least 20 homes on the Eastwick and Sweetwater neighbourhood should be CLT homes. Nevertheless, TELCO will continue to push for the first 100 CLT homes, as originally agreed by the Olympic authorities.”
CLT homes were once again at the forefront of the agenda at York Hall, where 1,000 delegates gathered for TELCO’s 20th Anniversary Assembly.
Keep an eye out for a more detailed report of the assembly, which will be shared in the next couple of days!
The Salvation Army has welcomed its first refugee family under the Community Sponsorship scheme recently introduced by the Government. Fleeing conflict in Syria, the family had lost their home and been identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as being particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement to the UK. Welcomed under the scheme they will now have the opportunity to rebuild their lives in London, supported by The Salvation Army and its community.
We’re very excited to make the new Marching Towards Justice Study Guide available for download here!
This study guide is aimed at those attending or working at Salvation Army Corps or Centres who are interested in social justice, although it will be useful for many other settings. The four sessions cover history, method (x2 sessions) and next steps. They are intended for a small group setting (e.g. a home group or staff team meeting) and should be done alongside the reading of the Marching Towards Justice, which can be downloaded here.
Thanks to the support of The Centre for Theology and Community, we’re looking forward to releasing the Marching Towards Justice Study Guide on Sunday afternoon, after the commissioning of the authors, Sam Tomlin and Paul Williams, as Salvation Army Officers!
This Study Guide will accompany Marching Towards Justice which was released a year ago.
By Saul D. Alinsky, taken from the introduction to: Alinsky, S. D. (1970). John L. Lewis, an unauthorized biography. New York, Vintage Books. Pages ix-xiv
This is the story of a man, of a revolution and how he led it.
It is relevant to our own revolutionary times. All great social crises turn on certain common concepts. One is that progress occurs only in response to threats, and reconciliation only results when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it. Another is that the power of organised people is required to defeat the power of the establishment and its money. A third is that effective tactics means going outside the experience of the enemy, and a fourth is that all issues must be polarised. These and other revolutionary concepts hold true through all the revolutions of man, no matter in what place or time.
This article first appeared in Explore Magazine 2016 and is published with permission.
A famous proverb says:
‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.’
Recently, we’ve added a third part:
‘Train a man to organise and his community will feast for ever.’
However, in our part of London, the problem isn’t about having fish to eat – it’s about having a home to live in. Soon after Naomi and I arrived at Ilford Salvation Army, I met a man called Mustafa who had been an accountant. When I met him he had been on the street for a couple of days and came to us for help. What followed was a crash course in navigating bureaucracies. I met Mustafa at around 10 am. It was around 11 pm when I had to say to him: ‘I’m sorry, Mustafa. Here’s a sleeping bag. Come back in the morning.’
I had never felt so powerless in my life.
Power – which in community organising is defined as the ability to act – is the fundamental component of bringing about any sort of change you want to see. We could only make as much change as we had the power to compel.
Give a man a fish – Give a man a bed
People often come to Ilford Salvation Army because we are immediately next door to the council’s Housing Advice Centre. They come to us if they haven’t got the answer they wanted. Too often we can just give someone a sleeping bag and make a referral to set them on the path to finding appropriate support, as with Mustafa. After meeting him, however, in November 2011, we discovered a group of other Christians looking to establish a winter night shelter, following the deaths of two rough sleepers the previous year. Somewhere was needed to host the shelter, and with a large upstairs hall used only for storage, we offered our building as a venue.
Within weeks, 25 men and women were sleeping in sleeping bags on foam mats in our upstairs hall. Soup was served each evening and donations of clothing given out. It was basic, but it kept people alive. Over four winters, over 300 people have stayed at the night shelter. Each guest can tell their own story of the chain of events that led them to sleeping rough on the streets.
The shelter is only possible because of the commitment of over 150 volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds. Salvationists are joined by members of other churches: Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists and non- denominational. We are joined by people of other faiths and none. The current volunteer team includes Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, atheists and agnostics. We are a diverse community brought together to meet a common need. I’ve experienced more meaningful unity of the Body of Christ at the night shelter than I have in any other ecumenical setting.
Teach a man to fish – Help him find a home
A couple of years into the life of the night shelter, we realised that we shouldn’t just be giving people food and a bed. Lifesaving though this was, the night shelter needed to be a base for people to get their lives back on track and move on to a home of their own. We began convening a meeting between different local organisations to discuss what options there were for each person.
Unfortunately not everyone can move on. Last winter less than a fifth of our guests moved on to a more stable environment, whether rehab, hostel or flat. For some, their options are limited by having no recourse to public funds. For others, the obstacle is the lack of genuinely affordable housing in our borough. With the lowest stock of council housing of the London boroughs, people in Redbridge are dependent on private landlords. Rents are much higher than the local housing allowance, which means that people we have worked hard to build relationships with are moving out of the borough. This is true not just for people staying in the shelter, but also for families at our toddler group, and people who consider The Salvation Army their church. Suddenly, we all became aware that the housing crisis isn’t affecting just a niche group of homeless people. It is affecting our families and our friends. It is ripping the heart out of our community.
Train a man to organise – Building a community
Ilford Corps is a member institution of Redbridge Citizens, the local chapter of community organising alliance Citizens UK. Citizens UK is an alliance of over 350 schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, unions, youth groups and universities committed to social justice and the common good. Self-identifying as a ‘power organisation’, Citizens UK trains local institutions in the practice of community organising, so that with their neighbours they have the power to challenge politicians, councils and businesses. By building power, people can change their neighbourhoods, cities, and ultimately the country for the better. At Ilford Salvation Army, we realised we needed to get serious about organising if we were to make the change we wanted. The local elections of 2014 provided an opportunity to take action.
On Tuesday 6 May 2014, 93 citizens met at Ilford Salvation Army hall to hold a public negotiation with the three electoral candidates for leader of Redbridge Council. The three councillors were pressed by this diverse assembly to make commitments to pay a living wage to all care workers, create a private landlords register, explore the possibility of a Community Land Trust (CLT) in the borough, and to meet regularly with Redbridge Citizens to work together in addressing the issues raised at our assemblies.
A lot of hard work had gone into the assembly: negotiations with politicians; a script carefully crafted; conversation convincing members to turn up. This was just the beginning. We didn’t ask the politicians to do something for us; we asked them to do something with us. Months later, a small delegation met the newly elected Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council to follow up on their commitments, including exploring developing a community land trust (CLT).
A CLT is a way to develop genuinely affordable housing by taking the land into the shared ownership of the community. This removes the inflationary considerations of the land value from the cost of rent or purchase, meaning they can instead be linked to the median income of a given area. Stepney Salvation Army, through Citizens UK, had already been involved in pioneering the first urban CLT in the UK, and we believe that developing one within our borough will benefit local people struggling to find affordable places to live.
After months of public actions, we engaged with the borough’s Fairness Commission and succeeded in getting them to recommend that two parcels of land be allocated towards large-scale CLTs. In November 2015, we went to a council meeting at the town hall. We filled the public gallery with 80 of our members and stood together to table a question to seek the Leader of the Council’s endorsement of the CLT. He committed to attending another assembly in February 2016 where we would celebrate signing up 300 new shareholders of the CLT – the #Pound4Power campaign. The night shelter guests have all signed up as shareholders, and one of the guests at the night shelter has signed up nearly 60 new shareholders on her own!
Matthew 25:34-36 says: ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’ (NRSV)
A key aspect of these verses is that the situation is transformed. For example, the one who is hungry is fed. In other words, the homeless person gets a home – not homeless any more! What if we go a step further and recognise that one of the roots of each of these situations is the incapacity to act? Perhaps it’s also appropriate to say, ‘I had no power, but you trained me how to take it back’, so that there’s a fighting chance in that struggle ‘against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).
My dream for Ilford Salvation Army is that it will not just be a community where lives are saved (though it is), where a community comes together to meet a common need (though it is) and where those sleeping rough come to realise that they are valued and loved by our community (though, again, it is) – but that it will be a place where people find the capacity to act – that power might be built.
Guest post by Paul Williams
The William Booth College band was proud to represent the college and the wider Salvation Army at the London Mayoral Assembly organised by London Citizens.
The purpose of this assembly was to get the two frontrunners in the race for London Mayor to agree to ‘asks’ outlined in the London Citizens Manifesto. These ‘asks’, which are developed from the grassroots, focussed on the living wage, citizenship and integration, training and employment prospects for young people and housing.
Live music certainly adds to the excitement of any event. The band, along with a massed children’s choir and vocal groups from other faith and community groups, performed a variety of music in the lead up to the main event.
A particularly poignant and reflective moment was a multimedia presentation about issues surrounding housing in London, including the story of Church of England priest and housing reformer Basil Jellicoe. The band accompanied this presentation with the hymn tune ‘Repton’ which added to the solemnity of the moment. A twitter comment stated that you could recognise the sound of a Salvation Army band a mile off!
It was a privilege for the band to take part in this distinctly Salvationist way. But, more to the point, we had the opportunity to show that we want to be involved with our elected representatives (and hold them to account) and that, ultimately, we are committed to justice and want everyone to experience life in all its fullness.
U2’s Bono once said that ‘Music can change the world because it can change people’. We certainly hope that we, as a band, played our part in bringing about change in London.