This was not the end, but just the beginning

A few weeks ago, London Citizens organised the Mayoral Assembly at the Copper Box. The aim was to gather 6000 citizens to build good relationships with the candidates, thus the possible future mayor, and to ask them to take commitment to work with us. Both candidates answered positively to several of our requests. And this event was not the end, but just the beginning.

Now that Sadiq Khan has been elected as mayor, the main challenge  is to start working with him and to build good relationships, characterised by accountability. This is why London Citizens decided to welcome the new Mayor and his staff, with breakfast, on his first day to work at the London City Hall!

Continue reading “This was not the end, but just the beginning”

Banding towards justice: when the band does politics and why it matters

Guest post by Paul Williams

CitizensUK_MayoralAssembly_©ChrisJepson_168The William Booth College band was proud to represent the college and the wider Salvation Army at the London Mayoral Assembly organised by London Citizens.

CitizensUK_MayoralAssembly_©ChrisJepson_017The 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 CitizensUK_MayoralAssembly_©ChrisJepson_004moment. 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.

Pictures from the Citizens UK #MayoralAssembly last night

Citizens 3Last night saw around 6,000 people gather at the Copper Box arena in Olympic Park in Stratford for the Citizens UK London Mayoral Assembly. Front runners in the mayoral race Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan were present and made encouraging commitments on housing, refugees and the Living Wage. The night also saw a fantastic presence of London Salvationists, with nearly 200 present from William Booth College and 10 London corps: Ilford, Stepney, Raynes Park, Southwark, Nunhead, Camberwell, Bromley, Wimbledon, Woodford and Mitcham. The College band played during the assembly and Captain John Clifton negotiated with Zac Goldsmith on his reaction to Citizens’ asks on Community Land Trusts. More information and reaction will be posted in the coming days, but we thought it would be good to simply share a small selection of the pictures from the assembly to remember a wonderful night: Continue reading “Pictures from the Citizens UK #MayoralAssembly last night”

Toddling Towards Justice: how your toddler group can change the world

“It’s not fair” she wailed, lips pouting and chin quivering, “I want to play houses”.
With four toddlers already squeezed into the playhouse and two more trying to crawl in through the door, my daughter was not happy with the state of things.
The problem is there just aren’t enough houses for everyone.

And that’s not just in the make believe world of pretend play. One of the biggest challenges facing our borough is the lack of genuinely affordable housing. As we’ve listened to the stories of our toddler families, it’s become clear that it’s a problem that particularly affects families in the borough. Many of the families connected with our Baby Bank are living in temporary accommodation, being moved from one B&B to another, or in cramped hostels, sharing cooking and play spaces with countless other families. Almost all the parents at our Messy Families parenting group named housing as one of the biggest stresses of their family life. For many the only hope of finding more suitable housing is to move outside the borough, away from their jobs and support networks.

IMG_1189So for some time we’ve been trying to find a way to involve our toddlers and their families in our campaign for more affordable housing in the borough. But this hasn’t been easy. Our assemblies with local councillors have usually taken place in the evenings and for many parents the prospect of an over-tired toddler the next day has just been too daunting! So in the lead up to our housing assembly we realised that we needed to get creative to make the children’s needs heard.
And getting creative is just what we did! The goal of the assembly was to ask the Leader of the Council to commit to working with Redbridge Citizens to build 250 genuinely affordable homes as part of a Community Land Trust. So we decided to show him what that would look like by asking the children to paint 250 houses to display around the room. Our toddlers love to paint and it made sense to use their skills to give the Councillor a vision of the change we could make together.
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We also invited parents to join our “pound4power” action, buying a share of the Community Land Trust for £1 as a sign of the real commitment of real people for the proposal. It wasn’t a big ask so parents were happy to sign up, with many buying shares for their children as well. Like the houses, “pound4power” is a reminder to the council that we have power to effect change in our community – people power.
CLT signup
So what have we learned about how our toddler group can change the world?
  1. Listen to what matters to families at the group – ask what puts pressure on their family life and what would make it better.
  2. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.
  3. Make the action small enough for little people to get involved, but big enough to get the message across!
Of course, these are just our first steps in justice seeking at toddler group. But as every parent knows, a child’s first steps are just the beginning of a whole new adventure!
Do you have any other experiences of getting children involved in justice-seeking?  Please share them in the comments below!

When The Salvation Army took risks and why it matters

By Nick Coke

We all love a bit of Salvation Army history don’t we? When I was doing some research for the first chapter of ‘Marching Towards Justice’ I learnt a few details about Salvation Army justice-seeking I hadn’t known – you’ll have to read it to see what I found out! More recently I received a short book in the post from my brother-in-law entitled ‘Social Evils The Army Has Challenged’. Written by S Carvosso Gauntlett in 1946, it tells seven stories of how The Salvation Army went about challenging the status quo and bringing about social change. The writer takes us from Britain to Japan, India and French Guiana covering a period from 1880-1933. This blog is too short to share everything but what comes across throughout is the role risk-taking plays in order to bring change.

In the foreword, General Carpenter, writes:220px-General_George_Carpenter

‘William Booth was by no means opposed to, in fact welcomed, the plans for social improvement based on Education, Trade Unions, Co-operation, Socialism and so on; in fact, almost anything short of violent revolution.’

Seems to me that back in the day our forebears didn’t see the possibility of social change as a mere hope or dream but rather a reality that was eminently possible with the right approach. There was a confidence that came with personal conviction, spiritual power and a collective commitment to the cause. It also appears that because of this, taking risks was simply a natural part of the process required to achieve just and righteous ends.

Take the ‘Maiden Tribute’ Campaign, for example, or as it was known in the 1880s – The Purity Agitation (I love that!). This was the fight to force the British government to raise the age of sexual consent as a protection for trafficked and abused children. Bramwell and Florence Booth who spear-headed the campaign did so from the grassroots. Twenty-three year old Florence, the pioneer leader of women’s social services, was so outraged by the stories she heard at the home for rescued women in Whitechapel that she encouraged her husband to go and find out for himself what was happening. So, the chief of staff, took to wandering in certain neighbourhoods in disguise ‘wading’ as he put it ‘through a sea of sin and defilement’. At the end of his listening campaign he concluded:

‘No matter what the consequences might be, I would do all I could to stop those abominations, to rouse public opinion, to agitate for an improvement of the law.’

bramwellHe was as good as his word. The remarkable campaign that followed with help from reformer Josephine Butler, journalist W T Stead and Salvationists up and down the land brought about a change in the law. The campaign involved the publishing of shocking stories in the press, a 2 mile long petition delivered to the door of parliament and the buying of a child. Yes, that’s buying a child – to prove it could be done in London for £5. The result of that action was a date in court for Bramwell. After a 12 day trial that held the attention of the country, he was acquitted, although Stead was jailed for 3 months. At the time many feared it would be the end of The Salvation Army with the Founder’s Son and Chief of Staff in the dock of the Central Criminal Court. And yet as Bramwell later reflected when General:

‘The trial did the Army a great deal of good. It made us known, and put us at one stroke in the very front rank of those who were contending for the better treatment of the lost and the poor… Our work for women was greatly furthered… We knew…. that the Queen followed the proceedings with great concern and sympathy. The case opened doors for us also in the overseas dominions and in the US.’

All this makes me wonder what place risk-taking has in our cause of justice-seeking today? A risk-averse culture will help us to maintain the status-quo and keep our friends happy but it won’t bring about change. It occurs to me that we have as much to lose by not taking risks as we do by taking them. When we stay silent on an issue that we really should be speaking up about then we become complicit with the wrong itself. That may not damage our brand but I wonder what it does to our souls? I want to admit here to longing for some of that confidence from the early days – a confidence in the spiritual power to overcome ‘social evils’ of our time, to ‘stop abominations, to rouse public opinion, and to agitate for an improvement of the law.’ Lord, give us a vision for your kingdom here on earth, motivate us to action and remove our fear. Amen.

Let’s be ‘Wise Builders’

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By John Clifton

In the Gospel of Matthew, there is a story that Jesus told about a wise and a foolish builder. The wise builder builds on rock. The foolish one builds on sand. When the rains come, the wise builder’s house stands solid but the foolish builder has his house washed away.

The traditional approach to this story is to spiritualise it. We say “Oh, the house is like someone’s life. It needs to be built on the solid foundation of Jesus’ example and teachings otherwise when the storms of life come it will crumble and wash away.” I wouldn’t disagree with that.

However, recently, I’ve started to interpret the passage in a different way. It makes me think about actual builders and actual housing developers. Some motivations for building are solid, like rock. Other motivations are less secure like sand. In my mind, a rock solid foundation is ‘commmunity’ – the consequence of deep relationships built between people. A sand-like foundation is profit and money, for the purpose of getting rich.

Too many housing developments in my city are built on sand – they are for the purpose of making money. What we need now is housing that prioritises the fabric of our community. We need housing that helps our communities flourish, where people can put roots down and settle.

I’m really excited about the London Citizens Housing Manifesto for the London mayoral election.  Check it out – I think you’ll agree that the approach reflect the values of the Wise Builder whichever way you interpret it.

Freedom Highway

staple singersBy Nick Coke

I’m listening to The Staple Singers bellowing out ‘Freedom Highway’ from their legendary live performance at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church in 1965. It’s three days after my second visit to the Jungle in Calais. I’ve tears in my eyes and a sickness in my stomach.

Pop staples introduces the song:

“A few days ago, the freedom marchers marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. I know some of you know about that. That was in March of nineteen hundred and sixty-five. And from that march, word was revealed and a song was composed. And we wrote a song about the freedom marchers and we call it the ‘Freedom Highway’, and we dedicate this number to all the freedom marchers.”

I’m holding the original record sleeve in my hand. It’s a thrill to know that the person whose hands pressed this vinyl half a century ago and the first owner of this particular LP would have lived through the Martin Luther King led march that made history. The concert was recorded only 3 months after that event.

The guitar kicks in, then the drums, hand-clapping and finally the vocals.

March for freedom’s highway
March each and every day
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
There is just one thing I can’t understand my friend.
Why some folk think freedom
Was not designed for all men.
Yes I think I voted for the right man
Said we would overcome.

portaloosI’m back in the Jungle, standing in the winter rain and mud. There’s a hopelessness hanging in the air I hadn’t sensed the last time. There are rumours of a government demolition, of police brutality, of vigilante gangs beating up migrants whilst the authorities turn a blind eye. I’m told by a Syrian refugee about the orphans living in the camp with no-where to turn. I’m struggling to see the freedom highway.

Pop Staples knew when he composed his song that he was writing about an historic moment. Today we are making history. Future generations will look back and wonder about our response to the biggest humanitarian disaster in Europe since the Second World War. We will be judged for what we are doing and what we are not doing.

The Jungle in some ways has come to symbolise the British response. It’s the closest we’ll allow those fleeing war and poverty to get before they meet our high border fences. It’s a third of the distance than from Selma to Montgomery.

As I listen to The Staple Singers from 50 years ago, I can’t help but dedicate this song to the people I met in Calais. May you one day experience freedom – freedom from war, freedom from poverty, freedom from oppression, freedom from fear. May you find freedom – may you overcome. And Lord – help me be a freedom marcher.

Change and a Bike Shop

Bike Recycling Enterprise-0099
recycles – the bike refurbishment social enterprise at Ilford Salvation Army

By John Clifton

A visit to a bicycle shop in Swindon (www.recycles-swindon.co.uk) taught me a lot about the potential value of things that have been thrown away. The bike shop is run by The Salvation Army so is not an ordinary bike shop. Like everything that The Salvation Army is involved in, this bike shop attempts to make an impact on peoples’ lives. Many of things in this bike shop that were once thrown away but, after some love and care, have been brought back to life.

The first things are the bikes. Many of the bikes had been thrown away. After being brought to the shop from the tip, there are things that are rusted, broken or snapped. With attention and skilled work, they are brought back to a state where they can be sold at a cheap price.

The other ‘things’ are the workers. The men and women who work on the bikes were once ‘thrown away’ too, whether by themselves or their loved ones. Now staying at The Salvation Army, the residents are given care and attention to bring them back to life. The shop is part of this, giving an opportunity to know the value of work, to receive training and to gain valuable experience before entering mainstream employment.

Recycles (www.recycles-ilford.co.uk) is the bike refurbishment social enterprise at Ilford Corps. Every Monday and Friday, we turn our main worship space into a bike workshop – with tool cupboards on the wall and everything! We get bikes that would have otherwise been scrapped and bring them back to a life – a fitting image of resurrection and the transformation that is possible in every person’s life.

I find these economic, justice-seeking initiatives to be powerful images of the Bible’s message of the possibility of renewal through Jesus Christ. In him, all things can become new.

May you know this possibility and may it be a reality in your life.

My conscience compels me to action

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By Nick Coke

A month ago I wrote a piece called ‘A Calais Protest’. It was written within a day or so of visiting the camp known as ‘The Jungle’ rotting on our borders. There’s always a risk in writing something in haste, whilst things are still raw – it can become a knee-jerk response. In this case, however, even with a month’s distance, I stand by every word.

The anger still smoulders in me. Every time it rains, I picture in my mind’s eye the mud and squalid conditions surrounding the crowded tents that are home to 6000 men, women and children. Whenever I hear the boiler kicking in to fire up my central heating, I remember how the night after I visited, a fire swept through the camp as people tried to keep themselves warm around a naked flame. As I’ve watched my son head out to the shops on his bike, I remember the young boy of similar age riding through the camp – it’s no place for any human being, even more so the vulnerable. Each time I go to church I’m taken back to that ram-shackled structure pieced together from random lengths of wood and plastic sheeting where Christians in the camp go to pray and worship. I’ve struggled since to sense the presence of God I found in that thin place in the comfortable worship settings that I spend my time in.

I mused in my earlier post that there comes a time when we must move beyond protest to action. In the case of Calais, avenues for action are limited by the lack of political will in France and the UK to take any responsibility. Bowing to that position, of course, is not a given – rather it is a choice that each of us makes.

I was recently convicted by Martin Luther King Jr’s comments about knowing when to take action:

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘is it popular’? But conscience asks the question, ‘is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”

My conscience refuses to allow me to sit idly by and do nothing. I refuse to choose silence. So, what to do? Well, I know from experience that when ordinary people band together and organise themselves, even the gravest situations can change. Political realities can take another shape when enough creative people begin to use their prophetic imagination and look beyond the prevailing narratives to something more akin to the Kingdom of God. I’ve asked some of these prophets for their suggestions of what we can do and added a couple of my own. Take a look below and ask yourself, ‘what is my conscience compelling me to do?’

  • Go and see for yourself. Calais is a mere 26 miles from our borders – a 2 hour journey from our capital city. The first step towards action is always listening. And if you can’t go, then encourage your leaders to go – political leaders, church leaders, community leaders. I defy anyone to go and not feel challenged to action.
  • Read about it, preach about it, blog about it, talk about it and urgently pray about it. Don’t let it fade into the background as if it doesn’t exist. When we agitate and needle others it provokes greater action, public pressure and accountability around the root causes. You can join Facebook groups that keep you up to date with info. Here are some with contributions from ordinary people who are in and out of Calais all the time: Calais Migrant Solidarity Action and Calais Action And there’s one called ‘Jungle Life Calais’ that has testimonies from people living in the camp.
  • Bring it to the attention of elected politicians – talk or write to your MP or Assembly Member about it. Admitting it is a UK issue (as well as a French one) is the first step in seeing some action. More specifically call on the French and UK governments to follow basic UN conventions in meeting needs for those living in the camp. The camp currently fails on all internationally agreed standards.
  • Join the campaign calling for those in the camp, particularly children, who have family members in UK to be allowed to make asylum applications. More on that here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A nightshelter to a housing campaign: I had no power but you showed me how to take it back

By John Clifton

A week on Thursday, Ilford Salvation Army will open its night shelter for the 5th consecutive winter.  During this time, hundreds of people have stayed in the shelter, which accommodates 28 people per night.  For those 93 nights, during the coldest part of the year, the Corps building becomes ‘home’.  However, we’re very aware that sleeping on a camp-bed in our upstairs hall doesn’t constitute fullness of life.  Let’s take a look at Matthew 25 again:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 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, 36 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.” 

Continue reading “A nightshelter to a housing campaign: I had no power but you showed me how to take it back”