Powered by People UK: A new community organising network

LONDON Citizens has used community organising to create a Living Wage campaign that has truly captured the public imagination.

Their success – and the achievements of other organisations such as Wrexham’s Together Creating Communities (TCC) – has proved that community organising is highly effective way to mobilise groups who may be reluctant, scared or apathetic about engagement.

The new Powered by People UK network recognises the strength of current community organising networks, and brings together Birmingham Citizens, TCC, and Thrive in both Greater Manchester and Teesside.

Funded by the Young Foundation’s Local Activism programme and the National Lottery, the network was created out of an understanding that there is a greater need than ever for communities across the UK to assert their rights and reclaim power.

And as traditional democracy faces ever decreasing levels of engagement, ordinary people are keen to find alternative ways to make a difference.

Take the example of Kath Carter.

Kath uncovered huge dissatisfaction within her local area about the high credit charges and poor customer service of a high-cost lending company, Buy As You View (BAYV), who sell TVs and other household appliances on a hire purchase basis to around 100,000 customers.

Most local projects would respond by encouraging customers to get help from the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and seek redress on an individual basis. But having been trained in community organising, Kath’s response was to challenge the way the company itself operated – at the very top – by seeking a meeting with the chief executive.

BAYV met with Thrive, and agreed to enter negotiations around their practices. After 16 months of meetings, Thrive Teesside, with help from the Centre for Responsible Lending, have secured a new code for responsible lending from three major national high cost lending companies, including commitments to lower default charges and introduce more credit sharing. The action has benefited more than 300,000 low-income customers.

For many years Wrexham’s Capel y Groes (Chapel of the Cross) had problems with rough sleepers bedding down in their porch and grounds. But they didn’t just want to move people on; instead they were keen to find a sustainable solution.

TCC helped the congregation organise a coalition of local businesses, church leaders, police, Welsh Assembly members, housing associations and councillors to work together to create a night shelter.

Wrexham Council donated a building, and a temporary shelter was opened. However, when it closed 12 months later, TCC faced another year of frustrating tender negotiations. However, their continued campaigning finally resulted in a permanent emergency night shelter for the town.

The action has galvanised the community to tackle homelessness. Volunteers now provide a hot meals service for local homeless people; Capel y Groes are now campaigning for a day centre.

By sharing these strong examples of good practice, and offering training and support, the Powered by People UK action book aims to help any group community organise to tackle any problem.

It gives them ideas on how to launch an effective campaign, work with the media, and hold powerful local authorities, companies, and government agencies to account. Testimonials outline the steps individual members have taken to tackle a range of issues, including housing problems, extremism, education, mental health issues, and doorstep lending.

Powered by People UK also offers a range of training opportunities, including peer mentoring, and five, two, and half-day leadership training sessions.

The message is clear. People power does work. The power of ordinary people; trained, encouraged and supported to challenge the practices of powerful institutions in order to reclaim power.

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