Over 800 people attended Bank Holiday Monday’s Manchester Mayoral Assembly at the Lowry Theatre, an event to mark the inauguration of our newly formed Greater Manchester Citizens alliance.
The mayoral candidates Andy Burnham (Labour), Jane Brophy (Liberal Democrats), and Sean Anstee (Conservative), were pinned to their seats in the front row of the theatre as a conglomerate of health workers, trade unionists, local churches, mosques, synagogues, charities and schools made public and direct demands upon the leaders ahead of Thursday’s mayoral election.
Member institutions of Greater Manchester Citizens held the candidates to account on four major sticking points for the people of the Manchester region; namely, social care, housing and homelessness, hate crime, and commitment to a living wage. Manchester’s priorities and concerns are as multiple and diverse as its demographic, which is why we've spent the last few months conducting a ‘listening campaign’ to discern which areas are of the most pressing concern for the future of the city.
Individuals and groups affected by the four main issues which had consistently appeared in the listening campaign took to the stage in a face-to-face confrontation with the candidates, retelling their own experiences, and making concrete demands of the leaders. Speakers did not step down from the podium until candidates had publicly agreed (or disagreed) to their very specific asks. One example of these asks is detailed here:
‘Hate Crime Ask- We demand that you (the mayoral candidate) ensure all members of the police force are trained in recording hate crime, can differentiate between race and religious hate crime, and monitor and measure hate crime data to identify emerging trends and focus resources on the relevant areas. We also demand that you provide a victim support service that is effective and inclusive.’
Perhaps predictably, the candidates largely agreed to the ‘asks’ of the groups gathered at the assembly, with an ease that perhaps belies an underestimation of the power that Citizens has to hold them to account. What they may not have bargained for is that GM Citizens will be unrelenting in their commitment to holding Burnham, Brophy and Anstee to hold fast to what they have publicly assented to at the event.
The Assembly was chaired by the Chair of GM Citizens, Sir Peter Fahy, who said on Twitter: “This is just the start for GM branch of @CitizensUK with more community and faith groups joining to participate in local community action.”
While there was some misunderstanding about the selection process for inviting mayoral candidates, Citizens UK Director Neil Jameson clarified: “The Assembly was not a husting, an election debate or a partisan political rally. For impartial reasons we invited only three of the candidates standing in the Mayoral elections to attend; Sean Anstee, Jane Brophy and Andy Burnham. These candidates were chosen after looking at how the parties performed in recent elections at local and national level which are subject to election by voters within Greater Manchester constituencies. We also considered the odds calculated by Ladbrokes and Paddy Power which suggest these three candidates are the front runners by a clear margin. This is a strategy that Citizens UK has used in its long history of running local and national Citizens Assemblies. All the other parties and candidates were of course recognised in the programme and by the chair at the event itself. I also personally explained this position to Will Paterson, the Green Party candidate.”
Eager to shake off the misconception that the event was a husting or political rally, the organisers ensured that a family atmosphere was maintained, with several musical interludes including a performance from Manchester Harmony Gospel Choir.
Greater Manchester Citizens is the fastest formed alliance in the history of Citizens UK, which has a track record of enacting significant social change to empower individuals and communities throughout the UK. Citizens works to ‘organise communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good.’ The organisation is a diverse one and brings together people of all faiths, backgrounds and states of life, to develop their leadership skills. The idea is that, empowered to become leaders in their local communities, and by forming local ‘alliances’, ordinary people can hold politicians to account. They can work to press decision makers to work on issues that matter to them and those they meet on a daily basis.
Citizens can boast of the Living Wage, an end to detention of child refugees, and jobs for locals during the London Olympic Games as success stories orchestrated by their alliances. None of these alliances has come together so swiftly as the Manchester branch, which in nine months has gathered together the great and the good from neighbourhoods and institutions throughout the region, and organised itself effectively enough to hold the three main mayoral candidates to ransom just three days before the election, and as the final public outing of the election campaign.
The success of our alliance so far is indicative of the hard work and conviction of our first Community Organiser, Furqan Naeem, who nonetheless shares the credit with others in his typically modest fashion. “Everything we’ve achieved is testament to our local communities who all want to play a role in shaping the new Northern Powerhouse and Devolution deals. In order for democracy to work we need local people at the heart of making decisions and Greater Manchester Citizens intends to give people that recognition.”
In an emerging anti-culture of fake news, duplicitousness and dirty politics, Greater Manchester Citizens is striving to maintain democratic principles, transparency and honesty within Manchester politics. If Monday’s assembly was anything to go by, they’ve set off on the right foot.
- Lisa Burns
If you're in Manchester on May 1st and you want to have a say about:
1) Housing and Homelessness
2) Social Care
3) Hate Crime
4) Living Wage Hold the mayoral candidates to ransom at the Mayoral Assembly run by Greater Manchester Citizens and make sure your voice is heard on these important issues!
Register below or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info
Greater Manchester Citizens are dong an action this coming Friday 20th January bringing together communities to show solidarity with rest of the world. On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the USA, banners will be dropped from bridges across the country to send a simple, hopeful message: we will bridges, not walls in the face of hate and fear, lies and division.
The action in Manchester will be taking place at Hulme Bridge this Friday 20th January from 8.15am – 8.45am (Directly above the Princess Parkway and a 10 minute walk down Booth street West off Oxford Road)
The action will bring together community groups working with Greater Manchester Citizens as well as key leaders from the city. We will have an opportunity to hear from some of these speakers at the action. There will also be media present to report on the action and show a message of solidarity from the Citizens of Manchester.
Sir Peter Fahy the former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police who Chair’s the Greater Manchester Citizens sponsoring committee said "There are understandable fears about uncontrolled immigration from all communities and illegal migration is not the answer to the problems of the developing world, but it is about the tone of that debate and our commitment to find shared solutions rather than scapegoating certain minority groups."
If you would like to join us for this small but important action before work and to show solidarity then do drop me a message email@example.com
Do share with your contacts and others from your respective communities who may want to join us.
It's been another busy week for Greater Manchester Citizens with lots of meetings and spending some time learning from our fellow chapter in Birmingham. I enjoyed a nice week away last week in Morocco with my family, it was our first ever holiday abroad together as a family which was nice. It was good to relax and forget about everything, even if it was just for a week. It also gave me time to reflect on the short time i've been working with Citizens UK and recharge my batteries for the long year ahead, especially in the run up to our big assembly in May.
Our executive director Neil Jameson spent the day in Manchester on Wednesday where I arranged a number of meetings. It's really useful for someone from Citizens UK to constantly be coming up to Manchester to see the progress and help steer the chapter in the right direction. But we are very luck to have the man himself Neil come up and give his many years of experience.
The first meeting we had was with CEO of the British Muslim Heritage Centre - a key Muslim institution we wanted to sign up as they have a great link with the community in the city. After our initial meeting with the Chair, this was the next step. Fortunately the CEO had previously worked with Citizens in Birmingham and was very find of us, which was a massive help. By the end of the meeting we managed to convince them of the importance for them joining us as an institution and being helping to recruit others to join too.
As part of some other work that I have been involved in, I mentor school children in Primary and High schools in Greater Manchester for one of the Princes Charities called Mosaic. They work in deprived and ethnic minority communities and there could be lots of possible cross over for work in schools in the region. Their director was also up in Manchester so I arranged a meeting with Neil and Mosaic to talk about potential cross over and see how we can organise school children to to take more social action. It was a positive meeting and certainly in the schools that we recruit and Mosaic do mentoring in we can join forces to work with schools and get young people organised.
We also met with Manchester Student's union. I had previously met with one of the executive members and had a good 1:1 before asking to meeting with the rest of the team and the director. I am very keen on getting the SU signed up as one of founding institutions as they have thousand of students who can be organised to great effect but also can inspire the other SU's across the region to join too. They are due to make a decision next week so fingers crossed they join!
Finally I spent a couple of day in Birmingham learning from our friends Birmingham Citizens. As we are starting a new chapter in Manchester we can learn so much from other chapters that started off in similar situations. Birmingham Citizens was set up 3 years ago in similar fashion to Manchester and it was great to sit down with their community organiser to see how they went about recruiting institutions, setting the due fees and deciding the campaigns they want to work on. We managed to visit a couple of institutions that have been signed up and see up close the relationship between the organiser and the leaders. There was a lot to take in but it's always useful as a new organiser to 'run' with someone more experience to help guide you along the way.
Things are moving forward nicely and there are lots of meetings planned in the coming weeks so will keep the blog going!
It's been a whirlwind first weeks setting up the the new chapter of Citizens UK. I officially started on the 10th July which coincidentally fell on the same date as the Citizens UK national training - so I decided to go along for a week to learn all about the work of Citizens and what makes them so effective. It was great to meet such a diverse group of people from across the UK and from a variety of different institutions which put into perspective the strength of Citizens and the communities they seek to represent.
After a week spent learning about how to organise I then spent a week in London at the head office and to meet my colleagues. I spent time 'running' with other organisers and even saw a small campaign win take place in Hackney. With the help of Citizens a school managed to get a fence put up outside a school gate so it was safer for children. I met with other colleagues and attended my first national team meeting Seeing the great work and testimonies from organizer across different chapters gave me even more conviction that Citizens UK is a great vehicle in to bring about that social change.
My third week was my first week official week in Manchester. The chaplaincy and Father Tim have been a great help and very kindly taken on the responsibility for setting up the office space which is situated within the Chaplaincy and prime location in Manchester opposite the University of Manchester. With the help of Father Tim we managed to get back end office operation up and running with internet, phone and computer all being set up. Being the only organiser can be a lonely but it's great that I am sharing an office with a lady called Hina who wors for the chaplaincy and I am based next door to the food bank office which has a huge operation at the Chaplaincy. I also had my fist set of meetings also known in community organising terms 1:1s with Sir Peter Fahy who is Chairing our sponsoring committee and with Tom Skinner from the Living Wage Foundation. As well as recruiting institutions there will be a lot of time spent in the first few months meeting lots of key stakeholders from across the region to let them know of the exciting initiative we are starting up.
This past week has been another busy week mapping out and putting our strategy together of how we want to start building that broad based coalition. On Sunday I spoke at the Living Islam Festival about the work of Citizens and how we can empower our communities to come together and make a positive change - reflecting on the recent loss of life of the MP Jo Cox who died in a terror and hate crime. We spent a day doing a power analysis of the city with a good friend of mine who is well connected with the community and mapped all the different areas we need to cover from businesses to education, from faith groups to community organisations and more. Without barely touching the surface the opportunities in region are massive and if we get the right buy in we can be an effective voice for the people.
Today we had a round-table meeting of potential partners for establishing a chapter of Manchester Citizens. It was great to have Neil Jameson with us. The meeting was well attended and it showed a lot of interest in the development of a chapter, and also some resistance. My sense is that there have been previous attempts at Community Organising in Manchester with varying levels of success - this can have a 'graveyard effect' - 'Yeah Yeah we've tried that and it doesn't work... '. There is also a parochial suspicion of anything that comes from London .... which is deep rooted and potentially very destructive.
Why do I thing that Manchester will benefit from the Citizens brand of community organising? Certainly what I witnessed in London working as school chaplain - my first funeral as a priest was of Godwin Lawson, a 17 year old boy who I had coached in football and who had left St Ignatius after getting into Oxford Uniteds Academy. He had a troubled past but the dream of being a professional footballer had saved him. He was stabbed to death when returning to see his mum. It was then when I saw Citizens training my sixth formers to do a listening campaign which led to the City Safe Campaign (enabling shop keepers to protect people who were being chased by gangs). This initiative saved lives - and so I was impressed with Citizens way of organising, their results, just look at the Living Wage and the Olympics to start with and now their work with refugees.
The first Stage is to look for 'seed money' to get Citizens off the ground. Primarily this is to pay for a lead organiser .... The Catholic Chaplaincy here have kindly said they will provide an office space - and cover the overheads for running an officer here (which is worth around 10k). Citizens will be an umbrella for all the good community based work that is going on - and hopefully mobilise and train the students to get involved in transformative politics.