“I am a typical North Londoner” laughs Marie Amoateng. I ask her how long she’s lived in North London and she tells me that she was born and raised in Tottenham but clarifies that this isn’t what makes her a North Londoner. For Marie, being a North Londoner is about more than living in the locality- it’s a matter of the heart.
Marie is one of the many community leaders whose efforts, with the assistance of committed community organisers, have brought about the founding of a new chapter of London Citizens for North London.
North London Citizens will come into existence without government funding and it will not serve a government agenda. Instead, it’s agenda will be democratically decided and executed by the the thirty plus civil society organisations which have come together to take action for the common good.
Community organising is as time-consuming as it is labour intensive. Reaching consensus within and across civic institutions with disparate objectives and internal cultures is hard work. So, why do community leaders such as Marie do it?
Marie claims there are many good reasons. The first appears to be reciprocity. She recalls the impact that involvement in the New Deal for Communities (NDC) programme had on her and her friends. NDC was a government-led regeneration programme launched in 1998 in across 39 deprived areas in England.
Sitting on the NDC Youth Committee in her area, helped Marie and other young people to develop hitherto dormant organisation and leadership skills and afforded them the chance to influence events in their own community.
The opportunity had the knock-on effect of instilling them with confidence in their own competence. Marie insists that this self-belief played a key-role in her applying to university and she’s eager to provide other young people similar opportunities. She believes that the leaders’ training London Citizens provide will help achieve this.
Then there’s the opportunity to effect change that will improve the lives of people in the community in practcal ways. For example, London Citizens’ very successful Living Wage Campaign. Which, since its launch about 10 years ago has convinced many private, public and civil society sector organisations of the case for paying their employees a “living wage”. Securing £70m in Living Wages for more than 10,000 low-paid workers. Today, champions of the Living Wage campaign include organisations as varied as KPMG, Barts and The London NHS trust and universities such as UEL and Queen Mary University of London, to name a few. Marie wants to see similar victories for working people in north London too.
Finally, Marie is eager to see how the relational approach to community organising can further knit together the communities in north London, making them stronger and more resilient. She’s a firm believer that relationships foster an understanding of one’s community, which in-turn engenders a sense of belonging and ownership.
As we round up our chat I ask Marie where she thinks North London Citizens will go in the future. She replies, “I’m not absolutely certain but I’m really excited that that decision is up to us. It can be anything we want it to be.”
I can’t think of a better description of a community that’s aware of its power and isn’t afraid to use it.
Written by Ade Adewunbi a member of The East London Communities Organisation.
This article also was also published on Our Society.