On Tuesday 7th July, over 650 people from faith, education and civil society organisations in Leeds launched a new people's alliance. The Founding Assembly of Leeds Citizens, a branch of national Community Organising charity Citizens UK, took place at Elland Road Stadium.
Leeds Citizens sought and received recognition from a variety of local decision makers, who each committed to work with the alliance on a range of proposals to improve life in the city. Following a 6 month Listening Campaign, Leeds Citizens is running campaigns to tackle poverty, improve mental health services and overhaul the bus network. Commitments made included:
- Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, agreed to meet with Leeds Citizens at least twice a year, seek Living Wage accreditation for the City Council, write to 100 employers to promote the Living Wage and host an event for businesses during Living Wage Week.
- Paul Matthews, Managing Director, First West Yorkshire, committed to working with Leeds Citizens to improve the frequency of bus services and introduce a 'Bus Covenant' to promote mutual respect and good behaviour on buses by the end of 2015.
- Chris Butler, Chief Executive of Leeds & York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, endorsed the campaign to provide 'navigators' for people accessing mental health services and create new culturally sensitive care for the elderly. At least 1 new memory support worker will now be linked to Leeds Citizens communities and the Trust will provide professional support as Leeds Citizens takes the 'navigators' proposal to the Clinical Commissioning Group for approval.
The event took place on the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, a significant date for the city as 3 of the 4 bombers were from Leeds. However, the impressive roll call of diverse member communities showed how the civil society in Leeds is united in its pursuit of social justice. 15 young people of different faiths and backgrounds were recognised as "Peace Ambassadors" for their work in advance of the Assembly to build relationships, including a 'Journey of Peace' to London. The trip which mirrored the route taken by the 3 Leeds-based bombers, saw the young people visiting the 7/7 memorial site, meeting survivors and relatives of the bombings as well as the Citizens UK Youth Leadership Team, Finchley Reform Synagogue and the Somali Bravanese Community. As Shammah Gwedegwe, one of the Peace Ambassadors put it: "we are not retracing their steps, but replacing them with a Journey of Peace".
The Founding Assembly closed with a community iftar - the sunset meal for Muslims to break fast during Ramadan. Food was provided and most of the 650 people present, from all faiths and none, stayed to share food and build relationships.