On the evening of the 29th April 2019, three days before the local elections, over two hundred people gathered for an evening of powerful stories, empowered questions, thoughtful responses, but most of all an evening of commitment to change under the banner of Brighton and Hove Citizens. It was the culmination of an initiative started over two years before, led by seven local organisations who recognised the possibility for change when people come together.
As founding member and leader of One Church, Brighton Dave Steell said in his opening speech;
“If history shows us anything it’s that if you try to do things on your own, you do too little, if you wait for the government or big organisations to do it, if there is any change at all, it comes to late…..but when small groups come together and work for a common cause there is no problem too large to overcome.”
The three party leaders Daniel Yates (Labour), Tony Janio (Conservatives) and Phelim MacCafferty (Greens) listened to the presentations which brought together the views of thousands of local people who had fed into our listening campaigns. The top priorities were identified as Affordable Housing & Fair Landlords, Mental Health for young people and Homelessness. One of the member organisations: Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue, presented on a very personal issue for them, accessible toilet provision in the Hove North Cemetery.
Members told personal accounts of their struggles each issue: The loneliness and despair of navigating the CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) system and managing transition to adult services with little support; the fear of a mother unable to get the appropriate support for her child and seeing her child’s life spiral out of control while they waited; the powerlessness of being a tenant in unacceptable living conditions trying to be heard by your landlord, and the indignity of not being able to grieve for friends and loved ones because of inadequate toilet facilities. Their stories were heartfelt and powerful.
Councillors responded to requests to work together with the Brighton and Hove Citizens Assembly to bring about change on these issues. The assembly applauded the joint commitment from all party leaders to work with us to move forward on specific proposals in each area. Looking forward, Campaign Groups have been established to engage with political representatives to implement some of the agreed changes. The work of Citizens UK relies on its membership and working together with existing groups in its communities. We hope that many more churches in Brighton and Hove will join under the Diocesan banner. Mental health campaigns, housing campaigns and lobbying for toilets may not be traditional expressions of faith. However, the Diocesan strategy calls us to contribute to the common good with partners of good will. Such partnerships build relationships, express concern and allow us to demonstrate the life changing reality of faith as we share a common cause.
This story was written by Bishop Richard of Lewes and John Lewry, two of our community leaders of Brighton and Hove Citizens.