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Birmingham

Citizens UK, Birmingham is an independent membership alliance of civil society institutions acting together for the common good of the city.

For a short video clip about us from 2014 please click here

Founded in 2013, we have trained over 300 leaders on acting in public life through the method of community organising. Over 1500 people have participated in public action building accountable relationships with those in power in our city. Our dues paying member institutions from Brum’s faith, education, trade union and community sectors have enhanced their own development and mission from their involvement with Citizens UK.

Together our leaders and communities have won:

• access to specialist mental health services for 16-17 year olds,

• established local shops & community buildings as safe havens near schools,

• secured the backing of elected and business leaders persuading city’s employers to pay the Living Wage,

• resettlement of Syrian refugees from UN Camps

For highlights of us in action please visit our storify page

For regular breaking news posts of our work follow us on twitter @CitizensUKBham

Sign up for updates from this chapter here.

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Migrant community businesses organise

Citizens UK is the national home of community organising where people powered democracy is put into action by civil society alliances in over 14 towns and cities. One of its oldest alliances is here in Birmingham where since 2013 faith, education, trade union, community and enterprise organisations have teamed up to win change on range of issues from living wage, neighbourhood safety, youth mental health and refugee welcome. This craft of community organising does more than focus on campaigns, it is preoccupied with the importance of people being able to participate in public life and affect decisions affecting their lives. Being at the table, not on the menu.

So, when over 500 community leaders from Citizens UK packed the Great Hall of the University of Birmingham in March 2015 calling on the elected leader of the city council to resettle 50 Syrian refugees from UN Camps, unbeknown an important chain of events was launched which will agitate local agencies to think differently about the world of business support and inclusive growth. One of the attendees, Professor Monder Ram, the Director of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME), quizzed me about the diversity and scale of the participation he witnessed in the Great Hall, as many were from ethnic minority backgrounds public agencies often say are so ‘hard to reach’.

So, 18 months later - after a series of focus groups - the first ever project to try and use community organising tools to get business support to entrepreneurs in local High Streets frequented by Birmingham’s migrant and refugee communities was created.

‘Pounding the streets’

Called the ‘Business Leaders Project’, a unique partnership between Citizens UK, CREME, NatWest Bank and the Growth Hub of the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Partnership was established between 2017 and 2019 to reach out to 300 ethnic minority business owners working intensively with 60 of them through a combination of free surgeries, workshops, events and 1-to-1 help.

The person on the ground was Dr Mosese Dakunivosa who through slow, respectful work established relationships with business owners in the ‘economically disadvantaged’ neighbourhoods of Lozells, Small Heath & Sparkbrook. Most of these shop keepers, internet cafes, money exchanges, independent gyms and social enterprises had never received any help before from the region’s long running business support agencies. Few were hardly ever contacted in person, and if they were it tended to be a council officer regarding trading standards or regulation. Their communities and high streets did not appear in the city’s promotion to visitors, so much so major international sports and cultural events will be held in the city with little if any trade benefit to these neighbourhoods.

What Mosese found from ‘pounding the streets’ listening and working with every business owner were the following:

  1. They did not have a relentless urgency for ‘Growth’ - as in scaling up to be a major business with £1M+ turnover in a short period of time. They were mostly keen to survive long-term.
  2. Navigating housing, education, immigration and community safety issues were as important to them as ‘working on their business.’
  3. Many prioritised their contributions to their community by offering regular time, money and energy to support a place of worship, charitable causes and/or diaspora network. Perhaps contrary to traditional British business sentiment of ‘you give back when you’ve made it’.
  4. Trust and relationship building were vital for their participation, as because of their experiences of (2) above, anyone from a public agency might be starting on a deficit.

Inclusive Growth

During recent years, the term ‘Inclusive Growth’ has become topical on the radar of policy makers and Think-Tanks. The OECD says, ‘Inclusive growth is economic growth that is distributed fairly across society and creates opportunities for all.’

In Autumn of 2019, Citizens UK teamed up with NESTA to unpack what a community organising approach to Inclusive Growth might look like using Birmingham and East London as case studies, with researchers evaluating both.  The plan in Birmingham was to focus on how community organising for the upcoming regional elections might develop greater public participation and leadership capacity of the entrepreneurs to secure pledges on important local issues such as access to opportunities arising from the Commonwealth Games.

A significant amount of work was undertaken to hold events and workshops to pin a set of specific priorities for whoever was seeking to be our next Regional Mayor and Police Commissioner. A logistical road map was implemented to organise up to 1000 people to return to the Great Hall of the University of Birmingham on the 1st of April 2020. Unfortunately, all this intensive effort was brought to a halt when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, and the country entered lockdown in March to deal with the biggest threat to public health in generations.

Covid-19 & Leadership

Immediately, Citizens UK: Birmingham launched a rapid listening campaign to connect with member institutions & community businesses we worked with. Daily telephone calls and online meetings with different faith, education, trade union, business and community leaders revealed a combination of anxiety and uncertainty about the impact of the virus to people’s safety, income and simply way of life. ONS data from April showed the super output areas with excess Covid-19 deaths in Birmingham were where they worked or lived in.

Our response was to focus on what will support every organisation and business we worked with to meet the challenges they now faced, instead of establishing our own Covid-19 mutual support helpline in the city. The excellent co-ordinating work of the Birmingham Voluntary Services Council demonstrated the third sector were ‘quick off the blocks’ to arrange local mutual support groups offering food parcels and other help to vulnerable households. They included many of our member organisations acting with others in their localities to get basic help to those most at risk.

There were three key aspects to our response with business owners:

Establish a Leadership Group

With some of them having years of previous 1:1 engagement through the Business Leaders Project and in recently being involved in shaping the now cancelled pre-election Assembly, there was strong commitment to team up to build their collective power to survive this monumental test.

Deal with immediate threats.

Sisters Care Ltd, a small care firm and a social enterprise, faced huge risks as they were in the bottom of the pecking order to get personal protective equipment (PPE) gear to work because they were not an NHS organisation. A social media campaign by some of the Business Leaders project partners backed by a special Sky news report eventually resulted in donations of PPE gear arriving to them.

Take collective action

  • An online round-table meeting the Senior Officer at Birmingham City Council overseeing the newly announced Business Grant from Government resulted in many of them understanding the eligibility criteria, applying and securing this help.
  • Responding to a tender with 5 of them to help the Council get key public health messages to several different communities was successful offering capacity for some of them to remain operational.
  • A round-table meeting with the Cabinet member for Transport was held urging him to seek further support from government and to consider delaying the roll out of the Clean Air Zone beyond January.

Moving forward into the rest of the Summer of 2020, the priority will be to strengthen the Business Leadership Group as their immediate focus moves on to what being ‘Covid-secure’ means and to step up their participation to shape recovery plans by those in power in the region. More training, collective action and learning is to follow to ensure our exploration of Inclusive Growth is truly about people being ‘at the table and not on the menu’ at a time when it matters the most.

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Beyond Inter-faith: the case for Muslim civil society to organise

by Saidul Haque Saeed, Lead Organiser for West Midlands at Citizens UK (22/05/2020)

 

Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah

We have arrived at the last days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, spent by many at home under lockdown as a deadly virus continues to spread across the UK. This unprecedented test has seen Muslim communities amongst some of the first Britons to rise to the challenge of responding to the hardships affecting fellow citizens in our towns and cities. Whilst Mosques and community centres remain shut to collective worship and gathering, local leaders formed teams of volunteers delivering food parcels, benefits advice, befriending support and counselling within the rules.

This amazing act of generosity by Muslim civil society continued in strength despite the immediate onslaught of fake-news and click-bait headlines by some journalists, politicians and public figures trying to single out Mosques and the community as ‘super-spreaders’ of the disease.

The Prophetic instructions to meet the rights of neighbours & those in need as well as strive for the common good were powerfully evident as Muslims were the first clinicians on the frontline to die to the virus. And from the unwavering commitment of key workers and local volunteers (most fasting from dawn to sunset) amidst the alarming rates of Covid-19 deaths affecting the BAME population.

These last 2 months have had a toll on particularly Mosques and Muslim-led community organisations as they’ve seen a drop in regular income, had to go digital overnight and are the least likely to be recipients of grant funding. Many are in some of our most economically disadvantaged Wards, so the need for their services has gone up as people are laid off work facing huge stress with no outlet to make sense of it all in person. All whilst the online hate has remained rampant.

 

Your options

So, if you are in Muslim civil society leadership, where do you turn for support and solidarity in your town and city?

You probably have three options:

  1. Stay with your own – remain steadfast within your own community and only reach out in responding to public agencies such as the local council, police and NHS as needs must.
  2. Whilst you continue to deliver services, stay connected to your local inter-faith network where a designated person(s) from your organisation represents your community in promoting Islam to other faiths.
  3. Organise – build deep broad-based relationships with other civil society leaders (faith, education, union, charity, enterprise) as tested by (a) how you act together on what matters to your communities and (b) how your institutions measurably benefit from growth and leadership development.

Most do (1) and some do (1) + (2), here I am going to talk about those who do (3) - officially termed broad based community organising.

This is what broad based organising looks like: https://vimeo.com/259667616

At Citizens UK, Birmingham we are proud to have KSIMC Birmingham (Clifton Rd Mosque), Huda Masjid & Community Centre, Masjid Al-Farouq (Walsall) and EuroSom Community Midlands (a Horn of Africa diaspora organisation) in our top leadership group representing a diverse mix of local Muslim communities. They are joined in membership by highly rated community organisations who serve neighbourhoods with significant numbers of Muslim households: Aspire and Succeed (in Lozells) & Saathi House (in Aston).

 

A snapshot of action

Between them they’ve teamed up with other civil society institutions across Birmingham to:

  1. persuade city health bosses to offer 16- and 17-year olds access to specialist mental health treatment (credit to powerful testimony & leadership by Newman University student: Sophina Khan in 2013);
  2. build the real living wage campaign persuading top employers in the region to pay it (credit to powerful testimony & leadership by Abdinasir Ahmed of EuroSom Community to launch it in 2014);
  3. resettle Syrian refugee families from UN camps to Birmingham in 2015 (thanks in part to Shale Ahmed of Aspire & Succeed for securing a housing provider pledge and press work);
  4. pilot termly housing surgeries within primary schools in the St George’s estate in Newtown (thanks in part to the moving stories of families from Huda Masjid & Community Centre);
  5. persuade the Mayor of West Midlands to launch half-price travel for students/trainees in 2017 (credit to powerful testimonies from young leaders from Aspire & Succeed);
  6. celebrate news of the Commonwealth Games coming to the city launching a set of Citizens Guarantees which included homes for families and better after-school provision in neighbourhoods (credit to many testimonies including that of Chair of Youth Committee at Huda Masjid, Zeynab Ismail);
  7. hosted big community iftars in South Birmingham where people may have fewer Muslim neighbours and a visit by the Law Commission on Hate-Crime to hear moving testimonies like that from Sheikh Nuru Mohammed of Clifton Rd Mosque; and
  8. in 2020, months ahead of the lockdown, Clifton Rd Mosque and our newest member mosque, Masjid Al-Farouq completed their respective applications to sponsor a refugee family to their neighbourhoods.

The above itinerary is a snapshot of when Muslim civil society in Birmingham with other communities of faith and secular backgrounds won tangible change (some big, some small) on youth mental health, low pay, housing, refugee welcome, hate-crime and cost of transport. Together building the power of organised communities to be ‘at the table not on the menu’.

None of these wins would have been possible if Muslim leaders acted on their own or if they relied wholly on public agencies to do the ‘right thing’. The cost, capacity and logistics needed to persevere would have deterred many. But with the organising of people and money by a membership alliance of diverse institutions rooted in communities it was altogether possible.

 

Slow respectful work

Behind all of this public action is the slow respectful work of strengthening Muslim civil society from within by constantly training leaders, building experienced teams and returning our Mosques/community groups as the hub for justice and change as much as a place of worship/service delivery. We call this ‘Institutional Development’ in organising, and we aim to spend as much time to this as we do on campaigns – that’s why we seldom make it to repeat city summits and conferences.

What this looks like in practice is as follows.

1. A focus on Youth and Women leadership.

Not only do people in our member Mosques and community groups get to participate in accredited leadership training by Newman University, we also deliver in-house training workshops be it madrasah students, committee members and worshipers at a Mosque or project staff and service users at an organisation.

See examples here: 1, 2, 3.

2. Business support and capacity building.

For several years we’ve teamed up with the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (at Aston University Business School) to offer access to secure funding and opportunities, with tutorials and direct support.

See examples here: 1, 2, 3.

3. Neighbourhood Action.

There are often priorities arise unique to the locality of a member Mosque/community group which require neighbourhood organising and support to carry out local campaigns.

See examples here: 1, 2, 3.

 

Your invitation

In June 2014, as national press & media gathered in the city awaiting the publishing of the first ‘Trojan Horse’ report, a group of Muslim leaders with Citizens UK gathered to tell a different powerful story with clear asks on BBC Breakfast that same morning – see clip here.

Organising is the point beyond normal inter-faith networking. It’s about Action, Leadership and Change. It’s the moment when you turn protest and lone activism to broad based power. It’s when you realise it is possible to remain independent from party politics to win change and forge your own middle way for public life, as other communities are doing the same alongside you.

The objective for all Muslims in Ramadan is to develop ‘God Consciousness’ through fasting, worship, charity and reflection. For the first time ever, we’ve had to do this without being together in Mosques and in our community projects. The ‘New Normal’ as a result of Covid-19 is asking Muslim civil society to step up and fulfil the ‘Amanah’ (trust) placed on leaders to effectively act, as the biggest recession we’ve known hits communities bringing terrible hardships.

That’s why, with the spiritual training undergone on completion of the Holy of month of Ramadan, we invite you to try option (3) and organise! Please email me at saidul.haque@citizensuk.org with your thoughts and interests; and I will share how you can get involved in broad-based community organising as outlined in this article.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

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Remembering Sr Ita: tips for organising

A year ago, today, we lost our rock: Sr Ita Keane (1945-2019) to a tragic road traffic accident.

Sr Ita Keane was the Director of St Mary’s Convent, an inner-city Birmingham Catholic convent established 178 years ago on Hunters Road in Lozells (St Francis Handsworth parish). Home to the UK’s top community organising nuns, the convent has been the epicentre of all meeting, training and reflecting by civil society leaders across Citizens UK in Birmingham since 2012. And for almost a decade previously, it was where neighbourhood leaders gathered to respond to major local episodes of riots, crime and hardship.

Sr Ita was the force behind St Mary’s Convent and together with a brilliant team help turn it into a popular community anchor institution in the parish and beyond. ‘The Sisters’ have been amongst our chapter’s most consistent and courageous campaigners. Arguably the best Brum example of catholic social teaching in action.

Here, I would like to pull out four traits of Sr Ita which would be helpful to all of us organising today.

1. Know the real-life stories of people in your community

In our 1-2-1s, she always raised a story of an individual or a family she was working with to overcome a hardship they were facing. She never quoted a story she read in the press to root her knowledge of community issues. Had never watched ‘I, Daniel Blake’ because she was regularly in the company of families with lived experience. Many of these families’ stories became powerful in-person testimonies at our Assemblies and campaigns.

2. Power analysis helps you overcome distraction

She understood the importance of doing a power analysis: who has the authority to make the change happen and how are decisions actually made? This was very important to her because as the head of a busy organisation with a building and projects to oversee, the myriad of repeat city summits, seminars and conferences became overwhelming distractions. So, community organising allowed her to pinpoint her participation to negotiating with power directly at the best moments.

3. Have attention to detail

We often cite three ingredients to a good action: ‘Agenda, Logistics and Turnout’. Whilst ‘Agenda’ is determined by stories, issues and power analysis taking up considerable amount of time, Sr Ita was integral to our Organisers improving on logistics and coordinating turnout.

As the staff team were based in the Convent, she often made time to stop by to ask how our Assembly planning or the next public action was unravelling – sometimes coming with a cuppa and cake! At every Assembly she would pledge 30 turnout and within 2 weeks (yes, not the day before) of the event send a list of names who will be attending. She had worked out how everyone would get there as well as sort necessary childcare arrangements for those who needed it.

4. Take time to pause and chill

Humour and kind banter are a regular feature of life in St Mary’s Convent. In community organising we deal with some heart-wrenching issues testing us emotionally and spiritually. Though we talk about separating the public (campaigns) and private (health & wellbeing), both do intertwine regularly. Sr Ita was apt at getting a non-stop person like me to put the brakes on and get away from it even if it was through jokes whilst we were in ‘thick of it’.

It has been an absolute privilege and honour to organise with Sr Ita winning big change with some of our city’s poorest and most disadvantaged communities. Her legacy to broad based community organising in the UK would be ‘every chapter needs a nun’. They will keep us in good organising habit.

With best wishes,
Saeed

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Building better hate crime protections: Birmingham's response

Citizens UK, Birmingham ran an event that was both impressive and intimate, with 37 leaders in attendance. Testimony was shared in four themed breakout groups of around ten people, with a chair, timer and note taker each, and with leaders clearly briefed on their themes beforehand. Group themes, such as diaspora, communities, and young people allowed each table to explore experiences of hate and policy solutions

Law Commission evidence hearing


A few leaders were invited to share longer accounts to the room as a whole. There was an horrifying account of the normalised, everyday schoolyard antisemitism faced by a young leader, with jokes about gas chambers often being a daily occurrence, and there was the story of a hijabi Muslim leader being abused in public by an attacker explicitly quoting our Prime Minister’s letterbox comment.

 

 

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2019 Delegates Assembly Update

Please click below to read a message from Citizens UK Birmingham Co Chairs Liz Coleman and Richard Campbell, following our Chapter's Delegates Assembly.

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Citizens UK: Birmingham: Celebrates Six Year Anniversary

This month our Citizens UK: Birmingham Alliance celebrated six years of community organising in the city. The chapter marked the milestone with special event kindly hosted by Canon Gerry Breen at St Chad’s Cathedral.

After a successful six years of community organising in the city - from Living Wage campaigning to refugee resettlement – the chapter has gone from strength to strength. Citizens UK: Birmingham has grown to an independent civil society alliance made up of faith, education, trade union and community institutions.

Awards.JPG

At the event, 54 leaders from across the city celebrated and reflected on the success of Citizens UK: Birmingham. Given special mention was the hugely successful Community Sponsorship work in the city and efforts to resettle refugees. Councillors Tristan Chatfield, Waseem Zaffar, Alex Yip and Claire Spencer were given special recognition for their leadership and support.

Our member schools also took part in the anniversary celebrations. Pupils from St Francis’ Catholic Primary School in Lozells shared their personal testimonies on being part of a “refugee welcome school”. Students from the CORE Education Trust also presented a brilliant new city project called Echo Eternal remembering the survivors of the Holocaust and the reflections they have for us. As well as this, a host of other Citizens UK leaders shared news on current projects: Community sponsorship, the Business leaders project and the Islam & Public Life Commission.

Finally, three moving personal stories were read out to introduce a new campaign by Safe Passage: 80 years on. (https://80yearson.org.uk/) The campaign recently received the backing of Cllr Tristan Chatfield at Birmingham City Council to take in 80 child refugees on first instance dependent on securing funding from Government. If you would like to get involved or find out more please email Saidul.haque@citizensuk.org

 

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Reducing child poverty must be top priority for Commonwealth Games legacy

Reducing child poverty must be top priority for Commonwealth Games legacy

 

Alliance of Birmingham schools, Universities and businesses call for Commonwealth Games venues to pay a real Living Wage to beat child poverty

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The 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games can leave a living wage and housing legacy like the Olympics

**Limited public release for our Birmingham Commonwealth Games assembly on 7th March: click here and fill in the form to request**

Citizens UK today celebrated the news that Birmingham is to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games and asked West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward to ensure the games are used to create a positive long term legacy for the city.

Michael Seal, Chair of Citizens UK, Birmingham said:

"We are delighted with the news Birmingham will host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and congratulate all involved in the bid. We look forward to celebrating the announcement on the 7th of March with up to 1000 people from communities across the region. We welcome the Games are a big opportunity to raise aspirations for the city and the region. 

"To this end we look forward to Birmingham hosting the first Living Wage Commonwealth Games, with guarantees on how families will benefit through good jobs & work-experience, with better access to sports & youth facilities whilst establishing a community land trust for housing.”

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Birmingham Great Get Togethers: Iftars in memory of Jo Cox

 

Here’s a quick round up of the Iftars being held by members of Citizens UK Birmingham this weekend as part of the Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox MP.

Joining us at one of these events was one of the key things that Citizens UK was asking candidates all over the country in the run up to the election. As it happens, some of the Birmingham candidates that we spoke to are attending Great Get Togethers even closer to their own doorstep. There are many other Great Get Togethers happening than just these three – it’s good that Brummies are spoilt for choice.

On Friday, University of Birmingham Islamic Society are hosting one from 9pm:

 https://www.facebook.com/events/305867883206802/

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/university-of-birmingham-community-iftaar-tickets-35175377501

On Sunday, Aspire & Succeed leaders are part of this one in North-East Birmingham:

And KSIMC are also hosting on the East side of the city:

 https://www.facebook.com/events/130844914136373/

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/moseley-road-street-iftar-tickets-34575078992?aff=es2

Refugee Week: Next week is also Refugee Week, so check out this link for some activities that are taking place in the West Midlands (Birmingham events start from page 2 onwards) http://refugeeweek.org.uk/in-your-area/west-midlands/

 

 

 

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Pay Rise for Carers Agreed by Birmingham Council

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Leaders from Citizens UK Birmingham attended the February Council meeting to ask Councillors to commit to their social care campaign by raising council tax by 2% to better fund social care.  Before the meeting, leaders handed Council Leader John Clancy an early Valentine’s Card urging him to show love to low paid carers. 

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