“This is fantastic, but it doesn't end here." BARKING AND DAGENHAM CITIZENS MAKE HISTORY WITH FIRST PRE-ELECTION ACCOUNTABILITY ASSEMBLY
“This is fantastic, but it doesn't end here."
BARKING AND DAGENHAM CITIZENS MAKE HISTORY WITH FIRST PRE-ELECTION ACCOUNTABILITY ASSEMBLY
The evening started with reflections from community leaders. Anna Pollard, church leader of Church at Barking Riverside shared an opening reflection:
“You've probably heard the phrase - 'love your neighbour as yourself'. As a Christian, my faith affects my whole life, so this can't just be a nice line for a postcard, this needs to look like something, practically. I think, it looks like being with one another in our neighbourhoods, listening to each other’s challenges and sharing them as our own. It looks like young people in the South of Barking listening to the issues faced by their peers and bringing them to the attention of decision makers – they have seen increased bus services around school hours, a community food forest open and gained promises of food recycling from the council, among others. Listening and challenging injustice are central to community organising. Community organising provides a framework. A framework that gives our dreams legs and drags them into reality.”
Next, leaders from across our member organisations led a Roll Call, waving their organisational flags and banners and sharing who they had brought with them for the borough-wide action. Dylan Duru, a young leader from Holy Family Catholic Church said:
“The assembly opened my eyes to see the opportunities to make tangible change on these issues when we work together as a community. There were people I recognised from different moments in my life; school, church, even people I’ve seen in the street altogether with their own organisations to figure out together how we can make change."
The two priority issues for the assembly, voted for by Barking and Dagenham Citizens members in a democratic process ahead of time, were youth safety and the living wage.
The living wage team kicked off the core business of the night by sharing testimony highlighting the importance of a salary increase for our nation’s care workers. Safia Begum, Health and Social Care student from Coventry University London has worked in the care sector for 13 number of years, stated:
People are scared to speak out, because there is a lot of problems with management and manipulative behaviour, people are scared of losing their jobs if they fight for better pay. The conditions cause a big effect on the mental health of care workers like me.
Next, the youth safety team led a strong negotiation with Superintendent Butterfield, painting a clear picture of relationships between young people and the police, and suggesting a way forward. Princess Raji, a Youth safety ambassador from Elevate Her UK stated:
For my peers, when issues with the police pop up - they tend to be apprehensive with the authorities. They may have already been in situations when they needed the help of the authorities but that help wasn’t given to them. They take a stop-and-search approach to young people that is interrogative and aggressive, rather than friendly and caring. We are inviting them to meet with us because we want to show them how they should relate to and engage with us.
At the end, Reverend Cecilia Dewu of On the Rock Church called the assembly to a close reminding with a call to action for the room saying "This is fantastic! But it doesn't end here."
Zainab Jalloh from Thames Ward Community Project led an evaluation of the assembly. Leaders celebrated the fact that they had received a resounding ‘YES!’ to all their asks, praised those who had spoken or in some way led for the first time, discussed follow up and accountability, and shared stories of how being there had impacted themselves and their communities.
Young youth safety leader Chloe Houngavou, who spoke for the first time at the assembly, received a standing ovation on the night, leaving encouraged by the action she said “I can leave tonight somehow feeling a bit safer, knowing that there is some hope, and we have the power to work together and now with the police to make change.”
Jocelynn N’Guessan from On the Rock Church said “It struck me seeing our turnout! People came in large numbers from all across the borough, a large number of young people too! People are ready and willing to make a change.”
Dylan Duru from Holy Family Church said: “There are few spaces too where citizens are on an even ground negotiating with the police, this was good to see. For me personally, it was high time to see a Living Wage for Care Workers being championed. All through my time living in the UK my mum and dad have worked in care. They work so hard, to be paid so little, and with the cost of living rising it’s even more important. I know that the treatment of care workers can be appalling and demeaning, but they are doing an essential job that keeps the country running. As Barking & Dagenham Citizens we are bringing issues into the light that have been stepped on, and brushed under the rug for too long. Cuts in funding saw youth clubs shut down and we saw knife crime going up, two economic crises later and we see care workers on the front line are not seeing a pay increase despite their service. These issues must be our priority going forward.”