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Listening & Organising in 2020 – Covid-19 & beyond

The Tyne & Wear Citizens Leadership Group provide the chapter with updates from the past few months, examples of organising that has been happening during Covid-19, and some actions of how to meet online.

Dear friends,

We’re writing from the Leadership Group and Organisers to wish you well in these scary times and let you know what we have been up to over the last few months.

We also wish to highlight why we feel that community organising - acting together for social justice and the common good -  is going to be more important than ever in the future, and set out how your organisation can help to shape a fairer North East going forward.

For Tyne & Wear Citizens 2020 was to be the beginning of a new action cycle; a year of listening and discerning what issues we could address in our communities.  We pledged over 2000 conversations to help us do this and engaged new organisations across the region.

Some organisations had begun to listen and we held our first issues workshop on 10th March. Here, we began the process of distilling these conversations into themes. These were;

  • Environment/climate change
  • Housing
  • Work
  • Racism including hate crime & the government hostile environment
  • Police response to crime
  • Effects of austerity

 

Then the lockdown was imposed, and the world started to look very different.

Despite these difficult conditions, leaders from across the region have carried on actively organising around issues that we’ve worked on for some time;

  • The Just Change action team has responded to free school meal provision during school ‘closures’; we have been leading a national Citizens campaign involving local parents, headteachers, MPs and Bishop Paul Butler. We set up an MP letter writing campaign with our asks, which has had over 1600 signatures. This work is continuing as we call for support for families to continue through school holidays.

  • The Living Wage action team conducted rapid listening with colleagues from around the UK to understand the pressures caused by work in these times. We’re now organising to work with low payed employees in industries that have done well out of this crisis, so that they can be paid a decent wage for carrying us through this difficult time. We also asked a question at Jamie Driscoll’s Mayor’s Question Time where he reaffirmed that paying a Real Living Wage will remain part of his ‘Good Work Pledge’ scheme for employers.
  • The Mental Health action team have continued to work with local authorities and multi-academy trusts to secure commitment to school based counselling. There are exciting movements afoot – watch this space!

We’ve also kept in touch to see how things are for each member institution and have been in awe of the wonderful work being carried out by you all, to keep communities connected, fed and safe in such challenging conditions. We hope to share some stories about this soon. Please let us know if you’d like to share your institution’s story.

During times of crisis, we feel that as well as being there for each other to meet immediate and crucial needs, organising is more important than ever. The social justice implications of COVID-19 are already apparent, deepening inequalities within and between communities.

As such, we’ve been reflecting upon how we might organise in a way that allows for social connections while physically distancing… and how we both begin to organise around the issues raised in March, as well as respond to those we’re hearing about during this crisis.

We want to work with you all to continue our listening – even if our original timetable for the year is disrupted.

Will you join us?

We will be having an online session soon, so we can meet, learn together and share our thoughts. In the meantime - we know some of you will just want to get on with it. Please do just that!

Some ideas to get you started:

Technology: We are all finding new ways to connect with our communities, whether via zoom, emails, Facebook or phone calls. Keep it relational - choose what method suits the context and connection best. If in doubt- find out the preference of the person or people you want to listen to.

Bizarrely sometimes lockdown does have the advantage of allowing us to connect with more people, while never replacing the importance of a 121 meeting.

Some institutions are beginning to set up group ‘Zoom’ conversations. We have an account that members could use for this – let Claire know and she’ll set it up for you.

The questions: Two questions can start the process of understanding the world as it is, and the world as it should be.

  • What is putting pressure on you, your family and community?
  • What would you like the North East to look like after COVID-19?

Please would you be able to commit to asking people in your organisations these questions?

If you could give us an idea of how many conversations you aim to have, that would be great. If you would like support / help to facilitate, please get in touch.

Recording the answers: Record the responses however works for you (please keep it anonymous unless you have permission to use names). When we have gathered enough stories we will explore an online issues workshop. We are also exploring how to map these conversations digitally.

Discovering new leaders: Don’t forget – our listening allows new leaders to emerge and shine. While you’re having your conversations, please also think about who’s ready to get more involved and how we might connect them to others in the alliance who share their passions and interests.

We’d love to have conversations with you all – and these new leaders – really looking forward to being in touch!

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While we can’t go back to our normal way of working together – we can make this work and organise for a North East that’s a better place for all.

We’ll be in touch again soon with a date for us getting together and a revised training plan – watch this space!

Please do be in touch in the meantime to share stories of your amazing work, your passions and anger, how you are going to take your listening forward and to ask for any support you need from us.

It’s so good to be working with you all. There is no better time to be involved in our alliance of people working together for the common good – we look forward to speaking to you soon.

Best wishes

Tyne & Wear Citizens Leadership Group

Follow us on social media:

Twitter: @tynewearcitizen

Facebook: @TyneWearCitizens

Contact our organisers:

Claire Rodgerson // 07393 564 395 // Claire.Rodgerson@Citizensuk.org

Wendy McConnell //07950 426 786 // Wendy.McConnell@Citizensuk.org


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