Veteran community organiser and Tyne & Wear Citizens leader Dr Simon Mason reflects this Pride month on being involved with the founding of the Living Wage, justice in mental health - and how to improve LGBT representation in Citizens UK local alliances.
How did you get involved with community organising?
I first became involved in community organising in 1996 when I worked as a vicar in Plaistow and North Canning Town, in east London. I was a leader in the early stages of the Living Wage Campaign started by leaders in TELCO. One strand of the campaign was to get banks to adopt the Living Wage. HSBC bank had recently moved its HQ to Canary Wharf and we decided to attend its AGM. We bought shares and a group of leaders attended their AGM in 2001. It was my job to stand up and, through a Point of Order, speak to the AGM about the Living Wage.
"I told the booted and suited audience about the security guards, cleaners and caterers at HSBC who were on poverty wages. People who were having to work two or three jobs each week to make ends meet for their families."
Radio 4 broadcast the TELCO action at the HSBC AGM. It was the first time the phrase, ‘Living Wage’ was heard in the UK. That TELCO action on HSBC bank got us our first meeting with Sir John Bond, the HSBC Chairman. Some thirteen years later HSBC became a Living Wage employer. The same year as the NHS Trust I now work for became a Living Wage employer.
Simon joins a Tyne and Wear Citizens 'Reclaim The Metro' action to support victims of Islamophobic hate
What are the benefits of being a leader within Citizens UK?
I have had the honour of founding two CUK Chapters. The first was TELCO in east London. The second is in my home town of Newcastle. Tyne and Wear Citizens was launched in the autumn of 2017. The iconic Tyne Theatre was filled to capacity as over 1000 delegates from twenty-eight institutions across the region assembled to launch the latest chapter in Citizens UK. This launch broadcast by the BBC came on the back of several years of hard work, with leaders meeting monthly to support a community organiser who worked with us to secure the funding for a full-time organiser and then launch the chapter.
In the room that evening were people from all walks of life - students, university lecturers, charity sector workers, and people of faith - Quaker, Christian and Muslim. Truly a broad-based alliance.