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Free School Meals: Holiday Provision

Val Barron of Communities Together Durham, and leader with Tyne & Wear Citizens, blogs about the importance of free school meal provision in light of Covid-19 and why it should be continued through the school holidays.


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Getting London's Latin American community online

 Ana María Ramírez, a collaborator from Empoderando Padres, writes on how the Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the lack of online access for London's Latin American community. 

Since the start of lockdown, we’ve been constantly hearing that Covid-19 is ‘democratic’ and ‘fair’, and ‘anyone can get it’. While it’s true the virus ‘does not discriminate’, it’s also true that the most vulnerable people in society are facing the crisis disproportionately worse. You don't need to catch the virus to suffer the consequences of the pandemic. 

Citizens UK, like many organisations around the country, are currently working online and adapting to the ‘new normal’. Yet we need to ask ourselves - what happens with the people who don’t have access or can’t connect online?


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Covid-19 and why I worry

Elsie, a mum from Parents and Communities Together (PACT), blogs about her experience of life in lockdown and some of the reasons why Covid-19 has made her worry.

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Covid-19, Campaigns and More

Nottingham Citizens provide a bumper edition of updates including a statement from our leadership team in response to COVID-19, sign-posting of local support and resources, training info, plus important updates on campaigns both local and national. 

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Schools face huge challenge to reach hard hit families

29th April: Citizens UK, working with dozens of member schools, community and faith organisations experiencing high demand for emergency support for meals is seeking clarification from the Government on extensions and flexibility to the Free School Meal National voucher scheme as the Covid-19 school closure continues:

There are 1.3 million children from low-income families normally in receipt of free school meals in schools, these are essential in stopping children going hungry.

The scheme has been rapidly rolled out and in recent weeks since the launch of the National Voucher Scheme has seen a series of welcome policy changes and additions, but is suffering from low take-up, a lack of availability of suitable supermarkets in some areas and limitations on holiday cover. Headteachers from across the country have joined the call hundreds of letters have been sent to MPs, who are quizzing the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in Parliament today during an Education Select Committee hearing.

Citizens UK is asking that the Government

  1. Confirm that schools will be reimbursed as they work flexibly in this crisis using a combination of the available approaches 
  2. Continue the support of local schools and others to negotiate with national supermarkets to extend the voucher scheme
  3. Extend the voucher scheme to cover the May half term and the longer summer break.  
  4. Enable schools to exercise discretion to issue vouchers in cases of need

Read more and sign the petition.

David Watson, Headteacher, St. Thomas More RC Academy, North Tyneside said:

“We were grateful the government extended free school meal voucher scheme eligibility over the Easter holiday and temporarily included children of groups who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF). But there are still problems in meal provision that urgently need attention. So far in my school, there is only a 30% take-up from families entitled to free school meals. We need to ensure all families in need know how to access support and can do so quickly.”

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Nottingham Citizens Online Training Sessions

No meet-ups?! No problem!

Nottingham Citizens are delivering SIX online training sessions in May, equipping Nottingham people to make change on the issues that matter to them.


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Democracy doesn't stop with Covid 19

A picture of the virtual Accountability Assembly in progress

Last night, members of Citizens Essex hosted an online Accountability Assembly with Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst as the elections have been delayed.  Essex PFCC also hosted the event on their Facebook page which, at the time or writing this post, has had some 800 views.  There were big wins for youth work campaigners as Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst agrees to all Citizens’ Essex asks.

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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,

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The University of Essex and Citizens UK bolsters ‘Democracy in Action’

Obviously this all happened before lock down ...

University of Essex: Konstantinos Roussos, Jimena Vazquez Garcia, Jason Glynos and Rebecca Warren 

Citizens UK (CUK): Juliet Kilpin

The University of Essex and CUK have been working together to learn from and better support the Colchester community!

An exciting pilot initiative collaboratively designed and delivered by CUK staff, alongside academics and PhD students at the Essex Business School and the Department of Government, has meant that over 25 undergraduate students have had the opportunity to participate in an innovative program that reinforces the value and power of ‘Democracy in Action’. 

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Reverend to run London Marathon at home to support families during Covid-19

       Reverend Edd Stock is running the length of the London Marathon at home to raise money for struggling families during Covid-19.


As the Covid-19 lockdown continues, our faith, education and charity members are finding innovative ways to support their communities.

On 26 April, when the London Marathon was scheduled to take place, Reverend Edd Stock of Holy Trinity Church Sydenham and Forest Hill, a member of Lewisham Citizens, will still be running – at home. Raising money for people in need in his borough, Reverend Edd will run 26 miles on a treadmill in his vicarage living room, all while leading a live-streamed Sunday service.

Revd Edd said: “This is to raise urgent funds for us and Lewisham Citizens to support our neighbours who are struggling through this crisis. We have started by creating food parcels for local families we know are in need, but there is so much more we can be doing and it is only possible when we work together.”

The donations from Revd Edd’s marathon effort will go towards Lewisham Citizens’ Covid-19 Community Response Fund – which has already raised over £4,000.

And Revd Edd is just one of the many members of Citizens UK supporting their community during this crisis.

Here at Citizens UK, member organisations like Revd Edd’s are working to:

  • Deliver emergency food parcels to families suddenly thrust into food insecurity
  • Provide internet and equipment so children can learn and adults can participate in community while physically distancing
  • Create a hardship fund for emergencies, as was done for a struggling parent at St Mary's Primary in Lewisham whose oven had broken

You can donate directly to our main Covid-19 fund here, which will provide emergency support to communities across the country affected by the pandemic.

Good luck to Revd Edd - we’ll be cheering for you!

Keep updated with how our members are responding to the Covid-19 crisis here

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