Citizens UK describes itself as "the hub of community organising in the UK." It started as London Citizens in 1996, and came to national prominence during the United Kingdom general election, 2010 when all three leaders of the UK's three largest political parties addressed a large meeting of its members in what it billed as the "fourth debate", in reference to the three TV debates. The event was notable for Gordon Brown giving what was widely described as his best speech of the campaign.
History of Citizens UK
Citizens UK has been promoting community organising in the United Kingdom since 1989. Neil Jameson, the Executive Director, founded Citizens after training with the Industrial Areas Foundation in the USA. Citizens UK, formerly the Citizens Organising Foundation (COF), has established citizens’ alliances in Wales, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Nottingham and London. Alliances in Glasgow and Leeds are expected in by 2014. Citizens UK, initially known as London Citizens, has grown from a single city-based organisation to a nationwide community organising institution. Subsequently, the institution expanded beyond the capital in 2010 with Milton Keynes Citizens. Nottingham Citizens followed in late 2012, and Cardiff Citizens was established in early 2013. Birmingham Citizens' founding assembly is planned for the 25th April 2013, with Glasgow and Leeds soon to follow in the coming year. Others had a less enduring run lasting roughly 3 years when COF was unable to finance them any longer. Along with its geographical expansion, Citizens UK is in the process of forming increasing numbers of professional community organisers. It has created a Master’s course in Community Organising in affiliation with Queen Mary University, establishing the profession of ‘Community Organiser’ through the Guild of Community Organisers teaching the disciplines of strategy and politics.
Citizens’ brand of community organising is distinctive because it deliberately sets out to build permanent alliances of citizens to exercise power in society. It sees its role in the UK’s political system as determinant of the distinction between Civil Society from the State and the Market. In a totalitarian Society all three may virtually coincide. In a fully democratic society the three will be distinct. Where the state and the market become predominant, even in a democracy, civil society is reduced on the one hand to voting and volunteering and on the other to consuming. This can undermine democracies because the sense of citizenship and agency becomes weak and ineffective. In other words Civil Society becomes powerless. Community organising and the role of the professional Community Organiser is working out how to take back power from the State and the Market by holding them accountable. The state and the market cannot operate without moral values and direction. It is not the role of the state or the market to determine those values. In a democratic society there has to be a genuine public discourse concerning justice and the common good.
From London Citizens to Citizens UK
London Citizens was an alliance of community organisations in London in England. It was largely composed of faith groups including churches and mosques, schools, student organisations, union branches and residents' associations. It was part of Citizens UK (formerly the Citizen Organising Foundation), which also includes a similar organisation in Birmingham.
London Citizens was the largest civil alliance in the Citizens UK network. Its forerunner, The East London Communities Organisation, better known as TELCO, was formed in 1996 at a founding assembly gathering over 1,300 people from 30 different institutions. From TELCO spring boarded Citizens’ other London Chapters, South London Citizens est. 2004, West London Citizens est. 2005, and North London Citizens est. 2011.
London Citizens' most high profile campaigns included those to establish a London living wage of £8.30 per hour, and a campaign called Strangers into Citizens, which calls on the Home Secretary and the Home Office of the British Government to grant an irregular and extraordinary (one-off and one-time-only) general amnesty, regularisation, naturalisation and British citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom. The campaigns have been publicly supported by figures including the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
London Citizens had subscriptions from 160 schools, churches, mosques, trade unions, synagogues and voluntary organisations. In the beginning small actions were undertaken to prevent a factory from contaminating the area with noxious smells and prevent drug dealing in school neighbourhoods. Over time larger campaigns were undertaken. Before Mayoral elections for the Greater London Authority in 2000, 2004 and 2008 major Accountability Assemblies were held with the main mayoral candidates. They were asked to support London Citizens and work with them on issues such as London Living Wage; an amnesty for undocumented migrants; safer cities initiatives and development of community land trust housing. South London Citizens held a citizens enquiry into the working of the Home Office department at Lunar House and its impact on the lives of refugees and migrants. This resulted in the building of a visitor centre.
Strangers into Citizens
Strangers into Citizens was a political advocacy campaign from around February 2007 to May 2010 by the then Citizen Organising Foundation, also known as the London Citizens organisation, now defunct, having been merged into the Citizens UK organisation as separate local chapters. The campaign called for an irregular and extraordinary (one-off and one-time-only) general amnesty, regularisation, naturalisation and British citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom. The campaign became definitively and formally defunct in the year 2013.
The campaign was founded by Austen Ivereigh, a former director of public affairs for the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and as such had strong links with amongst others the Cardinal Archbishop, Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Catholic Herald newspaper, all three being enthusiastic supporters of the political advocacy campaign.
The campaign attempted to influence the policies of the political parties and candidates in both the London mayoral election of the year 2008 and in the General Election in the United Kingdom in the year 2010. During the London mayoral election, the campaign was supportively endorsed by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour and Conservative candidates for the Mayoralty of London in their personal capacity, being Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson respectively.
Citizens UK General Election Assembly
In May 2010 Citizens UK held a General Election Assembly at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster with 2,500 people from member institutions and the world media present. This event was three days before the election and was considered to be the most dynamic and electric event of the election campaign. Citizens UK had negotiated to have David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown as the leaders of the three main political parties attend. Each candidate for Prime Minister was questioned on stage concerning their willingness to work with Citizens UK if elected. Each undertook to work with Citizens UK and come to future assemblies to give account of work achieved. In particular they agreed to work to introduce the Living Wage and to end the practice of holding children of refugee families in detention.
In in 2001 a Living Wage campaign launched by London Citizens. The Living Wage campaign calls for every worker in the country to earn enough to provide their family with the essentials of life. The Living Wage is a relatively fluid figure. An hourly rate, set independently, every year depending on the cost of living by geographical location and gives the minimum pay rate required for a worker to provide their family with the essentials of life. In the capital it is set by the Greater London Authority. The rate from 2010 to 2011 was £7.85 per hour, and raises at a rate of 3-4% annually. By 2010, the campaign persuaded more than 100 employers to pay the Living Wage and won over £40 million in Living Wages, lifting 6,500 families out of working poverty. As a result of the campaign’s success, other cities began to adopt its policies and demands and Citizens UK set up the Living Wage Foundation in 2011 to provide companies with intelligence and accreditation. It also moderates the hourly rate applicable for the Living Wage outside London. As of September 2013, the Living Wage Foundation has accredited over 350 Living Wage employers, including SSE, which employs over 20,000 staff nationally. It is the first top 30 FTSE company to be an accredited Living Wage employer. People’s Olympic Legacy When it was announced that London would bid to be the host city for the Olympic Games in 2012, Citizens lobbied to gain a lasting legacy for Londoners from the billions of pound to be spent. Following on from hundreds of one-to-one meetings and a listening campaign across member institutions, in 2004 London Citizens signed an agreement with the London 2012 bid team, which specified what the people of East London could expect in return for their support in hosting the Olympic Games. The People’s Promises, as they are known, had the following demands:
- 2012 permanently affordable homes for local people through a Community land trust and mutual home ownership.
- Money from the Olympic development to be set aside to improve local schools and the health service.
- The University of East London to be main higher education beneficiary of the sports legacy and to consider becoming a Sports Centre of Excellence.
- At least £2m set aside immediately for a Construction Academy to train up local people.
- That at least 30% of jobs are set aside for local people.
- That the Lower Lea Valley is designated a ‘Living Wage Zone’ and all jobs guaranteed a living wage The Olympic Delivery Authority, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and the Olympic Legacy Company work with London Citizens to ensure that these promises are delivered.
Independent Asylum Commission
Citizens UK set up the Independent Asylum Commission in order to investigate widespread concern about the way refugees and asylum seekers were being treated by the UK Borders Agency. The report made a series of over 200 recommendations for change which are still being negotiated. This resulted in the ending of the practice of holding children of refugee families in detention by the Coalition government elected in 2010.
Institute for Community Organising
Citizens UK set up the Institute for Community Organising (ICO) as part of its Centre for Civil Society established in 2010 in response to growing demands for its training. The ICO is the first operating division of the Centre and was established to offer a series of training opportunities for those who wish to make community organising a full or part-time career and also for Community Leaders who wish to learn the broad philosophy and skills of community organising and who are in a position to put them into practice in their institutions and neighbourhoods. The Institute provides training and consultancy on a commercial basis to other agencies which wish to employ the skills and techniques of community organising in their institutions. The ICO has an Academic Advisory Board and an International Professional Advisory Body drawn from the global network of Community Organising Institutes in the UK (CITIZENS UK), USA (Industrial Areas Foundation) and Germany (DICO).
- The Guardian, 4 May 2010, General election 2010: Brown worst prime minister ever – Labour candidate
- The Guardian, 3 May 2010, General election 2010: Battered Gordon Brown finds his voice
- Kevin Smith, 'Strangers into Citizens' - for the regularisation of UK people without status, Institute of Race Relations, 11 January 2007, accessed 29 January 2007
- Kurt Barling, London's hidden workers, BBC London, 15 August 2006, accessed 29 January 2007
- Joe Boyle, Migrants find a voice in the rain, BBC News, 7 May 2007, accessed 21 May 2007
- Ivereigh, Austen (2009). "New development: Faith, community organizing and migration – the case of 'regularization'". Public Money & Management 29 (6): 351–354. doi:10.1080/09540960903378225.
- "[The] Mail pays Church aide libel costs". BBC News, British Broadcasting Corporation. 2009-01-30. Retrieved 2013-10-30.