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Organising communities for action – an interview with Citizens UK Exec Director, Neil Jameson

[cs_content][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”false” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”hsl(0, 0%, 100%)” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][cs_text]Citizens UK organises communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good. Their work has seen widespread campaigning for the Living Wage, major support in the Refugee crisis, and trains thousands of community leaders and volunteers to take action on key issues in their communities. Livability interviewed Neil Jameson – the organisation’s Executive Director– about the value of community and what it takes to achieve effective collective action.[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Neil Jameson, Executive Director, Citizens UK” type=”left”]We need to dispel the myth that change in our society is down to someone else.[/x_blockquote][cs_text]“We need to dispel the myth that change in our society is down to someone else,” says Neil Jameson, as he references human tendency to pin all our hopes on one person. Citing the rise and fall to power of politicians like Blair or Cameron – he remarks on the high expectations that can get attached to public figures to sort everything out.

It’s not that he doesn’t think that politicians don’t bear high responsibility – Citizens UK is an organization that’s all about “holding the state to account” – but his point is more that issues in society are created collectively and need addressing collectively. “It’s all our fault – and we need to work to sort things out together,” says Neil.

Organising and mobilizing power is the major heartbeat for Citizens UK. It’s all about combining citizens’ voices to make constructive responses that lead to change. “When people work together they have the power to change their neighbourhoods, cities, and ultimately the country for the better.”[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”” type=”left”]When people come together, they are inherently generous. In a group, people are forced to see beyond themselves; to listen and to learn from others[/x_blockquote][cs_text]Neil describes society as a ‘three-legged stool’ where the state, market and Civil Society are the three modes of power. Neil’s vision is fueled by the belief that Civil Society has a key role to play in honouring those who commit themselves to public service and the wealth creators in business, but also in challenging and holding to account those who fail to act in the interests of the common good or exploit the ordinary citizen. “Civil society is the hardest to organize, but nevertheless can have real power and influence on helping the other sectors. We ensure that Civil Society is at the negotiating table alongside the market and state, so that our communities are included in the decisions that affect them.”

So what does this look like and how does it work?

A striking characteristic of the Citizens UK movement is its emphasis on working for agreement and seeking to be relevant to the needs of the community. When people join a local group, they can’t come with a shopping list of issues – or dominate with a single agenda. Through the facilitation of local community organisers, groups have to work together to prioritise and agree on what are the most critical needs that require action. This value of listening and story sharing is essential to the work. It helps local groups shape their agenda for change. It also helps define the national campaigns that Citizens UK run. ‘When people come together, they are inherently generous. In a group, people are forced to see beyond themselves; to listen and to learn from others,’ Neil explains.‘

The other clear marker is the commitment to training a team of active and committed community organisers and ensuring that there is real diversity expressed through all that the movement does. Neil comments that there is a wide variety of faith persuasions represented in all the community work – which he celebrates. “Faith should always lead us to consider other people’s needs and issues and to be a good neighbour.” In the years ahead, Neil explains that he would like to see greater diversity and more people from the disability community.

At both a local and national level, Neil’s vision for community organising is having a clear impact. Whether it’s seeing local communities getting a zebra crossing outside a school; solidarity moments like ‘No Place For Hate’ (where groups quickly mobilized to provide a standing presence at London Underground stations challenge racism in the immediate days after Brexit); or a long-running national campaign to achieve a National Living Wage – the power of communities bringing strengths together for the common good cannot be underestimated.


Think it can be left down to someone else?

From chatting with Neil Jameson – it’s clear that ‘the someone’ is actually you.[/cs_text][x_gap size=”20px”][x_line style=”border-top-color: hsl(0, 0%, 0%);border-top-width: 1px;”][cs_text]Neil Jameson is Executive Director for Citizens UK. He recently was awarded a CBE for his services to community and social justice. Find out more at their website or follow Neil on Twitter.

This interview is part of Livability’s blog about community life, on which we share news from Livability and inspiration from a range of community activists around the UK. Find out more about the training Livability does with churches and local communities to tackle barriers and work for inclusion in their community here. [/cs_text][x_line style=”border-top-color: hsl(0, 0%, 0%);border-top-width: 1px;”][x_gap size=”50px”][/cs_column][/cs_row][cs_row inner_container=”false” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”hsl(164, 17%, 87%)” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 20px 20px 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][x_author title=”About the Author” author_id=”” class=”#000000″][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]

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