“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…”

These were the words of the song that marked the start of the inaugural Citizens Thames Valley Assembly on Thursday, June 11 2020.

All four of our bishops, along with representatives of faith groups, community groups, local authorities and businesses were part of the online event. More than 80 people joined in the assembly on Zoom, with even more watching the live-stream on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.

What is community organising?

Community organising is internationally proven to work as it returns power to the people. The Citizens UK website states: “It prioritises personal relationships, membership of institutions rooted within the community and a pragmatic approach to influencing people who hold power in government, business or public life.”

For the last decade, Citizens MK has been making a positive difference in Milton Keynes, with involvement from a variety of groups including the Milton Keynes Deanery and Christ the Cornerstone Church.

The inaugural Thames Valley Citizens Assembly

Why are we involved?

Making a Bigger Difference in God’s World is a central part of our diocesan strategy which aims to help us to become more Christ-like.

It’s about better using our God-given talents and resources for the common good by engaging with our communities and challenging unjust structures. We believe community organising is a way of empowering us all to do that.

What happened on the night?

Campaigns, concerns and initiatives were highlighted as people called on power holders to work with them to make a difference. The vast range of issues included police treatment of people of colour, misogyny, the Real Living Wage for key workers, injustices highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis, digital poverty in rural areas and much more. Below are summaries of just a few of those issues.

Rural digital poverty

The Revd Val Plumb, Buckinghamshire’s Area Dean for Rural Mission,  is working with Citizens MK to campaign for a community fibre partnership, aiming to have functional working broadband in all areas.

The Revd Val Plumb

Online church

The Revd Judith Sumner, from Reading Minster, described how for church members no longer able to get to church, online services meant they could participate in worship for the first time in years.

“Following lockdown we are hoping to continue the availability of our services online in some way,” she said. Through Citizens, the minster has partnered with a group at Reading University who can help with setting up iPads and laptops for older people and helping with streaming once worship from churches can take place again.

Make misogyny a hate crime

Jane Whild of the Open University is part of the Citizens MK Action on Misogyny group calling for misogyny to be classified as a hate crime.

Jane invited the Commissioner to host a workshop on misogyny involving safety partnerships across the Thames Valley, police commanders and local authority leaders.

Commissioner Stansfeld said this wasn’t an issue that TVP ignored. “We have a victims hub dealing specifically with these sorts of problems, and we commission charities throughout the Thames Valley to deal with these things.”

Jane Whild

The Real Living Wage campaign

Rukhsana Malik, of the MK Muslim Association, who works for the Open University, called on Milton Keynes Council to join in Citizens in a national call for the UK Government to give social care a £1.4bn cash injection to pay all key workers the Real Living wage.

She called on Commissioner Stansfeld to move in the direction of the Real Living Wage for all contractual staff and to meet with Citizens in the next three months to discuss and agree on the next steps.

Commissioner Stansfeld, along with Cllr Peter Marland from Milton Keynes Council and Cllr Jason Brock from Reading Borough Council, agreed to support the campaign.

The Environment

Kirsty Forshaw, from the MK Green Alliance, asked Commissioner Stansfeld to agree to a conference to make a plan for decarbonisation of TVP before he leaves office next May. Along with the other issues, the Commissioner agreed to discuss this.

Black Lives Matter

The assembly called on police to take action on racism. The Revd Tim Norwood said: “We have heard a lot of ways we can see change in the Thames Valley. I hope that the recent death of George Floyd in America has doubled our desire to see a Thames Valley that is not racist.’

But statistics presented in the meeting show that black people are more likely to be stopped by police.
Students from Milton Keynes Academy, Chloe and Harvind, had done research showing that black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched. They asked for a meeting with Commissioner Stansfeld, who agreed with enthusiasm.

How to join in

If you are excited by community organising, please get in touch. There is a range of opportunities available for training, study visits, and involvement in developing broad-based alliances in Oxford/Oxfordshire and Reading/Berkshire, and the established alliance in Milton Keynes. Contact Alison Webster, Deputy Director of Mission (Social Responsibility) alison.webster@oxford.anglican.org or the development organiser for your area; Martha.crawford@citizensuk.org (Oxford), Jessica.maddocks@citizensuk.org (Reading), Tom.bulmans@citizensuk.org (Milton Keynes).