Three Weeks in Shadwell

Sarah Santhosham (Corpus Christi College, Oxford) returns to East London after undertaking a Living Wage Internship with London Citizens in 2010, and describes her experiences as a Jellicoe intern this summer

Over the last three weeks I’ve been based in Shadwell as a Jellicoe intern, getting to know the local area and people, and participating in the pattern of worship at my host churches (St Mary’s Cable Street and E1 Community Church) and at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine’s. The parish of St Mary’s consists of ethnically and religiously diverse communities, and borders the Ocean Estate in Stepney, one of the largest and most deprived housing estates in Europe. My work within the parish has been focussed on continuing that of previous interns over the last year: primarily, to continue engaging in relational meetings with parishioners and facilitate one-to-one meetings between people with shared concerns in the local community.

Actively engaging in relational meetings and linking people together has served to continue to build networks within the local community, transgressing cultural and religious divides. Although I have previously been involved with the work of London Citizens, at a TELCO Tower Hamlets borough meeting last week I was impressed to see the diverse nature of leaders who were present, spanning different religious backgrounds, including a varied group of religious denominations, representatives from schools and from community groups. Despite the many surface differences between these groups, hearing the specific issues around which people were working together, for example affordable housing and the Living Wage, and perceiving their collective power further emphasised the power of relational meetings as a tool for identifying leaders and their passions, and as a mechanism for bringing people together to effect change for themselves.

Using the tool of relational meetings has been invaluable in my work, together with fellow intern Tom Daggett (based with the Salvation Army in Stepney), to build up a campaign to secure the future of a local playground on the edge of the Ocean Estate. Having identified the lack of youth provisions in an estate where 26% of the population is aged under 15 as a key local concern, we met with local parents and community leaders who were passionate about keeping the playground open as a community asset, since it is one of the few safe and supervised areas in that part of the estate, owing the presence of anti-social behaviour and drug-dealing in neighbouring open spaces. After arranging an open meeting, we were able to organise the collective experience and skills of the group and decide how best to challenge and engage with those who have the power to make decisions about the playground’s future.

Community organising uses the experience of people within a meeting and does not do for others what they can do for themselves. By being placed in Shadwell as a community organiser I have seen how we can act as catalysts for change by bringing a diverse group of people (in terms of experiences and backgrounds) with a shared concern together, and enabling them to take a step into public life as an organised group with power and hold their elected representatives to account.

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