Monthly Archives: August 2011

London Looting: Some of the best contributions so far

A great deal has already been written on the recent outbreak of looting across London and in a few other cities.  Here is a pick of some of the most thought-provoking and agenda-setting contributions so far:

‘The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom’ by Peter Oborne in The Telegraph

‘Tough love: The riots and limits of Liberalism’ by David Goodhart on the Respublica Blog

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Bearing fruit

A community’s bonds of trust are tested by the big events; outbreaks of rioting and looting, the threat of a neo-fascist march.  How it responds depends on many much smaller events; encounters and actions which build trust across boundaries of faith, age, ethnicity and language.

This summer, four Jellicoe interns have been working in the estates nearest to the Contextual Theology Centre –  Sarah Santhosham and Tom Daggett with local churches and Abdul Jama and Abdi-Aziz Suliman with local mosques.  They are building on work done by previous interns, as catalysts for communities to identify and act on issues of common concern.  Previous blogposts and tweets tell of the work done by last summer’s interns and their year-round counterparts – organising a listening campaign (July 2010), helping organise a Mayoral Accountability Assembly (October), relationship-building meetings between local churches and mosques (November), a Community Walk to challenge neglect to parks and housing (April 2011) and a Scriptural Reasoning event on Christian, Muslim and Jewish attitudes to money and exploitative lending (May).

July saw further progress – with St Paul’s Shadwell and Dar Ul Ummah mosque securing the refurbishment of a neglected property used as a crack den and members of Stepney Salvation Army, East London Mosque and other local congregations forming a trust to run a local park which the council had planned to close.

The last two weeks have shown how this work stands up in testing times – with over 200 members of these congregations gathering in a witness to peace after the London riots, and ongoing work to persuade the Government to ban the proposed English Defence League march in Tower Hamlets in September.

‘Tomorrow the analysis – today the cleanup’

London Citizens leaders, including several of the Contextual Theology Centre’s officers, took part in an emergency meeting this morning to co-ordinate a response to the recent violence.  The statement below has just been issued.

Jellicoe Interns and CTC staff are working with churches in London Citizens – taking part in the cleanup; checking up on the wellbeing of local people; helping to arrange and promote acts of prayer and witness.  We will be tweeting details of events as they are arranged – follow us on @theologycentre

Tomorrow the analysis – today the cleanup

London Citizens member communities across London are located in many of the areas where the current disturbances and looting have taken place. We condemn any acts of violence and vandalism and call on all in civil society to work together for the common good using the creative tools of politics as the vehicle for change. Leaders, Trustees and Organisers met in reflection this morning to share stories, experiences and consider a constructive reaction to the present chaos and fear which is threatening the good community relations which existed in most of our neighbourhoods. We agreed to meet with Citizens member communities immediately at a Borough level and consider civic action at that level, at this stage. This should include reaching out to the traders, the police and young people and their families.

It was also agreed to start action with the clean up that is proposed in the neighbourhoods most effected by the vandalism – so before the analysis there must be the clean up.  Please check with – or or Twitter-@riotcleanup.

The analysis of the present crisis in our communities will not stop but be shaped by our experience over the next few weeks and related developments. It was agreed to hold an open meeting for member communities and organizers in St John-at-Hackney Church, Mare Street in Hackney on Wednesday, August 31 st for a wider and more considered reaction to the rioting and any related actions over the next two weeks.

One of Citizens UK’s strap line’s is ‘teaching the art of politics in action’. Yesterday was no different.  A snap shot of what this meant for Citizens UK on Monday, 8 th August was; in Deptford, Lewisham 9 Citizens Chinese leaders met with Police to negotiate better protection for their community from random attacks and muggings; in Hackney Central, 15 Citizens young leaders visited local shops in Mare Street to successfully persuade them to sign up as City Safe Havens; in Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets a working group of 6 Citizens leaders and organizers met to plan how to get local people recruited into the 4,000 jobs on offer with the 2012 Olympics in Stratford; in Victoria 8 Citizens leaders met with officers from Westminster City Council to try and save the Westminster Centre for Independent Living; in Tottenham, Haringey over 200 leaders from civil society met in a Vigil for Hope, supported by most of Citizens member groups and the organizers in that Borough; in Shadwell, Tower Hamlets 20 Citizens leaders stood together by their Mosque and the Watney Market Shopping Centre to protect both and support the traders; in Whitechapel a group of 5 Citizens leaders met to agree to work with the Mayor of Tower Hamlets and other civic groups to lobby the Home Secretary to ban the proposed ‘March’ through Whitechapel by the English Defence League on September 3rd .
London Citizens member communities have recently launched a ‘Listening Campaign’ across our 250 member communities focused on the London Mayoral Election in May 2012 – hundreds of delegates from our membership will meet in Assemblies in October and November to debate and vote on the issues they wish to put to the main candidates for Mayor. These will be ready to present to the various competing camps by mid January 2012 and a major Assembly of 2,500 Citizens is planned for April 26 th 2012 – it has been agreed to encourage London Citizens member communities to widen the scope of their ‘Listening’ and One to Ones to include all groups in their neighbourhoods – and traders and young people particularly to invite them to join them at the great Assembly on 26th April to prove that social and political change is possible provided you organize and work democratically with other people.

Manor Park gains a new Youth Group

Richard Hill (Magdalen, Oxford) writes about his month in Manor Park

For the last four weeks I’ve been based at St Stephen’s and St Nicholas’ Catholic churches in Manor Park with three other interns, working to improve relations between members of the congregation, particularly helping the young people of the parish to organise themselves into a Youth Group. Manor Park itself is one of the most diverse areas of the country, and the ethnic mix is reflected in the makeup of the congregation: the parish primary school, St Winifred’s, has pupils from 59 countries, 60% of whom speak English as a second language. We have been fortunate to be stationed at a Church which already has a solid foundation of community organising work which we were able to build upon. I was pleased to discover during one of my one-to-ones that the lady whom I was talking to conducted one-to-ones herself with other parishioners on a fairly frequent basis.

Our work was split between two main tasks: doing one-to-ones with parishioners and working with the younger people, helping them to organise a community day for the parish on the 31st July and to set up a Youth Group. The two tasks fed into each other; one of the concerns which arose from our conversations with people was the fear that the youth were insufficiently engaged with the life of the Church. When we talked to younger people, it was clear they wanted to get more involved, and the idea to set up a professionally run Youth Group came entirely from them, not us interns.

We needed to raise money for the Group, so we put on a fundraising community day for the whole parish, involving food, sports, fun activities for younger children, and several performances. Once again, although we co-ordinated their efforts, it was the young people themselves who came up with the ideas for what to do; they also manned the stalls. The community day thus enabled the youth to develop their own leadership skills. It was really great to see how enthusiastic everyone was in taking the initiative and making things happen: all the feedback we have received after the event has been very positive.

Although we were only at St Stephen’s for a month, we took a lot from it. The most exciting parts of the month were those moments when people expressed a desire to get more involved in Church life, and followed up on their word. Without the contacts made at one-to-one meetings, no one would know who to ask to help at particular events, or even if people were willing to help. Community organising is a more effective way of achieving congregational unity than simple top-down leadership, because through one-to-ones and further meetings there is an increased awareness of people’s specific talents and how they can best contribute to the community. After my experience at Manor Park I would definitely be interested in getting involved in another of London Citizens’ projects, for example the Living Wage campaign, to see how community organising functions on a wider scale.