On the evening of Wednesday 28th April 2022 over 120 people gathered in Dagenham Town Hall (now CU London aka Coventry University) for an accountability assembly, a private event for member institutions and invited guests. Having listened to over 1,000 residents two issues rose to the top of our priorities: youth safety and the living wage, which formed the agenda for the night and our asks for candidates and speakers who represented the two parties (Labour and Conservative) that received the most votes in the last election, in accordance with the Electoral Commission’s guidelines.
The chamber reflected the diversity of the borough, as community groups, faith organisations and schools made their voices heard. Unlike many decision making spaces it was full of young people speaking their truth, winning commitments from power holders.
During elections, accountability assemblies function as platforms for community leaders to secure public commitments from invited candidates for an agenda that benefits our communities. They are not hustings and are strictly non-partisan. The vision is for an organised, healthy civil society holding the state and the market to account. Engaging in a non-partisan manner means we want to seek public relationships and commitments with whoever has power over the issues we care about. BD Citizens also sought to hold other non-political decision-makers to account, which included the NHS, the Police, and Transport for London.
When students from Coventry University spoke of the insecurity of health and social care workers employment the atmosphere was electric. The heroes that got us through the pandemic work amidst constant threats of job loss and poor pay, we heard how that affected children and families. It was heart breaking but also exhilarating as everyone recognised the burning injustice and determined, as one to insist on a collective demand for conditions to change.
When the young people from Elevate Her UK spoke of their worries of assault, harassment and abduction, Superintendent Butterfield from the East Area Borough Command Unit, responded with a clear commitment to work together. The palpable sense of threat bearing down on young people who grow up not feeling safe demands action, including access to public transport all too frequently denied for arbitrary reasons. The aggressive way stop-and-search was done was challenged alongside the loss of youth centres without consultation.
I’ve been involved with BD Citizens since 2017, when Peter Hill, Bishop of Barking invited Citizens UK to the borough. The funding from the Lottery for initiating Thames Ward Community Project was for a community organising approach and Citizens UK, of which BD Citizens is a local chapter, are the stand-out national leaders of this approach. I’ve learnt so much from them. They get right to the point. Involving those closest to the issues, to take the action needed.
We’ve done weekly leadership classes at Riverside School, led by Jamie and Zainab and the young people have won several campaigns including over £1m investment in buses and getting the keys for the Barking Food Forest site. Most of our trustees and all of our staff have done the two and three day training and come back buzzing. Fighting together for positive social change is contagious, in a good way. Barking & Dagenham Citizens are in the area.
BD Citizens member organisations include: