Empowering ordinary citizens

Children from St Ignatius primary school
Children from St Ignatius primary school

Twenty three parishioners of St.Ignatius in Stamford Hill have just attended the first Haringey Citizens assembly, joining over 150 Christians and many other people of good will at St.Mark’s Methodist Church in Tottenham, in the shadow of the giant cranes of the Spurs stadium reconstruction. With the group were parish team members Sr. Eugenia and both Frs David: Fr Smolira, parish priest and one of the North London Citizens leadership team,  and Fr Stewart, who is also the national promoter of the Pope’s Prayer Network. Children of St.Ignatius Primary school beside our church also made their way up the High Road, accompanied by several teachers and governors, to delight the assembly with their singing.

North London Citizens, in which St.Ignatius Parish has played a prominent part for over ten years, had recently been engaged in a listening exercise, a characteristic methodology of the Citizens movement, looking deeply into the real day-to-day experiences of ordinary people in the area, then providing a forum and a platform for their real concerns and problems to be articulated. This was the first time a Citizens’ Assembly had been held in Haringey. Proceedings began in the usual Citizens way, with a roll-call of those present, always a great way of recognising and celebrating the various local groups, schools and churches who have gathered. Then we were warmly welcomed by the local Methodist ministry team.

Five key areas had emerged from the listening exercise and now it was time for the assembly to listen to reports from local people already involved in the issues. We heard about the London Living Wage campaign and success of a Citizens action at the London Stadium (formerly the Olympic Stadium), which has promised to pay the Living Wage. From this success, confidence is already growing about a similar action on some employers at the new Spurs development. There were shocking reports of the activities of rogue landlords in our area, exploitation and injustice that has affected some of our own parishioners. Thirdly, a plan for welcoming and befriending Syrian refugee families coming to the Borough was presented, together with proposals to encourage the council in this initiative.

Developers of a new housing project at Tottenham Hale, in the north of the borough, were then pressed on their commitments to provision of adequate affordable housing and to ensure that proper environmental measures would not be neglected. The fifth concern is about the regeneration of the Broadwater Farm estate, just to the north of St.Ignatius, where local people and activists were determined that, unlike the awful West London disaster at Grenfell Tower, local people would be listened to and organised, their concerns to be collated and laid before the local council. The choir of children from St.Ignatius Primary sang twice for us.

Throughout the Assembly there was a perceptible sense that ordinary people were being empowered. The brave people who came to the podium to report on the five concerns were normal folk from the area, not experts.  Some had never spoken in public before. Several had to leave the assembly early to feed the family, or to get to evening jobs as cleaners or security guards. Each participant was invited to join a team working on one of the five issues. Now those plans will be developed and refined, and further actions agreed. It was a splendid evening and experience of what London Citizens seeks to achieve – to unleash the power of civil society for the common good, by building strong and local alliances that develop the leadership capacities of local communities across the capital.